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On Fire in this Dead Heat: It Is Too Late to Leave

Photo by Landon Parenteau on Unsplash

What if you saw someone walking past a burning house, and they paid no attention to it? They don't try to put out the fire. They do nothing to help the people crying out inside. They just keep walking.

You would think there was something wrong with them, wouldn't you?

Now imagine the burning house is their own, and their own friends and family are trapped inside. That seems sociopathic. And yet that person is us, and the house is humanity's common home.

But you knew that already. Observations like that are so commonplace nowadays they've become clichés. You may have already stopped reading this, and I don't blame you if you have.

The question isn't whether we can avoid severe climate change, it's whether we can temper the change enough to preserve our civilization.

After all, we know exactly what we're doing to ourselves. We just don't know what to do about it. Or we're not willing to do what needs to be done.

Welcome to your future:

"Officials on Friday hunted for any missing residents of a British Columbia town destroyed by wildfire as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered federal assistance ... The roughly 1,000 residents of Lytton had to abandon their homes with just a few minutes notice Wednesday evening after suffering the previous day under a record high of 121.2 °F (49.6 °C).

"Officials said it was unclear whether anyone remained in the village 95 miles (150 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver due to a lack of cell service and because it wasn't safe to enter most of the area."

Imagine: The people of the town isolated, their world burning, as even their digital connections vanish in the suffocating dark.

Welcome to your future:

"California has declared a state of emergency to address power system concerns, as parts of the US south-west reported dangerously high temperatures. An excessive heat warning is in place for much of Arizona and California, and southern areas of Nevada and Utah. People are being told to stay in air-conditioned areas and out of the sun.

"Californians have also been urged to conserve energy during peak times, as temperatures are expected to remain between 100-110 °F until Sunday. The California Independent System Operator, which controls most of the state's power grid, asked people to set thermostats to 78 °F or higher, avoid using major appliances and unnecessary lights.

"In Phoenix, Arizona, the temperatures reached 118 °F on Thursday, while Las Vegas reported 115 °F and Denver reached 100 °F for the third day in a row. About 50 million people were under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories across the south-west."

Power that comes and goes. The oppressive sensation of never feeling cool. The sun an alien and hostile object overhead.

Welcome to your future:

"Global warming will increase the chances of summer conditions that may be 'too hot for humans' to work in. What is heat stress? It's when the body is unable to cool down properly so its core temperature keeps rising to dangerous levels and key organs can shut down."

British Columbia's fires taught many of us a new term – "pyroCb":

"A fire cloud, known as a pyrocumulonimbus cloud or pyroCb, typically forms when a fire rages with enough intensity that it creates updrafts of smoke, water vapor and ash that rise high into the atmosphere. These columns of air then cool and condense, forming clouds that can generate thunder, lightning and tornado-force winds.

"Pyrocumulonimbus clouds ... can cause wildfires to behave erratically, making it difficult for firefighters to control the blazes or predict how they will evolve. Fire clouds can also help wildfires spread by kicking up burning embers that land downwind or by producing lightning strikes that ignite new areas."

Now we know that wildfires can create clouds of flame that generate lightning and storm winds, making new fires and spreading the old ones. It's a self-perpetuating holocaust. As a metaphor for our economic system, we could do considerably worse.

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The question isn't whether we can avoid severe climate change. The question is whether we can temper the change enough to preserve our civilization, if that's the right word for it. Right now the race between apocalypse and survival is a dead heat.

But, apocalypse is on the inside track and gaining fast.

During Australia's 2019 wildfires, a message appeared on social media from the Victoria State Government:

You are in danger and must act immediately to survive.

The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately.

It is too late to leave.

After Covid-19 struck worldwide, Victoria State's website carried a new message:

The Victorian Government is directing all Victorians to stay at home, restricting sporting, cultural, recreational and commercial activities to help limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you can stay home, you must stay home.

But home is where the danger is.

Where do we go when that happens? And who will help us? Republicans insist there is no fire.

Democrats say they see the flames and will do something about it soon, eventually, sometime—no, not in this bill, but maybe the one after that.

Meanwhile the house is burning, burning, burning... as we all walk past.

The flames that swept Victoria were mirrored that year in fires that raged worldwide in:

  • the Amazon
  • California
  • Siberia
  • Indonesia
  • Lebanon.

As the planet warmed, the fires kept getting worse. And then, in China's Hubei province, people began coming down with an aggressive strain of flu.

We know what happened next.

Still, we watch and do nothing. And so, in town after town, in state after state, in country after country, the word goes out: Take shelter. Stay home. It is too late to leave.

Richard RJ Eskow 200

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RJ Eskow
Common Dreams