This is a post about last straws. In this case, the straw that has finally broken my Pollyanna spirit. It happened at lunch today, Wednesday, January 9th, after I read Ben Cubby’s Sydney Morning Herald coverage of scorching temperatures — 104 degrees F over Christmas and 120 predicted — in Australia and scanned the last 2012 issue of the New Yorker. Granted, my heretofore sturdy if cockeyed optimism had suffered a hairline fracture when I noticed earlier in the morning that the mercury in my back porch thermometer had hit 60. This is North Carolina, I thought, not Georgia. 60 is a March afternoon, not a January morning.
It was a double issue of the New Yorker. The theme was “World Changers.” Smack in the middle was an article, the fatal blow to my natural optimism, about the mother of all world changers. It was about Arctic shipping lanes, or so it seemed to be. For me it was about the mother of all world changers: climate instability, A.K.A., global warming. Called “Polar Express,” it opened with a dramatic double-spread photo of a scarlet hulled tug boat cutting a swath toward me through thin Arctic ice, opening the way for the massive bulk-carrier ship Nordic Odyssey to haul freight from Murmansk, Russia to Huanghua, China much faster and cheaper than that freight could be moved over land.
The caption under the photo concluded “Because the extent and thickness of ice during the Arctic summer have diminished in recent years, the Northeast Passage — for centuries an obsession of explorers — could soon become an everyday part of merchant shipping. By the middle of this century, it may be possible to traverse the North Pole in a canoe.”
The author’s assignment for this piece was reportorial, not polemical. Not his job to detail the implications of that prediction. But, like the momentum that throws you forward when you haven’t got your seat belt on and the car stops suddenly, flinging you at a dashboard and windshield that will surely break your ribs and face, the period at the end of that last sentence flung me toward its terrifying implications. How could he not have added in a footnote or parentheses, how could all his readers’ minds not leap like mine did to the thought that, if the Arctic is virtually ice free all year, then nothing about the world’s weather is the same, and if that’s the case, nothing about our lives and world is the same and the least of our worries is getting shipping containers from eastern Russia to China and back.
In Life Rules, I compare the world’s presently converging and mutually reinforcing environmental, economic, social and political crises to the syndrome of illnesses an HIV patient experiences when her disease shifts into full-blown AIDS. Among the symptoms of AIDS is rampant high fever. The viral fossil-fuel driven global industrial economy — Earth’s equivalent of HIV — has tipped the Earth’s climate from slow, sporadic, scattered warming events into full, potentially fatal fever. If 2013 is the tipping point, it’s already too late for us to prevent the worst that an overheated planet can do to us and Life as we know it. But if there’s still wiggle room, then we must understand this:
Efforts to grow and expand the already viral global economy by investing ever funnier money and ever dirtier-and-dearer (more expensive) fossil fuels in it are exactly equivalent to injecting a patient suffering from AIDS with more HIV.
The prognosis? If we keep doing what we’ve been doing Life will last, but Life as we know it — and a lot of us — won’t. And neither will the economy that’s doing us in or, for that matter, any kind of fossil-fueled, industrial economy.
The cure? Recent fiscal cliff negotiations in the US, bail out discussions in the EU and failed efforts at the Doha climate talks are proof that the world’s leaders and Powers will not take the necessary steps to prevent this disaster. It’s up to us. Only if a critical mass of us ordinary humans organize ourselves locally and regionally to
can we prepare for and perhaps survive, in Bill McKibben’s terms, the strange, unwelcoming new Eaarth that climate change will create.
then now’s the time for a second American Revolution and complementary uprisings, occupations and revolutions in every country around the world.
It’s time to gather with others in your community who are among those being economically, environmentally and politically Left Behind, assess your available natural and human resources, and use your combined skills, talents, and experience to conceive and create shadow economies and governments that can heal, protect and serve the Earth’s immune system of natural and human communities long term.
It’s going to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit in central North Carolina this weekend and we’re in drought. It should be in the mid-40s and wet. But talk of “should be” is nostalgic, not useful now. Instead, let’s talk realistically about what will be if we don’t face up to climate instability and what could be if we do.
How about, let’s pretend the world’s worsening weather is a threat akin to a pending asteroid collision, because, though its effects will be less sudden and simultaneous, it is. How about we call it “Global Warning.”
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