Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Apocalyptic Scenarios

Yesterday afternoon I read this article on the coming environmental apocalypse.  It begins this way:  "It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today." 

The piece of click bait that worked on me was this nugget:  "The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade."

It's a sobering article accompanied by some interesting art pieces, yet it didn't tell me much that I don't already know.  Of course, I've been thinking about these issues for a long time now.  Ironically, it was global climate change that convinced us to move to southern Florida rather than the desert southwest.  In the middle 1990's when we were making these decisions, I didn't include sea level rise in my calculations.  It wasn't expected to be that bad in our lifetime.  Now, it might be.

I expect that most of us will leave the area long before the sea swallows the land.  It's hard to tell what will drive the bulk of us away first.  Housing is pricey, and a large part of that price is the insurance that it takes to live here.  We are upper-middle class people, and each year when I open the homeowners insurance and wind insurance and flood insurance, I spend several weeks wondering how long we can continue to live here.

At some point the cost of drinking water may become unsustainable.  For now, we have a wonderful aquifer that runs below us.  We won't drink up all that water in my lifetime, but saltwater intrusion will likely happen--and then we'll have to pay much more for the water.

Why live here?  For one thing, it's a matter of sunk cost--we've already invested a lot, so we may as well enjoy it while we can.  And it's not like there's lots of jobs further inland and upland.  But it's mainly because I haven't gotten a clear sign that it's time to go.

Of course, once I get that sign, it may be more difficult.  The first house that is declared uninsurable will mean that the rest of us can't sell our houses.  The first taste of salt in the drinking water may lead to panic.

As the article comes to an end, the essayist wonders why we're not seeing climate change in our creative writing:  "So why can’t we see it? In his recent book-length essay The Great Derangement, the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh wonders why global warming and natural disaster haven’t become major subjects of contemporary fiction — why we don’t seem able to imagine climate catastrophe, and why we haven’t yet had a spate of novels in the genre he basically imagines into half-existence and names “the environmental uncanny.” “Consider, for example, the stories that congeal around questions like, ‘Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?’ or ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ ” he writes. “Will it ever be possible to ask, in the same vein, ‘Where were you at 400 ppm?’ or ‘Where were you when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up?’ ” His answer: Probably not, because the dilemmas and dramas of climate change are simply incompatible with the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, especially in novels, which tend to emphasize the journey of an individual conscience rather than the poisonous miasma of social fate."

I'm not sure I agree with the premise, yet I can't summon non-science fiction works to rebut the claim. I would argue that we see poetry exploring these ideas far more effectively than most genres.

It's an interesting call to artists.  Let me ponder it.

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