Perfect Timing

What might save us from a slow death by global warming would be the arrival of Chicxulub II.

Several years ago I had a long dialogue with an older cousin about how lucky I was to have been born at the very beginning of the 1940’s. This meant that my parents had by then clawed themselves out of the Great Depression, so my childhood was marked by none of the hardship they suffered. In fact, my parents became more prosperous, if far from wealthy, as I grew up.

I was too young to be sent to Korea, and I graduated from college just in time to join the Army and be sent to Germany when our presence in Vietnam amounted to just a few thousand “advisors”. Johnson didn’t escalate until the following summer, by which time I had less than a year of my enlistment obligation remaining. So while friends were dying in the jungle, I sat safe in Germany developing a taste for continental cuisine.

And when I was discharged, I went to graduate school paid for by the freshly reinstated GI Bill. Yes, perfect timing and a charmed life that continued with my being able to move to San Francisco and, after some thrashing around, get good jobs that gave me an income more than adequate to meet my modest needs. Ummm, “modest needs” means that I didn’t need to have expensive cars or clothing or furniture or the other things on which so many Americans spend lots of money. That said, the fact is that my life has been rather luxurious, at least by my middle-class standards. I’ve lived in nice apartments, eaten in good restaurants, and, after I retired, made eight visits to Amsterdam, each a month long. There, I lived in an efficiency apartment while I worked with marginal success at learning the language, made lots of friends while burrowing into the society, and had a grand old time.

Just how very charmed my life had been became obvious a few years ago as I was retiring when I realized that the ground had been cut out from under the middle class when the 1% figured out how to make even more money by offshoring our jobs and turning our economy into one based on manipulating financial instruments while producing nothing.

Thus, it was no longer possible to go to the city and make one’s fortune as I and my cohort had. In the first place, it was no longer possible to find an affordable place to live in the city unless you were one of the fortunate few who’d just been hired at a princely salary by one of the tech companies. So it was clear a number of years ago that the next generation would not, as we had, grow up in the confident expectation that we would make a better living than our parents.

And that was before the developments of the past few years when the specter of global warming darkened the horizon of everyone halfway well informed even as so many of our fellow citizens were still drinking the Republican Kool-aid and thinking of global warming as either a liberal hoax or a Chinese one. I’ve just finished reading all 300 scrupulously documented pages of David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth:  Life After Warming, and I sit here marveling at how, since I’m 78 and in failing health, I’m going to miss it all: the droughts, the floods, the catastrophic weather, the crop failures, the famines, the wars, and the tsunamis of refugees swarming toward food and shelter.

One last thing I’ll miss is the rising totalitarianism as people all over the planet discover that that populist leader they elected because he sounded so good has now declared that until the current crisis has passed, the press must be reined in to avoid fake news and elections will need to be postponed. The revitalized Secret Police will maintain order.

So yes, what we face now is a perfect storm. We have gone forth and multiplied until the world population has reached 7.7 billion when the sustainable number is routinely estimated to be about one billion. This has been made possible by a combination of our exploitation of the planet’s resources well beyond the sustainable level and most particularly by the explosion in the use of fossil fuels over the past century, which has delivered the global warming.

And global warming will be next to impossible to stop or even slow because our corporations, especially those in fossil fuels, will continue to focus on short-term profit, passing the cost of their environmental damage on to society. This is the way it works. A simple example is the contamination of the waters of San Francisco Bay by mercury leaching from the tailings of the old cinnabar mines that were dug during the gold rush. A century and a half later, fish from the southern lobe of the bay still have dangerous levels of mercury, but the owners of the cinnabar mines paid not a dime for the ongoing damage.

Yep, my timing was perfect. Meanwhile, here’s the Falun Gong meditating in front of the Ferry Building.

Falun Gong at the Ferry Building
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  1. David Ogden
    Posted 21 May 2019 at 08:14 | Permalink

    Well said. I fear for my children and the future they face (as you described). I’m glad I’m old and will not see the extermination of the human species. We sure fucked it up this time.

    • Posted 21 May 2019 at 23:19 | Permalink

      I think your kids will be OK, but things are going to fall apart fairly soon. Or should I say “continue” to fall apart?

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