The world is on fire, both literally and figuratively. It’s May, it used to be that fire season would just be getting underway. But in the month of April two big wildfires started in New Mexico that have now merged and burned 217 square miles so far and with hot, dry and windy conditions the fire is nowhere near contained. Fires have erupted all over the Southwest and Texas very early this year burning over 4400 square miles so far.
The fires have been in part driven by the decades long drought in the Southwest and Nevada. The biggest concern of all is that the dammed sources of drinking water for major cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are in trouble. Lake Powell water levels are so low that emergency measures have been put into place.
Most distressing of all have been the insane heat waves that have been happening in Pakistan and India who have experienced the hottest March on record and shattering heat records weekly. Delhi faced over a week of temperatures over 104 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever recorded. Desert cities in Pakistan have seen temperatures approaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The high humidity accompanying India’s heat wave has made for deadly conditions as well as severely impacting crop yields.
Climate models have been predicting just this sort of thing, and while a single heat wave can’t be specifically linked to climate models. The droughts in North America and Asia, the increases in wildfires are all consistent with climate model predictions. The worst part is that heat waves lead to higher power consumption in places like India with rolling blackouts and record power cuts happening. Given India generates 75% of it’s power with coal, it’s a vicious cycle. The climate induced heat waves, cause higher power consumption which leads to more greenhouse gasses, which leads to more heat waves.
Crop yield losses in India are particularly painful this year with the extreme losses already happening due to the war in Ukraine. The increasing crisis in food production has even caused the UN world food program to cut the size of it’s rations to starving people.
The fires keep coming, the water is running out, the crops are failing and we just keep on shambling.
So it’s been a while since my last post, but the post was appropriately entitled, Are we shambling into WWIII? I don’t like being right, particularly when the risks are the end of humanity as we know it. The war in Ukraine is almost two weeks old and has of course turned into a horrible refugee crisis. With all wars it is the innocent who suffer. Russia is led by arguably a madman, he has no humanity, there were reports that an agreed upon evacuation route had been mined by the Russians.
One of the things that this whole crisis does to me personally is that it brings back the existential dread of my teen years. I’m of the end of a generation of a certain age, cold war kids, as such I pretty constantly thought about the possibility of nuclear war when I was a teenager. Up even into my first year of college, I will never forget my whole fraternity house gathering to watch the Day After in 1983. It quite literally freaked everybody out. The existential dread was ubiquitous in our life, including in pop culture. In 1985, Sting put out his song Russians, with the chorus of, “I hope the Russians love their children too.” The song really expressed the desperation of the time, where the simple idea that both the Russians and Americans needed to be reminded that people on the other side were just that, people. People who had children, that if they also loved would be reason enough not to engage in the mutually assured destruction we had built together.
My dread has grown and morphed since the eighties, I’m nearly sixty years old now. My life is mostly behind me, but I have eight nieces and nephews from 3 to 20 years-old. My dread is for their lives, they’ve already had to live through a pandemic, they have global climate change impacts to look forward to, their lives will be hard enough without also having to live through WWIII, if anyone does.
As all of this madness swirling around has brought back a lot for me, like the Sting song. But mostly it brings me back to one of my favorite intersections of dystopian and Science fiction music and storytelling, Project Planet P’s Pink World. Tony Carey’s rock opera about nuclear war and the young boy named Artemis, the savior. It’s a spectacular double album and I’ve often dreamed of contacting Carey for the rights to write a script for a mini-series based on the album. As things continue to deteriorate in the Ukraine, a particular lyric has been ringing through my head from the song, “A letter from the shelter:”
When a madman gets a gun He’s gonna point it at someone If it’s up in texas tower Or over there across the pond And if you step on his pride Or if he hurts somewhere inside He might let one fly When his nerves are gone
World War I started with the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand by Serbian extremists. This shows that even in the beginning of the 20th century the world was so interconnected that an assassination in Bosnia could lead to a world war. Of course this happened because there was great tension and in response to the assassination, the Austrian-Hungarian army attacked Serbia. Of course alliances kicked in, the dominoes fell and a few years later, nearly nine million soldiers and twenty million civilians were dead.
Are we shambling into another world war, the tensions certainly exist. Let’s start with the South China Sea. China has made no bones about the fact that they very much still consider Taiwan part of China, and like Hong Kong, they intend to take it back. Additionally, China has been very aggressively island building and claiming territory in the South China Sea as well as pushing hard on territorial rights of other Asian nations. Some of these countries like the Philippines have alliances with the United States. Japan, an ancient enemy of China, has an active military for the first time since World War II.
Staying in the region North Korea, a nuclear power, is always wholly unpredictable. The country has massive poverty, a leader that is claimed to be a living God and a completely unpredictable succession process. Not to mention that there current leader is not the most stable person. And as always there is a lot of tension and they continue with large weapons tests.
Historically, no world war has ever started in Asia, so let’s look at where they have started, in Europe. World War I started in the Balkans and right now the Balkans are nearly on fire again. The Belarusian president, a wannabe fascist, who has been a thorn in the side of Europe for years. However, currently he’s decided to throw Eastern Europe into chaos. Belarus has reached out to countries with large populations of potential immigrants and has told them that if they fly to Belarus they can easily cross the border into Poland or Lithuania thus entering the European Union which has a reputation of treating immigrants very well. These desperate people have gone to Belarus, been guided to the borders only to find the borders closed. Troops have amassed on both borders as these poor and desperate immigrants get treated like ping pong balls. Recently, clashes have started to develop between the immigrants the troops on the Polish border. How long before the NATO backed Polish or Lithuanian forces end up in a clash with Russian backed Belarusian forces. This could be the potential flashpoint that kicks off war in Europe.
Given the global pressures of COVID, the subsequent economic pressures, global climate change, the rise of fascism and the existing tensions it may only take a spark to set things off. A mistake on the Belarusian or Korean border, China invading Taiwan or Russian invading the Ukraine.
It’s a terrifying proposition, it could easily become at least a limited nuclear war. And more terrifying yet is the recent test by China of a hyper-sonic missile. This is a missile that flies so fast that it actually circled the globe before it was detected. Anyone free this weekend to fill in the swimming pool?
So in the very first post on this blog we talked about how we find ourselves in the middle of a slow-motion shambling apocalypse. There are really three types of apocalyptic decline, the shambling, the disaster kick-off, think asteroid colliding with Earth, or the tumbling domino apocalypse. The crazy thing of course is being in the shambling doesn’t preclude either of the others from happening.
And while there is no evidence that at the moment we are facing an imminent disaster style apocalyptic kick off, it is really starting to feel like COVID might have kicked off the dominoes, or that at the very least, they are leaning hard right now.
The global COVID pandemic has now killed over 700,000 people in America, and over 4.5 million people worldwide. And the pandemic isn’t over, although the US spike is declining, there are still well over 1000 deaths a day. Given the lack of vaccination availability in many developing countries, we have not seen the end of global spikes, nor likely, the emergence of new, dangerous variants.
One of things the pandemic spikes and governmental reactions have caused are major disruptions in the global economic supply chain. Countries have gone from lock downed nervous populations, to populations feeling safer and a quick ramping up of demand for products. Companies trying to fill the gaps, dealing with lack of employees, meeting capacity by switching product lines and market uncertainties have created disruptions in the global economic supply chain.
One of the things I’ve always noticed when I’ve traveled internationally, particularly in developing countries, is the image of empty shelves. When living overseas, one difference I noted is that in the US, I can always get what I want, almost always even the brand and size I want. That is no longer the case, just last night I couldn’t find egg noodles, until I went over the Kosher aisle and got the last bag from that section. More evidence dominoes are falling.
These issues are causing unexpected product shortages for consumers. Worse, it’s creating an environment ripe for rumors causing hoarding and panic behavior. Recently there have been massive lines at stations and gasoline shortages in the UK sparked by rumors there was a shortage of gasoline. There was a shortage of truck drivers, but had people not started hoarding and panic buying, that shortage wouldn’t have caused the type of shortages we saw.
The Evergrande crash has sent ripples through the international money markets. This Chinese company has over $300 Billion in debt, if it defaults, contagion across international real estate and financial systems is inevitable.
Political polarization in the US hit a crescendo on January 6th as Trump supporters spurred on by his comments and conspiracy theories led to people storming the capital, threatening the lives of lawmakers, and causing the death of a law enforcement officer as well as one civilian.
Vaccine inequity globally is a looming problem, while developed countries like the US and Canada as well as the countries of Western Europe are increasing vaccination rates, much of the developing world has had little to no access to vaccines. Vaccine rates in the developing world are often at the level of single digits with a global average of 1.1% in these countries. This means more dying but also more bodies for the virus to infect and possibly mutate in. One mutation that can defeat the current immunity created by the vaccines and we’re right back to March 2020 albeit in a much more fragile global system.
Idiocracy is a documentary! This has become a common meme lately but the base premise of a world that continually takes the easy way out at every possible choice until the whole world is too stupid to function, doesn’t seem farfetched anymore. We are continually more and more dependent on automated computerized systems, AI continues to get smarter. This alone isn’t a problem, but it seems more and more people are dismissing the very science behind everything that automates their lives. Superstition and conspiracy theory, paired with media outlets and social media all to willing to support crazy ideas continues to magnify the problem. While we’re not quite to the point of irrigating our fields with Gatorade yet, it absolutely feels like we’re on that path.
Global Climate Change, ok this one is such an easy one it’s almost not worth mentioning. Climate change issues, like pandemic issues are intensifiers. They exacerbate the problems that already exist. Increasing storm intensities and financial impacts, service disruptions, increasing wildfires, droughts and floods are all increasing. Disease spread and climate migration is also going to be a problem on the increase as global temperatures rise. Rising sea levels also bring an entire suite of additional problems.
It’s time to face facts, we’re living in the apocalypse, the slow motion shambling apocalypse. Under normal circumstances the world has a resiliency reserve, but global climate change continues to chip away at that reserve. And the pandemic has also taken a chunk out of that reserve as well. So as this reserve gets thinner, the likelihood that any of the dominoes could start a speedier collapse grows higher. Let’s be clear, the apocalypse (the degradation of society and civilization as we know it) is happening, the question now is only the rate at which it happens and how prepared you and your family are for the changes.
But one of the most immediate and spectacular signs of the shambling apocalypse is wildfire. The wildfire issue, as most environmental issues are, is very complex. For the purposes of this discussion I’ll do my best to accurately simplify the issue, at least for western North America. In western North America, drought is a historic reality, however there is strong evidence that global climate change has had an impact on the intensities of these droughts. There are a lot of reasons these fires have been so big, again to simplify. Drought is a factor, invasive species tree deaths, higher temperatures and a long history of fire suppression that has left a lot of fuel in forests. Put all of these things together and you set the stage for megafires. Add with an ever increasing number of people building homes in forests, it turns into a situation where you have far more homes lost, and far more areas that firefighters have to prioritize in dealing with fires.
The Dixie fire in 2021 is the second largest wildfire in California history, as of today it has burned over 910,000 acres. Simultaneously, the Calder Fire has caused evacuations in South Lake Tahoe as it has ballooned to over 215.000 acres. It’s September 6th, fire season typically peaks from October to November. This year is not unique in California, in fact, over the last few years in California and Oregon this has become the norm. The college I work at now routinely plans for 3-4 campus closure days annually due to poor air quality as a result of wildfires. To understand the scale at which this is happening, so far in 2021 Calfire has responded to over 7,000 fire incidences.
The fires raging in Siberia are bigger than fires in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the United States and Canada combined, with analysts warning that this year could surpass Russia’s worst fire year, 2012, according to Yaroshenko.
There have also been significant fires in Greece, Turkey and Canada. So this, with the exception of Asia at this point, is a large scale global problem. The other issue is that fires very often had well defined fire seasons. But as we hear often now from fire officials in California, fire season is pretty much year round now.
What this means is that for people that live in these areas, they have started to just accept there are certain times of the year, in certain areas where you can just expect to have to deal with wildfire impacts every single year.
A comment on the Caldor Fire really brought this home for me. The person talking said they’d stopped camping in the Tahoe Region during September or October due to how much smoke there normally is. However this year, the month of August has seen that region inundated with smoke. Personally, as the fall arrives I want to do some camping, but I’ve ruled out the Sierras and am focusing on the coast or the desert, just because they are areas less likely to be impacted.
Now something can be done about all of these megafires. The Sooutheastern US does not experience the same impacts. There are a couple of reasons for this, first, the environment is not as dry, although droughts do occur. And although there has been significant conifer forest destruction by insects, they have fewer fires, at least in part because they manage fire differently in the south. They do far more prescribed burning in the south, it’s well regulated and very effective. In the west this has not been as accepted a practice. Prescribed burns remove fuel from the forest and create fire that burns at a temperature that doesn’t permanently damage forests. I know people advocate for thinning and cutting forests, but in fact opening up the canopy can actually promote ground level growth which is perfect fuel if it dies in a drought year.
Additionally, homeowners can do a lot to protect their homes. A combination of careful prescribed burning, letting fires in extreme wilderness burn and people reducing the chances their homes will burn, can reduce the impact of megafires on humans and reduce the number of megafires in general. Sure, it’s a finger in the dyke, of global climate change and it’s impacts, but it’s a start.
What this blog will be writing about is the apocalypse. We often look at the apocalypse in two very specific ways. First, as something sometime off into the future. Second, we look at it as it occurs in movies and on TV, one day the world is fine, there are a couple of news reports of odd happenings, then boom, all hell breaks loose and everyone is running for their lives.
While that is certainly how the apocalypse could come, in the 1980’s many of us lived daily in fear of just that, some news reports about trouble with the USSR, then boom missiles in the air and everybody heading for a bunker.
The theory of the apocalypse I’ve always thought most realistic is what I call the domino apocalypse. Meaning that something happens, let’s say a pandemic. The pandemic starts to destabilize economies, which leads to political turmoil and something tips off, whether it’s North Korea invading South Korea, or Pakistan nuking India and that starts an initial regional war. And these dominoes just keep toppling, regional war leads to greater economic instability, which leads to further political instability, which leads to refugees, famine and more disease outbreak all while the original pandemic rages on until at some point the world looks nothing like it does now.
However I recently read a really good book by Octavia Butler called, The Parable of the Sower. Without much discussion at all about the downfall of society, her book paints a picture that I could realistically see as California ten to twenty years from now. All of technology hasn’t been wiped out, the rich still can afford airplane flights and live in protected compounds. Not every country is descending into drastic inequality and poverty, but many have. What this very and potentially near future reality made me realize, was that we are already in the apocalypse.
Having fallen prey to the movie version of the apocalypse, while noticing all of the signs around me I still really hadn’t put it together until Octavia Butler’s book hit me over the head with it. You see I have acknowledged that the next generations will likely have a lower standard of living than we or are children have had in life. Natural resource depletion issues are everywhere, fresh water, starvation and the ever elusive concept of peak oil. The Amazon is being cut down, wetlands have been massively eradicated. We’re currently living in a pandemic that has followed on the heels ever several epidemics in Asia and the Middle East, think SARS and MERS.
Then the big hammer, global climate change. The data is undeniable, the signs available for everyone to see. Iceless Summers in the Arctic, record heat, intensification of storms, sea rise, the geographic spread of disease (yellow fever, Zika) and all of the environmental impacts tied to a warming earth. There is even some serious speculation that the North Atlantic conveyor may be on the verge of collapse. This would drop temperatures in England almost ten degrees, meaning a current average high of 48 and low of 41 in the winter would shift to 38 and 31 meaning a lot more snow and ice in the winters.
So it seems to me we are already in the midst of the apocalypse, the dominoes have started to topple, it’s all just happening in slow motion, shambling along like a Zombie in The Walking Dead TV show. So this site will explore it, sort of like a slow motion news report of our society’s demise.