Whichever way you look there are substantial challenges.
This post is largely a republication of a recent post from Patrice Ayme. Because when I read it I was profoundly affected. I thought that it needed to be shared with all you good people because if nothing is done then life as we know it is going to come to an end. Period! That includes our gorgeous dogs as well as us humans! So, please, please read it all the way through!
But before Patrice’s post is presented The Economist this last week came out with a special report entitled Business and climate change. I offer a small extract:
For most of the world, this year will be remembered mainly for covid-19. Starting in Asia, then spreading across Europe and America before taking hold in the emerging world, the pandemic has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands. And it has devastated economies even more severely that did the global financial crisis which erupted in 2008.
But the impact of covid-19 has also given a sense of just how hard it will be to deal with climate change. As economic activity has stalled, energy-related CO2 emissions have fallen sharply. This year the drop will be between 4% and 7%. But to have a decent chance of keeping Earth’s mean temperature less than 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, net emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases must fall to more or less zero by mid-century. And such a drop needs to be achieved not by halting the world economy in its tracks, but by rewiring it.
The next section in the special report was A grim outlook and it was, indeed, a very grim read.
Back To The Jurassic In A Hurry: 500 Part Per Million Of Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse gases (GHG) used to be 280 parts per million. Now they are around 500 ppm (including CH4, Nitrogen oxides, chlorofluorocarbons, etc.). This is more GHG than in at least thirty million years, when the Earth was much warmer, and it is similar to CO2 densities during the Jurassic.
So we should talk about climate catastrophe rather than climate change, and global heating rather than global warming: recent fires got helped by temperatures dozen of degrees higher than normal, in part from compression of the air due to record breaking winds. This is why parts of the Pacific Northwest which never burn are now burning. This will extend to Canada, Alaska, Siberia and already did in recent years. The catastrophic massive release of frozen methane hydrates could happen any time (it already does, but not as bad as it is going to get). It has up to one hundred times more warming power than CO2 (fires release it by billions of tons).
What is the way out? Well, hydrogen is the solution, in two ways, but has not been deployed as it could be. A decade ago, thermonuclear fusion, on the verge of becoming a solution, was starved for funding, and so was green hydrogen (the then energy secretary, Obama’s Steven Chu, prefered investing in batteries, it was more lucrative for his little greedy self).
Green hydrogen enables to store energy for renewables, avoiding blackouts which cut electricity to pumps to fight fires.
Joan Katsareas from Philadelphia, PA wrote back: “Thank you @Patrice Ayme for sharing your knowledge of the causes and extent of the climate crisis. I will be seeking out more information on hydrogen as a solution.”
@Joan Katsareas Thank you for thanking me, that is much appreciated. Hydrogen is indeed the overall solution we need at this point. Actually Australia, in collaboration with Japan, is building a gigantic, 15 Gigawatts, project in north west Australia, AREH, the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, to convert renewables from sun and wind into hydrogen products which will then be shipped to Japan. The same needs to be done all over, it would collapse the price of “green hydrogen” (99% of the US hydrogen is from fossil fuels).
In the case of thermonuclear fusion, the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) being built in France was slowed down by ten years, from reduced funding, and uses obsolete magnets (superconducting, but not High Temperature Superconductors, which can now be engineered with more compact and powerful fields). A massive effort would bring a positive energy thermonuclear reactor within 10 years… But that effort has not been made… except in China, the usual suspect, where a project, the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR), aims at an energy gain of 12 and a total power equivalent to a fission nuclear reactor. Its detailed engineering has been launched for a while (it’s supposedly symbiotic with the European DEMO project, which will produced as much as a large power station and will be connected to the grid. That too has been delayed, to the 2050s, although it’s feasible now). The USA needs to launch a similar project, right away.
We face ecological constraints incomparably more severe than those of the Roman state. Rome did not solve its paltry problems, and let them fester: they had to do mostly with a dearth of metals, and the Franks solved them readily. This hindered the Roman economy. The situation we are facing, the threat of a runaway greenhouse is a terminal existential threat.
Look at Venus, we can look at our sparkling neighbor when the forests have finished burning, and the smoke dissipates (we were told it could be months). Once Venus probably had a vast ocean, and probably, life. But it died from a brutal greenhouse generated by Large Igneous Provinces (LIP). The same happened on Earth, on a smaller scale, more than once, in particular with the Permian Triassic mass extinction, which destroyed 95% of known species..
Now the rumor has it that indeed some life may have survived in the atmosphere. This is not a joke. Consider:Life on Venus? Astronomers See a Signal in Its Clouds. The detection of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere could turn scientists’ gaze to a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Life on Venus? Ah, science, all those possibilities… We never imagined we would ever think possible.
P/S: I argued in the past, before anybody else, that the dinosaur-pterosaurs-plesiosaurs extinction, and extinction of anything bigger than 20 kilograms was due to volcanism (I was at UC Berkeley when the two Alvarez were, and they seemed too full of themselves with the iridium layer, and I like to contradict certainties…)
How would LIP volcanism set forests on fire? Well, by the same exact mechanism as now: through a massive CO2 driven greenhouse, what may have terminated the Venusians…
In this perspective climate cooling, for millions of years, visible in the graph above, would have disrupted those species which were not equipped to generate enough heat, and then the LIP accelerated into a vast holocaust…
The end with general burning and acidic oceans is hard to duplicate with a bolide, so the impactophiles have argued that the bolide magically impacted the most CO2 generating rock imaginable… Maybe. But an enormous LIP does all that CO2 production/destruction of the oceans, effortlessly… A friend of mine who is the biggest of the big in this academic domain, he decides who publishes, replied to me that the 66 million year old Dekkan LIP is too small… To which I replied that we don’t know what lays below the ocean…
Now it is up to all of us to make whatever changes we can to lessen our use of CO2.
Returning to that Economist special report. Green machines is an analysis of what has to change, what already has changed, and the time left for these changes to take effect. But as the article states it is far, far below what is necessary:
Last year 20m households purchased heat pumps. To stop the planet from overheating, the IEA reckons that number has to triple by 2030.
In the 4th September issue of Science magazine, there is an article about The Carbon Vault.
Industrial waste can combat climate change by turning carbon dioxide into stone.
The article closes with these words:
To avert the worst damage from climate change, Lackner says, “we need to throw everything we can at it.” Including, perhaps, a lot of rocks.
Klaus Lackner is a physicist at the Arizona State University, Tempe.
So there is a great deal going on and the general awareness of what we are facing is growing. That is good! But the speed of change is not fast enough by a long shot.
Last word from Patrice:
However we know enough to realize forceful mitigation has to be engaged in immediately.
I probably wanted to say “This is very beautiful in a profound and spiritual way.“
One of the many things that make this funny world of blogging so delightful is the connections that are made.
Recently Learning from Dogs got a follow from a person who herself was a blogger. This is what she wrote on her About page.
Endurance athlete, artist, and fourth generation Oregonian. I grew up on the central Oregon coast and lived in the Willamette Valley most of my adult life. My endurance work is an intersection of spiritual, personal and creative practices. I fall in love with places, like people, and dream of them often. I am not a travel writer, bucket lister, photographer, peak bagger or a competitive athlete. I seek only passage.
I was intrigued. No, more than that, I was curious about her. I wanted to know more.
When I left a message of thanks over on her blog this is what I said:
Oh my goodness. I came here ostensibly to leave a fairly standard thank you for your decision to follow Learning from Dogs. But then I saw what you had written and, also, the beautiful photographs you have taken. I was just bowled over!
Do you have a dog or two? Because if you do I would love you to write a guest post over at my place. Or give me permission to republish one of your posts? But I would prefer the former.
My dear wife, Jean, and me are both British. We met in Mexico in 2007 and I moved out permanently in late 2008 with my GSD Pharaoh. We came up to the USA in 2010 and were married and then came to Southern Oregon in 2012. We live close to Merlin, Josephine County and just love it to pieces. Originally we had 16 dogs but are now down to 6!
Regrettably she is allergic to dogs but she quickly gave me permission to republish a post of hers.
This is it. It is remarkable!
Into the fold: Basin and Range
May 26th, 2020
I guess I should have expected the snow, above 6000’ in the springtime. Flurries swirled around my car as I removed my leggings in the backseat and began cleaning my wounds. I was bleeding in four places, the largest of which was a grapefruit sized ooze of blood on my knee. What was supposed to be a quick, 3 mile warm up hike turned into an assorted practice of skills I’ve acquired over the last ten years in the woods.
How to navigate trailless canyons full of thorny brush.
How to step when gaining upon steep fields of melting snow.
How to traverses loose, snow covered boulder fields.
How to field dress a wound.
How to know when to turn around.
How to navigate by sight and evaluate terrain.
How to avoid getting your ankle crushed by a dislodged boulder.
How to stay calm when things get intense.
How to get your head back in the game.
How to self evacuate.
How to accept failure.
How to relish in it.
Later, with my knee buzzing slightly from the pain, I make my way into a canyon on the western flank of the mountain. I know this canyon well. There is a safe place to hide from the rain, to collect drinking water, and I don’t have to worry about the roads turning to mud if the storms linger through the night. While my water filter drips, I follow the creek upstream. Wind swirls, aspens chatter, clouds are ripping across the sky. House sized, red violet boulders protrude from the hillside, they look like ships caught in the crest of a giant wave.
The sun is setting, the pain in my leg forgotten. I take my full water jugs and find a place to camp along the rocky beach of an alkaline lake. These lakes are the remnants of massive, Pleistocene era inland seas. Their waves are black. In the coldest parts of winter they freeze into a slurry of ice and the motion of the waves seems to slow. Like watching an inky black slurpee ocean crash against the rocky shore.
I eat instant noodles, drink tea, and think about the “real” ocean, where I was born.
To me, the desert and the ocean are like two sides of the same coin. I can watch the light change over the hills for hours, just like I can watch the waves break along the coast. Both are fascinating. The ocean always seems impassable, uncrossable, infinite, unforgiving. The desert is too, if you know the dangers well enough. I think about my close call on the mountain earlier. It’s like an old timer told me once, “…but only a fool tries to cross the desert”.
“Okay”, I said.
When the sun rises, I am already awake, shoving things around, getting ready to ride out to the canyons on the furthest side of the mountain. The dawn strikes a distant rim and is bright pink across the craggy face. I haven’t climbed that peak yet, either. I smile to myself as I toss my pack into the passenger seat, turn up the radio, and turn the ignition. I’m thankful for the warmth in my car this morning. Thankful for a shelter from the wind before my work in the canyon begins.
I found the place, but it took me a while.
After nearly 50 miles on gravel and dirt, weaving around the backsides of sprawling, ethereal lakes, several wrong turns, and a quite sporting, rugged road granting passage across the valley floor, I had finally reached the gates of this remote, unsociable place. Rimrock lined the canyon walls, massive boulders littered the valley floor, scattered throughout the mostly dry river channel. Each possessed its own creepy, brackish pond at its base, resplendent with robust algae colonies.
Some terrain cannot be run, and this was one of those places. I settled in to a comfortable, brisk hiking pace and made my way up the canyon; sometimes following the riverbed channel, other times taking the game trails through winding thickets of sagebrush and thorns. I never saw the animals, but I could feel myself being watched a few times. I do not mind; I always remember that I am their guest.
The otherworldly feeling of the canyon persisted, even as the landscape changed, flattened, rounded itself out. I took the old farm road out of the depths and up onto the flats again. The road leveled out as it wound it’s way around the mouth of the canyon, now obscured by the sagebrush sea spread out before me. You can see everything that is far away and nothing up close. The terrain is flat and easy here. I break into a run.
I love running downhill.
It’s all gravy until the weather blows in. I watch it coming across the valley. The first raindrops are warm and fat. A rainbow spreads across the horizon, snow clouds form on the rim of the mountain, and the wind really starts to rip. I resist the urge to increase my pace. My body is already sore; I’ve been out here nearly a week now. As the rain turns to sleet and then hail, it’s time to practice the things you’ve learned once more.
How to layer for various types of rain.
How to guard your face from the wind.
How to bundle your hands in your sleeves so they don’t go numb.
How to take your backpack off, open it and retrieve a snack without stopping.
How to run.
How to run when your feet hurt and you want to quit.
How to run when the rain turns to hail and catches you out on the flats with not even a rock to hide behind.
How to run when you are crying and you don’t know why.
Where do you go inside yourself when fatigue and boredom set it?
How do you stay present in all of it?
Everything is practice.
When I finally return to my car, the storm has passed, for now. The mountains beyond the valley are fully obscured by clouds. If I stay here, the road maybe be impassable by morning. I want to stay, but I decide the best course of action is to return the way I came. Also, the hot springs are over there, and my tired legs say, YES PLEASE. I hang my wet clothes up to dry along the windows of my car, crank the heat to 85, and hope my puffy dries out by morning. I rally back across the bumpy valley, behind the lakes, across the basin, up the face of the mountain all over again.
The hot springs are mercifully empty. I take off my clothes and stand naked in the cold air for a while, staring at the mountain. When I slip into the water, I feel like home. I feel like I belong. I am right where I want to be. Everything is just right.
But I don’t stay long.
I subsequently asked where she had gone:
These photos are all from the SE corner of Oregon, reaching down into Northern Nevada. Hart Mountain, the Northern Warner Mountains, Abert Rim, Rabbit Hills, Summer Lake, and the formidable Catlow Valley.
Now you know!
But that doesn’t change my opinion that this is one unusual person who has the spirit of adventure truly in her bones!
The first time Mia went to the beach when she was around 5 months old, she fell in love. She loves swimming, digging in the sand and chasing her ball around, and it quickly became one of her favorite outings.
Mia and her mom go to the beach about once a week in the summertime — but for Mia, it’s never enough. Their house isn’t far from the beach, so whenever Mia is out on a walk and they pass the way that would take them to the beach, she immediately stops walking and stands her ground.
“She knows the way by heart,” Yoshi Lok, Mia’s mom, told The Dodo. “She also knows that if she keeps heading north, she will eventually get to the beach which is why she always stops in her tracks and pulls me when we are heading in the opposite direction of the beach!”
Mia can be incredibly stubborn and has no problem engaging in a standoff with her mom. Every time, her mom pleads with her to keep walking, trying to explain that they don’t have time to go to the beach that day, but Mia always tries to wait a little bit longer. She hopes that the longer she stands there, the more likely it is that her mom will cave in and take her to the beach after all.
“She isn’t very happy when we don’t go, she does try more than once on our walks to go to the beach,” Lok said. “Sometimes I have to bribe her with treats to keep walking.”
Even though Mia gets to go to the beach more than most dogs do, she would definitely prefer to go every day, and has made her stance on that perfectly clear.
“She reacts this way EVERY DAY,” Lok said. “Ever since we walked to the beach three years ago (when we moved to this area in Vancouver — Kitsilano), she remembered the way and never forgot.”
On the days when Mia finally does get to go to the beach, she’s so happy. As soon as she and her mom start walking in the direction of the beach, she gets so excited and practically runs all the way there. She swims, digs and runs as much as she possibly can until it’s time to go home — and then starts her campaign to go back to the beach all over again the next day.
I think that Yoshi wouldn’t have quite the problem with Mia, if indeed it is seen as a problem, if Mia had a doggie companion. While a single dog is very common having two dogs doesn’t really increase the workload that much and the rewards in terms of the two dogs playing together is immeasurable.
But when I read the latest article from The Dodo about a corgi that freaked out when she saw a bush made to look like a dog I did wonder. But whatever it makes a nice story.
Corgi Freaks Out When She Sees A Bush That Looks Just Like Her
“She looked confused and concerned” 😂
Published on 8/28/2020.
Luna isn’t usually scared of other dogs — in fact, she’s kinda bossy.
“Luna, like a lot of other corgis, has a big dog attitude in a smaller package,” Matt, Luna’s dad who asked that his last name not be included, told The Dodo. “She loves policing other dogs at the dog park.”
So it came as a surprise when the little dog freaked out when she met a larger, greener version of herself.
Luna and Matt were visiting a friend earlier this year when they spotted an adorable topiary in the neighbor’s yard. “I just thought it was hilarious ’cause I instantly thought it was a corgi-shaped hedge,” Matt said. “Maybe that’s just what my brain defaults to ’cause my dog is a corgi.”
Matt placed Luna in front of the hedge for a photo and it became clear she was not interested in making friends.
“I think she was afraid cause it was so large and maybe the way I reacted to it,” Matt said. “She looked confused and concerned.”
Matt was surprised to learn that his tough dog is actually a bit of a scaredy cat — when it comes to large plants, at least. “She has a pretty expressive face so it feels like I know what she’s thinking,” Matt said.
Matt snapped the photo of Luna and posted it to Twitter, with the caption: “Neighbors are a big fan of Luna apparently.”
People were so impressed by the likeness that the post quickly went viral. However, all the attention didn’t change Luna’s mind when it came to topiaries.
After eight years of living with Luna, Matt appreciates her now more than ever.
“She’s been great to have around,” Matt said. “The neighbors love her as well and I’m glad I can appreciate her more right now, having to stay home more often.”
But, to keep Luna happy, they haven’t walked by the bush since.
This is a post about dogs being of comfort to the Californian firefighters. A post presented on The Dodo that I am republishing.
But yesterday afternoon came news that here in Oregon we have a blaze. As the Washington Post reported it, in part:
An unusually expansive outbreak of large and fast-moving wildfires threatens communities in three states Wednesday, with the greatest risks focused on Medford, Ore., and Oroville, Calif., as large fires advance in those areas.
In Oregon on Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that four towns have experienced significant damage, and she warned residents to expect news of fatalities.
“Oregon has experienced unprecedented fire with significant damage and devastating consequences for the entire state,” she said. Brown said the communities of Detroit, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix and Talent are “substantially destroyed.”
But back to those Californian firefighters.
Dog Helps Comfort Firefighters Fighting The California Wildfires
Ever since she was a puppy, Kerith has been the bubbliest, most joyful dog, and her mom always knew that she was born to help people.
Kerith was originally being trained to be a guide dog for individuals who are blind, but ended up changing career paths to become a therapy dog instead. For the past year she’s been working with local firefighters, providing them comfort in times of need — and with the recent wildfires spreading across California, they need her now more than ever.
“Kerith has been going to base camps where the crews start their day before they roll out to fight one of the many wildfires in CA,” Carman said. “She lightens the mood first thing in the morning. We walk around to visit all the crews while they are getting ready for their day of fighting fires. Everyone wants to see her to get some love.”
As the fires rage across California, the firefighters’ jobs become more and more stressful as they work hard every moment of the day to save homes and lives. Kerith provides them a moment of relief and joy from the realities of their job — and when many of them see her, they can’t help but envelop her in a huge hug.
Kerith loves all her firefighter friends so much, and is more than happy to let them hug her close. She seems to know that what she’s doing is important, and that the hugs she’s getting are more than just hugs. She’s helping to bring comfort when the firefighters need it most.
“Kerith clearly loves what she is doing,” Carman said. “When she sees a fire engine she gets so excited because she knows she is going to see her firefighter friends.”
Hopefully the wildfires will be under control soon, but until then, Kerith will continue to give her firefighter friends as many hugs as they need.
I find it amazing that there are dogs such as Kerith who love to be loved. Now plenty of dogs fall into that category but Kerith is part of a team; the rest of the team are human and working their backsides off fighting fires.
I will leave you for today with a random photograph I found from the ABC News website of one of those fires in California.
Roll on the rain!
And a photograph taken at 11am PDT today of the hills to the East. It includes our own property.
It shows the extent of the smoke; the nearest run of trees across the photograph are on our property.
Maybe because years ago he gave me blanket permission to republish his essays. Maybe because he and I are more or less the same age. Maybe because in my more quieter, introspective moments I wonder where the hell we are going. And Tom seems to agree.
Have a read of this.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Unexpected Past, the Unknown Future
[Note for TomDispatch Readers:Even in this terrible moment, TD does its best to continue offering an alternate view of this increasingly strange planet of ours. And I can only do so because of the ongoing support of readers. (I just wish I could actually thank each of you individually!) If you have the urge to continue to lend a hand in keeping TomDispatch afloat, then do check out our donation page. For a donation of $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), I usually offer a signed, personalized book from one of a number of TD authors listed on that page and you can certainly ask, but no guarantees in this pandemic moment. Still, you really do make all the difference and I can’t thank you enough for that! Tom]
Let me be blunt. This wasn’t the world I imagined for my denouement. Not faintly. Of course, I can’t claim I ever really imagined such a place. Who, in their youth, considers their death and the world that might accompany it, the one you might leave behind for younger generations? I’m 76 now. True, if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky), I could live another 20 years and see yet a newer world born. But for the moment at least, it seems logical enough to consider this pandemic nightmare of a place as the country of my old age, the one that I and my generation (including a guy named Donald J. Trump) will pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Back in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I knew it was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut almost immediately and, because of that, stumbled into creating TomDispatch.com, the website I still run. But did I ever think it would be this bad? Not a chance.
I focused back then on what already looked to me like a nightmarish American imperial adventure to come, the response to the 9/11 attacks that the administration of President George W. Bush quickly launched under the rubric of “the Global War on Terror.” And that name (though the word “global” would soon be dropped for the more anodyne “war on terror”) would prove anything but inaccurate. After all, in those first post-9/11 moments, the top officials of that administration were thinking as globally as possible when it came to war. At the damaged Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately turned to an aide and told him, “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” From then on, the emphasis would always be on the more the merrier.
Bush’s top officials were eager to take out not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose 19 mostly Saudi hijackers had indeed attacked this country in the most provocative manner possible (at a cost of only $400,000-$500,000), but the Taliban, too, which then controlled much of Afghanistan. And an invasion of that country was seen as but the initial step in a larger, deeply desired project reportedly meant to target more than 60 countries! Above all, George W. Bush and his top officials dreamed of taking down Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, occupying his oil-rich land, and making the United States, already the unipolar power of the twenty-first century, the overseer of the Greater Middle East and, in the end, perhaps even of a global Pax Americana. Such was the oil-fueled imperial dreamscape of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and crew (including that charmer and now bestselling anti-Trump author John Bolton).
Who Woulda Guessed?
In the years that followed, I would post endless TomDispatch pieces, often by ex-military men, focused on the ongoing nightmare of our country’s soon-to-become forever wars (without a “pax” in sight) and the dangers such spreading conflicts posed to our world and even to us. Still, did I imagine those wars coming home in quite this way? Police forces in American cities and towns thoroughly militarized right down to bayonets, MRAPs, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, thanks to a Pentagon program delivering equipment to police departments nationwide more or less directly off the battlefields of Washington’s never-ending wars? Not for a moment.
Who doesn’t remember those 2014 photos of what looked like an occupying army on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of a Black teenager and the protests that followed? And keep in mind that, to this day, the Republican Senate and the Trump administration have shown not the slightest desire to rein in that Pentagon program to militarize police departments nationwide. Such equipment (and the mentality that goes with it) showed up strikingly on the streets of American cities and towns during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Even in 2014, however, I couldn’t have imagined federal agents by the hundreds, dressed as if for a forever-war battlefield, flooding onto those same streets (at least in cities run by Democratic mayors), ready to treat protesters as if they were indeed al-Qaeda (“VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”), or that it would all be part of an election ploy by a needy president. Not a chance.
Or put another way, a president with his own “goon squad” or “stormtroopers” outfitted to look as if they were shipping out for Afghanistan or Iraq but heading for Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Seattle, and other American cities? Give me a break! How un-American could you get? A military surveillance drone overhead in at least one of those cities as if this were someone else’s war zone? Give me a break again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live to witness anything quite like it or a president — and we’ve had a few doozies — even faintly like the man a minority of deeply disgruntled Americans but a majority of electors put in the White House in 2016 to preside over a failing empire.
How about an American president in the year 2020 as a straightforward, no-punches-pulled racist, the sort of guy a newspaper could compare to former segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace without even blinking? Admittedly, in itself, presidential racism has hardly been unique to this moment in America, despite Joe Biden’s initial claim to the contrary. That couldn’t be the case in the country in which Woodrow Wilson made D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the infamous silent movie in which the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue, the first film ever to be shown in the White House; nor the one in which Richard Nixon used his “Southern strategy” — Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had earlier labeled it even more redolently “Operation Dixie” — to appeal to the racist fears of Southern whites and so begin to turn that region from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion; nor in the land where Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign of 1980 with a “states’ rights” speech (then still a code phrase for segregation) near Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where three murdered civil rights workers had been found buried in 1964.
Still, an openly racist president (don’t take that knee!) as an autocrat-in-the-making (or at least in-the-dreaming), one who first descended that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 denouncing Mexican “rapists,” ran for president rabidly on a Muslim ban, and for whom Black lives, including John Lewis’s, have always been immaterial, a president now defending every Confederate monument and military base named after a slave-owning general in sight, while trying to launch a Nixon-style “law and (dis)order” campaign? I mean, who woulda thunk it?
And add to that the once unimaginable: a man without an ounce of empathy in the White House, a figure focused only on himself and his electoral and pecuniary fate (and perhaps those of his billionaire confederates); a man filling his hated “deep state” with congressionally unapproved lackies, flacks, and ass-kissers, many of them previously flacks (aka lobbyists) for major corporations. (Note, by the way, that while The Donald has a distinctly autocratic urge, I don’t describe him as an incipient fascist because, as far as I can see, his sole desire — as in those now-disappeared rallies of his — is to have fans, not lead an actual social movement of any sort. Think of him as Mussolini right down to the look and style with a “base” of cheering MAGA chumps but no urge for an actual fascist movement to lead.)
And who ever imagined that an American president might actually bring up the possibility of delaying an election he fears losing, while denouncing mail-in ballots (“the scandal of our time”) as electoral fraud and doing his damnedest to undermine the Post Office which would deliver them amid an economic downturn that rivals the Great Depression? Who, before this moment, ever imagined that a president might consider refusing to leave the White House even if he did lose his reelection bid? Tell me this doesn’t qualify as something new under the American sun. True, it wasn’t Donald Trump who turned this country’s elections into 1% affairs or made contributions by the staggeringly wealthy and corporations a matter of free speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), but it is Donald Trump who is threatening, in his own unique way, to make elections themselves a thing of the past. And that, believe me, I didn’t count on.
Nor did I conceive of an all-American world of inequality almost beyond imagining. A country in which only the truly wealthy (think tax cuts) and the national security state (think budgets eternally in the stratosphere) are assured of generous funding in the worst of times.
The World to Come?
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet, have I? The one that should bring to mind the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the devastating Spanish Flu of a century ago, the one that’s killing Americans in remarkable numbers daily and going wild in this country, aided and abetted in every imaginable way (and some previously unimaginable ones) by the federal government and the president. Who could have dreamed of such a disease running riot, month after month, in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet without a national plan for dealing with it? Who could have dreamed of the planet’s most exceptional, indispensable country (as its leaders once loved to call it) being unable to take even the most modest steps to rein in Covid-19, thanks to a president, Republican governors, and Republican congressional representatives who consider science the equivalent of alien DNA? Honestly, who ever imagined such an American world? Think of it not as The Decameron, that fourteenth century tale of 10 people in flight from a pandemic, but the Trumpcameron or perhaps simply Trumpmageddon.
And keep in mind, when assessing this world I’m going to leave behind to those I hold near and dear, that Covid-19 is hardly the worst of it. Behind that pandemic, possibly even linked to it in complex ways, is something so much worse. Yes, the coronavirus and the president’s response to it may seem like the worst of all news as American deaths crest 160,000 with no end in sight, but it isn’t. Not faintly on a planet that’s being heated to the boiling point and whose most powerful country is now run by a crew of pyromaniacs.
It’s hard even to fully conceptualize climate change since it operates on a time scale that’s anything but human. Still, one way to think of it is as a slow-burn planetary version of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And by the way, if you’ll excuse a brief digression, in these years, our president and his men have been intent on ripping up every Cold War nuclear pact in sight, while the tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, the U.S. and China, only intensify and Washington invests staggering sums in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. (I mean, how exactly do you “modernize” the already-achieved ability to put an almost instant end to the world as we’ve known it?)
But to return to climate change, remember that 2020 is already threatening to be the warmest year in recorded history, while the five hottest years so far occurred from 2015 to 2019. That should tell you something, no?
The never-ending release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been transforming this planet in ways that have now become obvious. My own hometown, New York City, for instance, has officially become part of the humid subtropical climate zone and that’s only a beginning. Everywhere temperatures are rising. They hit 100 degrees this June in, of all places, Siberia. (The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the planet.) Sea ice is melting fast, while floods and mega-droughts intensify and forests burn in a previously unknown fashion.
And as a recent heat wave across the Middle East — Baghdad hit a record 125 degrees — showed, it’s only going to get hotter. Much hotter and, given how humanity has handled the latest pandemic, how will it handle the chaos that goes with rising sea levels drowning coastlines but also affecting inland populations, ever fiercer storms, and flooding (in recent weeks, the summer monsoon has, for instance, put one third of Bangladesh underwater), not to speak of the migration of refugees from the hardest-hit areas? The answer is likely to be: not well.
And I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the world I either imagined or would ever have dreamed of leaving to those far younger than me. That the men (and they are largely men) who are essentially promoting the pandemicizing and over-heating of this planet will be the greatest criminals in history matters little.
Let’s just hope that, when it comes to creating a better world out of such a god-awful mess, the generations that follow us prove better at it than mine did. If I were a religious man, those would be my prayers.
And here’s my odd hope. As should be obvious from this piece, the recent past, when still the future, was surprisingly unimaginable. There’s no reason to believe that the future — the coming decades — will prove any easier to imagine. No matter the bad news of this moment, who knows what our world might really look like 20 years from now? I only hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that it surprises us all.
This is such a powerful essay written from the heart of a good man.
I, too, wonder and worry about the next twenty years. Indeed, there are the stirrings of a book in my head. How that younger generation are reacting to the present and, more importantly, how they will react and respond to the next few years?
I’m 75 and really hope to live for quite a few more years. Jean is just a few years younger.
But much more importantly I have a son, Alex, who is 49, and a daughter, Maija, who is 48, and a grandson, Morten, of my daughter and her husband, who is 9.