Slouching Toward... Hell on Earth

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Common Dreams

Slouching Toward... Hell on Earth

(Photo: TwitPic / LA Times Photography)

In 1961 Joan Didion released a collection of essays titled, Slouching Toward Bethlehem. The first essay, “Dreamers of a Golden Dream,” contains the following:

October is the bad month for wind, the month when breathing is difficult, and the hills blaze up spontaneously… Every voice seems a scream. It is the season of suicide, divorce and prickly dread…

She was talking about the Santa Ana’s… searing 100 mile-an-hour winds that shriek down the mountains and scorch everything in their path. Back in 1961, it was common knowledge that Santa Ana’s only came in the Fall – in October.

But the winds arrived the day before yesterday, here in the land of dreamers of the golden dream. In May, which is what used to be our wet season.

People were on edge as the hot gusts blasted through the valleys toward the ocean. They squinted at the hills, vigilant. They sniffed the air for tell-tale signs of smoke.

Homeowners gathered the things they cherished or needed – photos, gifts, important papers – and piled them by the front door, ready.

Firemen checked their equipment, and did double duty, and the entire area held its breath hoping that this time, it would pass. This time, the gods or fates would spare them.

But they didn’t.

On May 13th, a spark fell on the parched land and ignited. No big deal. The entire fire safety apparatus pounced on the isolated fire – helicopters, fire trucks, tanker planes, men and hoses by the hundreds. But they were no match for the hot, dry, winds. Sparks and cinders carried the fire westward in giant leaps, like some Titan stepping over mere mortals. As the day wore on, 20,000 homes were evacuated, and over 1500 acres were burned to a char.

By the evening of May 14th, there were nine fires burning in San Diego, destroying homes, with one headed toward a nuclear power plant.

So, three years into a record-breaking drought, we get Santa Ana’s... in May. And record breaking heat. To say that the weather is unusual is an understatement of epic proportions. It’s freakish. Unfortunately, it’s also going to be the new normal for much of the Southwest, as the recently released Climate Action Report shows.

Conservatives will be tempted to dismiss this as simply a “left-coaster” problem. Marco Rubio is probably sharpening his crayons right now, to say something like this. Unfortunately for Rubio, climate change will hit Florida even harder than the Southwest. With the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheets, it is now virtually assured that most of southeastern Florida will be uninhabitable, and absent aggressive action, Miami will be history within several generations. With this collapse, sea level rise of geologically significant proportions – twenty or more feet – is now pretty much hardwired into the system, the only question is how quickly it will proceed. There’s no off switch.

So absent action, we’ll pretty much have to abandon most coastal cities, left and right coast, as well as those on the Gulf.

In what has to be the ultimate in irony or maybe just poetic justice, the states with the most denier politicians are already experiencing the most weather-related billion dollar disasters, and the future looks even grimmer for them.

The odds for an el Nino year have gone up to more than 80% this year, and this could turn the Midwest into an infertile inferno – something it’s headed for anyway in the long run if we don’t do something radical and soon.

The record breaking cold snap this winter was also a function of climate change. “What?” Rush Limabough and the other fossilized fools shout. Global warming making things colder? Get Real. Ah, but my simple-minded chucklehead, it is all too real. Turns out that as the Arctic gets warmer, the gradient that shaped the prevailing winds weakens, allowing the polar vortex to wander south.

So climate change is not a left-coaster issue, and it’s not a thing that will happen in the distant future. It is here, now, and it is bad for life as we know it on planet Earth. Unless you’re a jellyfish. Or an insect. But not all simple life-forms will prosper … take conservatives for instance – they’ll suffer in spite of their denials. Or maybe we’ll all suffer because of them.

Didion took the title for her collection of essays from a poem by W. B. Yeats, called The Second Coming.The closing lines read:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.

On May 14th, we learned the answer. The beast is our child; born of our willful ignorance and careless disregard for the most precious gift we could ever hope for: A home in which the carefully wrought balances of energy, material, chance and time produced the one physical world and climate that allows us to survive and the ecosystems we rely on to prosper.

The first stanza of The Second Coming closes with the following lines:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Where are the best? Where is their passion for affirming life? Will we truly relinquish our fate and the fate of all who come after us – and the fate of life on Earth as we know it, to a small collection of the ignorant, the greedy, and the evil?

As of today, it sadly appears so.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

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