Summer Is Coming

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Summer Is Coming

Published in slightly different form in the Daily Record online September 14, 2017, print edition September 15, 2017

Staggering heat in the Northwest. Biblical deluges in Houston. Islands wiped out in the Caribbean. These are but tiny recent pieces of a discouraging and familiar story. Our coral reefs are disappearing: 90% of them are expected to die in the next third of a century, and they’re vital to the ecology of our oceans. Refugees from African conflicts mostly driven by the loss of arable land are overwhelming and destabilizing Europe. Miami flooded badly August and then much worse in the last week, but that is only a precursor: according to the National Academy of Sciences we have already passed a point of no return for saving either Miami or New Orleans from vanishing beneath the waves. The same can be said for the entire country of Bangla Desh, which will drown probably by the end of this century.

Like Westeros

I could of course go on and on and on, but any reader of this paper already knows all this, in outline if not in detail. In Westeros, as Game of Thrones fans know well, the existential threat is that Winter Is Coming. We here on Mother Earth face its contrapositive: for us, Summer Is Coming should be the watchword.

Should be. Yet there are staunch, resolute fools who refuse to look reality in the face, fools, many of them political leaders, who will not, even at this moment when Nature is screaming at us, pay attention and take action. We do not yet know, because a few episodes remain, whether Westeros will be saved from the threats that Winter brings, but at least everyone there now understands that the challenge calls for awareness and action.

Ourselves? Not so much. What needs to be done is obvious in outline. It must be governmental and it must be large, and it must do many things that will fetter and direct the so-called free market (heretical to some though the notion may be that the survival of the species should ever trump economic freedom). The necessary actions may threaten certain rich people’s wealth and certain unwealthy people’s livelihoods. The tyranny of the consumer, free to travel in whatever vehicle (no matter how wasteful or polluting), use whatever throwaway (no matter how long it persists in the environment), build over any terrain (no matter how necessary for agriculture or drainage), eat any food (no matter how carbon-intensive its production), generate power in any fashion (no matter how destructive of the atmosphere) – that tyranny will need to be overthrown.

Baby Steps

And we have only taken baby steps so far. Some governments have set targets for the substitution of renewable energy sources for the fossil-based ones that liberate carbon dioxide – but the targets tend to be labeled with dates that defer the pain of change. We continue to build by the water’s edge pretty much everywhere there’s water. We even maintain incentives to continue this insanity through our flood insurance program, which incentivizes unsustainable dwelling patterns.

And we keep doing things that diminish our ability to focus on and address the problems. We lower taxes when our governments need money for the very large public works and programs that would protect us all. We defer maintenance and cut off subsidies for public transportation, which is a very efficient way of lowering overall carbon pollution. We encourage urban sprawl, when we should be figuring out how to preserve arable land.

And we distract ourselves with foolish things: international conflict and political infighting and culture wars. We distract ourselves with a culture of political lies issued by demagogues and paid for by plutocrats who do not care what happens to humanity or to the other species with whom we share this planet. We arm combatants in some of the most ecologically stressed areas of the world, enabling them to fight over their countries rather than salvaging what productive potential has survived there. And we elect leaders who, when faced with the undeniable existential crisis we face, a crisis greater than mankind has ever faced before, and faced with clear explanations of how we ourselves are causing the crisis, deny, deny, deny.

A More Fundamental Fix

The most they will do is agree that the secondary problems caused by this rolling crisis must be addressed. But they will not admit what every honest intelligent person now knows: that we as a species have caused this, and that we need to go beyond fixing what the crisis destroys, and start fixing the crisis. It is true, of course, that relief will need to be sent to the areas our behavior has stricken with drought or with flood or with forest fire or with destructive winds. But that will not be enough, not nearly enough. Conditions will just keep getting continually worse, so long as we do not face how much we need to change – and make the change happen.

It would be nice to have the luxury of shrugging our shoulders at the folly of this denial, to withdraw into our own private concerns. But that is a luxury no one really has. The end times are already upon us, as we see week by week.

There will be many of us who, through wealth and/or luck, manage to live out their lives in relative comfort, in places where civilization will persist longest. But there are no guarantees for anyone – and most of us have children and grandchildren, who are almost guaranteed the opposite outcome.

When Resilience Is Spent

The reports coming out of St. Maarten this last week, a resort island I visited less than two years ago, suggest what our children and grandchildren may face. On streets I myself walked, something like 60% of the housing has been destroyed. Men armed with machetes and guns roamed unchecked robbing people and businesses; civilization had at least temporarily broken down. We can fix that, with time. This time. But over time, as the list of places in crisis grows, and it will, our resilience will shrink. If you want to see what the world looks like when resilience is spent, consider Somalia, where climate change on the land and overfishing in the sea has left the country almost ungovernable and almost ungoverned for the last quarter century.

When parts of our planet become too hot or too wet to inhabit, when starving and unemployed populations flee them for more temperate zones, less and less of the world will be governable or governed. Our children and our grandchildren may well live in the ungoverned zones; there won’t be enough gated communities or enough food left by then to protect most people. Or maybe to protect anyone.

We can see it coming, day by day, if we have eyes to see. Or, more accurately, if our leaders have eyes to see, because it is through them that the great mobilization must start.

Meanwhile, Summer Is Coming.



Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn

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