When I was a kid, I loved to listen to the adults talk. Christmas was best for this, the Grandparents hosting a bevy of far-flung relatives crowded around a crumb covered dining room table, laughing faces made brighter by the crazy-hot light strings on the tree. My favorite subject: “The War.”
This was what we called WWII. Grandpa was an engineer who helped design the B-17 and then worked for Sandia Labs on The Bomb. “The War” is the reason our family is in New Mexico. Listening to the old people, what really came through is how close we came to losing WWII by not being in it soon enough.
Despite the relentless actions of fascist Japan, Germany and Italy through the 1930s, conservatives told Americans not to worry. Isolationists such as Charles Lindbergh championed America First and Jews, Ethiopians and Chinese never.
Republicans then admitted a problem existed, but that we shouldn't worry, we should make money. Bank of America lent billions to the Nazis, Ford had a truck plant in Berlin and the Koch Patriarch built a oil refinery that had to be bombed by young Americans in B-17s at a terrible cost.
By this reckoning, Hiroshima is about 10 years away, conservatives again deny that a problem exists and scientists channel Samuel L. Jackson’s “Wake the fuck up!” ad. This is because of a phenomenon known as the feedback loop, and it should keep you up at night.
A feedback loop is a self-accelerating vicious circle; the “albedo effect” is a good example: light-colored ice reflects sunlight away from Earth but warming oceans melt ice so dark-colored ocean and land absorb solar radiation, melting more ice and absorbing more heat in an accelerating loop that will only end when all ice is melted and sunlight completely absorbed—hothouse Earth.
Scientists are aware of numerous feedback loops in the environment, the most terrifying of which exist in the atmosphere.
As carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use increase the greenhouse effect and warm the planet, methane is released from thawing tundra and the Arctic coastline. As a greenhouse gas, methane is a hundred times worse than CO2 and greatly accelerates the greenhouse effect, heating the planet in a feedback loop, more and more rapidly until nothing remains but bacteria—not very diversified bacteria either.
If cattle were a country, they would graph between India and China in emissions; their unique digestive tract produces methane that escapes from both ends, a direct result of food choices made by people in cities.
Of the six mass extinctions, including the current, manmade one, five resulted from CO2 and methane buildup in the atmosphere. One was a massive asteroid strike that gave mammals our chance by killing most life on Earth, including the dinosaurs, 60 million years ago.
Without a WWII-level effort to reduce emissions, we will soon approach a point where we can’t affect any meaningful change by controlling emissions, as the feedback loop cascades beyond control. This was voiced effectively by AOC in support of the Green New Deal. (Don't know who that is? Get woke!).
Ignoring this problem is akin to waiting until the Nazi Wehrmacht is in Pennsylvania as opposed to France.
Standards set by the Paris climate accords would limit the increase in average temperature to around 6 degree Fahrenheit—like ceding England to Hitler and Australia to the Empire of Japan—for a hotter world that’s still moderately habitable.
Hopefully habitable, because we don’t yet know what the momentum of a heated ocean and atmosphere entails; severe storms of all stripes are assured, and biological collapse on a grand scale is still a very real possibility. Plants and animals—you know, the stuff that produces our air and food—take hundreds or thousands of years to adapt to changing climactic conditions.
The bad news is that an 8-degree increase is more likely. Most of the Earth will be completely uninhabitable owing to temperatures that kill animals, including us, via hyperthermia. Unable to sustain plankton due to oxygen depletion, the oceans will die and the food chain will completely collapse.
Cities, where consuming is decided and wherein solutions must arise, are the battlefield in World War E. Seventy-five percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050.
In both environmental plans and action, Albuquerque has already done much. We’ve had recycling bins for over 20 years, a change that Houston, a comparatively metropolitan city, has yet to adopt. Recycling won’t solve climate change but it speaks volumes about the leaders that we elect to set goals and expectations.
It’s tempting to believe that we can effect global change with personal actions, but the policy changes than can effect real change are societal. Panic among millions with a shared direction made WWII’s successes possible, and panic is perfectly acceptable now as we face our collective extinction.
Ironically WWII made gas-powered automobiles and far-flung suburbs profitable for corporations, though expensive for Earth and society. Money that finances oil companies via lengthy commutes in turn fund short-sighted politicians and policies.
New Urbanism, with citizens ensconced minutes from work and walkable shopping, is off to a great start in Burque with multi-unit buildings burgeoning all along Central and adjoining streets, close to rapid transit—shamefully delayed by the transportation department’s electric bus mutiny.
Whatever they are, we need to enact Manhattan Project-level solutions, because the signs are everywhere, from increasing levels of climate migrants and wildfires to decreasing levels of insects and native plants.
Holding the Earth like a basketball at arm’s length, the atmosphere is about the thickness of a piece of cardboard. If the history of our planet was a 24-hour clock, the conditions that spawned humans would be 20 minutes before midnight, with humans around for less than 2 minutes. In just 150 years, we have added more CO2 to the atmosphere than was added naturally in 10 million years; half of that happened during the last 30 years.
It’s time to panic.