The World is on Fire

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.

The end is here

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

Let’s hope Tony Carey wasn’t prophetic.

Are we shambling into WWIII?

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.

Additionally, Russian forces are once again moving toward the Ukrainian border. Given that they already have invaded Ukrainian territory in Crimea and have continued to support a shadow ware with the Ukraine, it would not be shocking to see them invade the NATO/US backed Ukraine.

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?