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
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.