Ending with a Whimper

California Fires

Oakland Hills Smoke November 2018
Oakland Hills. Credit: New York Times

This week the wild fires in California are making headlines. Not only has the death toll reached 71 (and that number will presumably go up), but the quality of life in much of California has become miserable. The New York Times article Not Burned, but Suffocated highlights the struggles of many people in the Bay Area as they try to go about their normal lives.

Aside from the problems to do with the smoke itself, the following items in the article caught my attention.

    1. Because it is to hard to breathe outside, people use their cars, even “to do simple, nearby errands”.
    2. The most effective air masks are sold out.
    3. Doctors are seeing physiological weaknesses in people are inflamed.
    4. People are driving three hours to spend one day outdoors.
    5. They are buying plane tickets — to anywhere else.

These items all illustrated the fact that Age of Limits issues are complex, and involve unexpected feedback loops and examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences..

The article concludes with the following sobering statement.

We’ve been told for a generation to expect this kind of creeping devastation. Still, it is incredibly troubling to feel it arriving, to hunker in its shadow. People around me are weighing that too, sobered, feeling their eyes burn, hearing the rattling in their lungs.

Paradise California fires
Paradise California. Credit: New York Times.

Some people think that the world may end with a bang. But what we see in places such as California is a gradual, debilitating and dispiriting decline that puts one in mind of Eliot’s famous lines, from the Hollow Men.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

At this web site I will try to draw lessons for the Christian community from events such as those in California. It seems to me that there are two lessons here.

The first, of course, is to do what we can to help people in the here and now.

The second lesson is to do with the long term. We need to understand that what we see in California is not a problem, but a predicament — there are no solutions, we cannot go back to where we were. The opportunity for doing so is decades behind us.

As a community we must learn to live in a world — the world of the Industrial Revolution — that is ending not with a bang, but a whimper.

Failed Preparations

Umbrella being blown away

Many people who are aware of Age of Limits issues have prepared for a sudden crisis. These people are often called “preppers”.

But may be they are not as “prepped” as they thought they were. This article from Peak Prosperity describes how a person living in North Carolina who thought he was well prepared, fared less well than expected when hit by Hurricane Florence in September of this year. The problems that he faced fell into three broad categories:

  1. Climate-related corrosion
    Despite careful efforts to store his emergency gear responsibly, he discovered the humid North Carolina climate had ruined several pieces of equipment.
  2. Incorrect assumptions
    Several components did not work as expected when deployed. The “universal” gas line purchased in advance to connect his collection of camping stoves to a large propane tank simply didn’t fit.
  3. Random Fate

There are two important lessons that we can draw from this person’s experience.

  1. Having an emergency plan is not sufficient. That plan should be tested frequently.
  2. Always have backups for critical equipment.

Christian Climate Action

In Britain, two members of Christian Climate Action have been arrested as result of their protests as part of the “Extinction Rebellion”. One has to admire the courage and sacrifice of Ruth Jarman and Phil Kingston.

It is interesting to see that these Christians are talking very bluntly; they use the word “extinction”, rather than something less dramatic, such as “climate change”. Their demands are:

  • That the UK declares a state of emergency around climate change;
  • That the government takes action to create a zero carbon economy by 2025;
  • That we create a national assembly of ordinary people to decide what our zero carbon future will look like.

They compare themselves with civil rights activists in the United States and with suffragettes in the early 20th century. It seems to me, however, that they face a much greater challenge than those earlier activists. Those people were for increasing the number of people with civil rights — the right to vote, for example. They were not proposing to take anything away from anyone — except maybe feelings of unjustified superiority. But, if we are serious about a “zero carbon economy” just seven years from now, then we are talking about shutting down the world’s economies. Everything that we do is based on the use of fossil fuel energy (coal, oil, natural gas). A “zero carbon economy” would create its own form of extinction.

Unlike the previous activists, the people from Christian Climate Action are demanding enormous sacrifice from those who currently benefit from the current world order. Yet look at the violent response to a simple increase in the tax on diesel fuel sold in France. There’s a disconnect here.

French Fuel Protests 2018-11
Credit: BBC

Which takes us back to a persistent theme of this site — climate change is not a stand-alone issue. It needs to be considered in the context of resources, economics and population, as shown in the following simple Venn Diagram.

Venn-AOL-2-300

And, as the French protests demonstrate, we have to factor in human psychology — there are very few people who will voluntarily reduce their standard of living.

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One thought on “Ending with a Whimper

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    A SELF SUFFICIENT VIRTUAL CITY AS A MODEL TO MAKE A SUSTAINABLE REAL WORLD

    Despite the high quality of life that some of the so-called developed nations have achieved, the truth is that the world, considered as a group of countries located in a fragile and geographically limited biosphere, is threatened with extinction due to human conflicts and the depredation of the environment.
    Notwithstanding the good and very important actions taken by groups and individuals in favor of a better world, deterioration at all levels continues to increase dangerously.
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