Wednesday, April 17, 2024

#108 / A Terrifying Warning


Some disasters are real. Some threats are real, too, as opposed to those "Didn't Happen" threats featured in this blog yesterday. Click this "Didn't Happen" link if you missed it. 

As of Monday, March 4, 2024, the so-called "Smokehouse Creek Fire," also known as the "Texas Panhandle Fire," had burned through more than one million acres, "making it the largest wildfire in Texas history." 

I am quoting, above, from a Guest Essay by John Vailant, which appeared in the March 5, 2024, New York Times. Vailant has written a book entitled, Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast. His Guest Essay is titled, "The Fires Sweeping Across Texas Offer a Terrifying Warning."

What is it that makes this fire in Texas so particularly "terrifying," to use Vailant's word (it was only 15% contained at the time Vailant wrote his column)? 

Here is an extensive quotation from Vailant's essay, which I think helps us answer that inquiry: 

Two weeks before the Smokehouse fire broke out, I flew to Seattle from Cincinnati over a landscape I know well. But some 30,000 feet below my window seat lay a country I barely recognized: From the Ohio River to the Rockies, there was virtually no snow; the lakes and rivers were ice free. I’m a Northerner, and I know what February is supposed to look like, but what season was this? ....

For weeks now, red flag warnings from the National Weather Service indicating elevated wildfire risk have been popping up all across the United States — from the Mexican border to the Great Lakes and the Florida panhandle. Similar warnings are appearing north of the Canadian border. On Feb. 20, the province of Alberta, the Texas-size petro-state above Montana, declared the official start of fire season. This was nearly two weeks earlier than last year and six weeks earlier than a couple of decades ago. Alberta is in the heart of Canada, a famously cold and snowy place, and yet some 50 wildfires are burning across that province. In neighboring British Columbia, where I live, there are nearly 100 active fires, a number of which carried over from last year’s legendary fire season (the worst in Canadian history) linked to low snowpack and above-average winter temperatures.
It is alarming to see these fires and warnings in what is supposed to be the dead of winter, but fire, as distracting and dangerous as it is, is merely one symptom. What is happening in North America is not a regional aberration; it’s part of a global departure, what climate scientists call a phase shift. The past year has seen virtually every metric of planetary distress lurch into uncharted territory: sea surface temperature, air temperature, polar ice loss, fire intensity — you name it, it is off the charts. It was 72 degrees Fahrenheit in Wisconsin on Tuesday and 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Paraguay; large portions of the North Pacific and the South Atlantic are running more than five degrees Fahrenheit above normal....

Historically, it has been humans who have outpaced the natural world. From arrowheads to artificial intelligence, our species has progressed steadily faster than geologic time. But now, geologic time — specifically, atmospheric time and ocean time — is moving as fast as we are, in some cases faster — faster than technology, faster than history. The world we thought we knew is changing under our feet because we changed it (emphasis added).

The "Natural World," upon which all our human creations depend, is not only "changing." It has "changed." The fact that the changes have been caused by human activities doesn't offer comfort. It doesn't make them easier to deal with.

A climber on a steep slope might do something to dislodge a large stone - intentionally or unintentionally - and the fact that it was those human actions that have sent that boulder rolling down the mountain doesn't mean that a similar and equal human effort can stop the progress of what that human action began. And so it is with the process of global warming that has initiated our "climate crisis," with millions of acres burning into ash, with no snow in February, with all its other impacts ever clearer.

The very first thing to do, when coming into contact with a reality not formerly experienced, is to realize that it is a "reality," and that it is not going to "go away." The "boulder" of global warming is rolling down the hill. Let's not pretend it isn't rolling. Let's not pretend that human civilization is not at the bottom, and threatened with destruction.

Then, of course, there is a Step #2. Once we have admitted the reality of something we don't want to acknowledge, Step #2 is obvious: What are we going to do about it, now that we realize what's happening?

Before we can change what we are currently doing, and do what is necessary in the new situation in which we find ourselvess, we need to change our "minds." 

All of us alive today should not pretend that the boulder rolling down the mountain isn't really rolling! If we, the climbers who disslodged it, depend on the structures of civilization, below - structures of civilization that will be obliterated by what we have begun - we need to acknowledge the facts. 

After acknowledging the facts (Step #1), we need to realize that what we might have predicted for our lives is no longer any kind of reliable basis upon which we can plan for the future. We need to change our lives, give up whatever dreams and plans we might have had, premised on the idea (now so clearly erroneous) that we can assume that the world  into which we were born will continue to be the world in which we live - now, and in the future. 

As I have said beforeOctavia Butler's book, The Parable of the Sower, provides us with a metaphor that we can use to understand, and to react to our real situation. 

We need to "find some friends," bond with them, person to person, in real life, and turn our attention, with those friends we find, to what we need to do, now - what we should do in a world transformed by our actions in the past. 

What should we do? What can we do? What is going to be possible for us - not waiting for someone else to tell us what to do? What do we need to do, in this world in which we now realize we are living, with the bolder rolling down the mountain?

Find some friends. Give up your old plans, premised on the idea that things have not changed. Things have changed. Take it from John Vailant! 

Make a new plan, friends! Do some things you haven't done before; do them with the friends you find; do some things you think will help.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!