THE FIRES OF HELL ON EARTH – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #56

This week’s question is taken from Melanie’s “Share Your World” for the week. And my answer is an expansion of what I wrote on that post.

The world is on fire and we will all burn. No need to wait for hell to engulf us. We merely need to wait for the overcooked earth to dry up and burn. I read a post today from NASA and another couple of agencies whose logos I’ve forgotten. It was beyond dismal.

Basically, it said that we have failed to do anything about climate change for far too long and now, only very drastic action will accomplish anything. 2019 was the hottest year on record. Ever. Two entire countries — Switzerland and Khazakstan — have both exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point. Fires swept through much of America’s west and last year was truly terrible, but almost nothing compared to the horror of what has occurred in Australia. Only two entire countries have exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point, but most American cities have reached or exceeded it as have their suburbs.

The ice is melting faster than anyone expected and the sea is rising. The burning of the Amazon rain forest is a manmade tragedy that will help climate change develop faster. The entire world is hotter and where it hasn’t flooded, there are droughts. Flowers are blooming in Switzerland in January and last Friday, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Today it is 50, which is a kind of weather we normally get in late spring. Certainly not in January.

Oh, sure, we might get snow, but we got almost none last year and there has been very little this season. We are getting tick warnings from our local government. I had to put collars on the dogs because ticks and fleas are out there having a great time, bouncing around, injecting diseases in humans and animals.

Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management. The country was still quite small. I think we had fewer than 7 million people then. The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater and figure out safe ways to use it. No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.

Flames from the Valley Fire cover a hillside along Highway 29 in Lower Lake, California September 13, 2015. The swiftly spreading wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of residents to flee as it roared unchecked through the northern California village of Middletown and nearby communities, REUTERS/Noah Berger

The point is not that I knew something important about our climate before most people were up to speed. It is that we have known about the danger to our environment for 100 years and for at least the past 50 have had top-quality scientists warning us again and again while we just went ahead, worrying about whether to buy the bigger SUV or maybe go for something smaller.

Since the 1970s when we officially declared “Earth Day,” many of us have tried to “do the right thing,” when we could figure out what that was. Most of us recycle, even when we know they aren’t doing anything with the trash, just moving it around. We lowered car emissions. We closed down coal-fired plants. We did something, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t done everywhere it needed to be done. Many countries have done absolutely nothing, either because they are too poor or in denial. Australia was one of the countries that did nothing much, not because people didn’t want change, but because the government wouldn’t budge.

Nor was enough done anywhere else on earth. The worst part? Even in places where they have been extremely careful, their neighbors are killing them. Like Switzerland.

To expect the nations of the world to get together and repair the planet so our children and grandchildren can live here is one of those great ideas in which I don’t believe. Humans don’t work together. We can’t get a Congress that agrees on anything, much less a planet. We fight, we kill, we destroy collectively, but repair things? Make things better? When has that ever occurred?

The smoke from 1500 miles (2000 km) away turns the skies in New Zealand orange.

We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have any recycling plants and we know they just take the recycling and dump it in landfills. Or worse.

WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH.

We are not doing enough now, then, nor are there plans to do what needs doing. We have no firm plans to do much of anything going forward. It’s a lack of interest. It’s a lack of solid plans killing us. We talk about it, but long before Trump got into office and has been doing his utmost to make a dire situation direr, we were busy making minor changes with vague plans for the future. We’ve been permanently at the discussion stage and never at the implementation stage.

Meanwhile, our planet is burning. If the fire hasn’t come to you yet, wait a while. It will come. First the heat, then the drought, then the fire.

The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. I read the papers. I understood how important it was. For all of that, I couldn’t imagine it could happen here. That my reality would change. That my birds would die and insects would arrive bringing diseases to kill us. Meanwhile, our way of stopping the insects — which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been ignoring — is poisoning everything else. We seem to be helping the disaster, not stopping it.

For all I know, we are beyond help. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t have answers.

Meanwhile, I have nightmares of the fires and the death of all the things I love.

If this doesn’t terrify you, what does? I too worry about freedom in this country, healthcare, and all that stuff — but if we can’t breathe, have no water, and the air is full of smoke while the sea rises and sea life dies — how much will freedom matter?

WORLD SHARING, 01/14/2020 – Marilyn Armstrong

WORLD SHARING QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK

What’s something your brain tries to make you do, which you have to will yourself NOT to do?  (could be a bad habit, a physical response to something … your interpretation is as good as mine! )

Once I get into a book, I sometimes read all night, then watch the sun come up and realize I’m going to be SO tired. You’d think I’d know better by now, but I can’t seem to shake it. Once I’m into a story, I always need to read the next chapter. And then, the next.

When someone finds out what you do, or where you are from, what question do they always ask you?

A million questions. I give them a copy of my book.

What’s something terrifying that we’ve all come to accept as a fact of life?

Fires everywhere. And international storms.

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through the bush on January 04, 2020, in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Should governments make laws to protect people from harming themselves? Could that even work? (This one is deep, maybe too deep).

There are already laws, but they are impossible to enforce. Technically, attempted suicide is also attempted murder. The problem is that someone who has attempted suicide is usually not someone the law is willing to prosecute. Anyone who is determined to kill themself will eventually succeed and we have no way to stop them.

Troubled people should have full access to mental health facilities, psychological help, and services, but we don’t offer them. Maybe someday we will. Until then, we aren’t doing anything significant to help troubled people.

OUR WORLD BALANCED ON THE HEAD OF A PIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry was a working reporter for more than 40 years, so you have to figure I have an interest in the news. I never watched all the news. I didn’t think every shooting or fatal car accident was news. Just because something happens doesn’t make it newsworthy. Even if it’s tragic. News directors believe in bad news. Good news rarely makes the cut.

I was never a news junkie. I wasn’t — and still am not — addicted to the news, but I like to know what’s happening. Not just about things which directly affect me, but how goes my town,  city, state, nation, and world. From wondering who was going to fix our local potholes to which war we are currently fighting even though I never understand why we are having another (or the same?) war.

Film at eleven!

As far as elections go? I like to get a good, long look at candidates. If you don’t watch candidates during their campaigns, how can you know who to vote for? Having enough time to get that look at candidates is probably the only advantage of our ridiculously long election process. One of the many things you can learn is if that person has a moral center, something to which I think we’ve previously paid far too little attention.

There may be more …

Right now, as I’m watching television, it appears Iran has shot a dozen ballistic missiles at an American base in Iraq. So all of this could be a moot point. For all I know, we may be in the middle of nuclear war tomorrow or by the end of the week. I asked Garry if we should call all our friends (there aren’t that many) and say goodbye.

Maybe I don’t need a new boiler after all. Well, that’s a relief. There’s always a silver lining. You just need to look for it.

Missiles from Iran to U.S. installation in Iraq

When people said: “Oh, I don’t watch the news,” Garry took it personally. After all, he was on the news almost every day. Meanwhile, he read three papers a day as well as working fulltime for a network news affiliate. To be fair, half of that reading was sports, but we all need hobbies. He knew the candidates personally because he worked with them. He knew their records. He was really good at predicting elections. He had better than average resources and by definition, so did I.

Australian fire – clouds and embers

I never read three papers a day. I spot read one and never missed the comics or anything about archaeology. I watched and recorded Garry’s daily piece. Nonetheless, I knew what was going on. I voted almost every year. I missed a few. I never missed a presidential or senatorial election, but sometimes I’d let the local elections slide because I didn’t know anything about the candidates. When you don’t know who the candidates are, voting is like scratching a lottery ticket. It has the same resonance. I can’t throw my vote to the most appealing face on the ballot.

These days, I feel like our world is balanced on the head of a pin.

REUTERS/Noah Berger – Fires in California last summer

It’s a big, blue ball and a very tiny pin. There is no room to make a mistake. A bit of imbalance and that big blue ball will crash. Given one thing and another, it may crash regardless, but until I know it has, I’ll do the best I can to make a difference. In the course of our lives, we don’t get much opportunity to influence anything outside ourselves and maybe our family. The magnitude of the world in which we live has dwarfed our efforts.

Montecito Mudslide – 2018

This little blog is what I can do. If there’s any purpose to blogging daily, it’s because maybe I can help someone. Change someone’s mind. Show them a choice they didn’t know was available. Whenever I’m tired of the whole thing, I remember that there’s a chance I can help. Maybe I’m not just spinning my wheels.

I think everyone has a minimal obligation to have a fundamental understanding of the world in which they live. I find it appalling in a time when all our lives are on the line, that so many people still hide their heads in the sand or willingly believe lies because they feel better than the truth. Then they complain when things go wrong.

It was generations of head hiders who got us here.

THE BURNING SEASON – Marilyn Armstrong

Martha Kennedy wrote a piece today that I wanted to comment on. But after a while, I realized it wasn’t a comment. It was a blog. A long blog at that.

Although I have not recently fallen on my head, I feel as if the universe is falling on it. It is as if I’ve am bludgeoned daily. Even when I’m trying NOT to think about it. The fires in Australia, like the fires in Montana and California and other places, terrify me. I live in a heavily wooded area. A quick flick of a casual cigarette could turn us into the next fire zone and it isn’t hard to imagine all of New England burning to the ground. From here on up through Maine, areas outside cities are 60% or more trees. Not manicured, not attended. Just growing. Around here, it’s oak. Further north, it’s pine.

Australian fires as seen from space

Probably the reason it hasn’t happened (yet) is we’ve also had more than twice the usual rainfall for the past few years. Even more last year. August was the hottest month in weather records that go back 200 years.

So while on one level, I can ignore politics, I can’t ignore climate. It has changed a lot and keeps changing. The time we thought we had seems to be gone. My dogs — in January — still need tick and flea collars because it isn’t cold enough for the insects to die. They are still breeding.

It’s going to be one humdinger of a summer for bugs. Maybe this will make the Woodpeckers happy, but it’s going to make life really miserable for other creatures. The lakes aren’t freezing and we’ve only had one 5-inch snow in early December. Now, it’s January. It’s much too warm for snow. Cold this evening, but temperatures in the 60s are expected by mid-week.

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through the bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Birds that were common last year have not come back this year. No more Monarch butterflies, either. No butterflies. Lots of spiders. Huge wolf spiders that normally don’t come out of their lairs in the woods have shown up on my back door. Ticks and fleas abound. Today we came back from the doctor and there was a green, lively grasshopper on the front door.

This is not even close to normal. One of our best friends is the senior meteorologist in this region … and even he can’t make sensible predictions. The winds are wrong, the waters are too warm. Cape Cod is full of sharks because the seals have come down into these warmer waters. It used to be that sighting a big shark would close the beaches but now, they just warn you to watch out for sharks.

Fleeing kangaroos. Most of Australia’s unique wildlife is being destroyed

Sea birds are dying, garden birds are failing to nest and the bears — lacking their normal habitats — are wandering south. So far, they haven’t taken down our deck, but they certainly could. I suppose that would be the end of feeding the birds.

I haven’t seen most of our hawks, either. I think we still have a bobcat back in the woods because we have no chipmunks — just that one — or any rabbits. I don’t know if we still have Fishers. I’m pretty sure we have raccoons.

Officials say the worst is yet to come

If a continent burns, we are all in danger, whether we know it or not. They don’t talk much about climate change on the news and I don’t really understand why not. Maybe it’s too controversial?

How controversial can it be when there’s a continent on fire? The U.S. has done a fair amount of burning too. Not to mention flooding from monstrous rains and winds that seem to spring out of nowhere. We have continental sized stormed that start in California and sweep across the entire continent … and then move up into Canada and out to sea.

Smoke and embers

We should be scared. We should be terrified. No place is safe. We have to get these evil assholes out of the House, Senate, and governorships. We have to believe against all prior experience that whoever replaces them will REALLY do a better job. We don’t have any guarantee that even if we sweep this entire group away, the next group will take this climate emergency to its heart and do its best to make it stop.

We can hope, but I think we need a bit more than prayers and hopes. We need to close down the big polluters and figure out what in god’s name to do with all our garbage. hazardous waste, and good old plastic.

The smoke from 1500 miles (2000 km) away turns the skies in New Zealand orange.

There is a very good chance that most of the unique wildlife in Australia will not survive these fires. I personally doubt that any of the large mammals on any continent are going to survive for long. Maybe in special sanctuaries, but not in the wild. I don’t blame poor countries for trying to do what we have done so they can live a better life, but is it a better life? Freshwater and electricity are good … but burning down the forests and killing anything bigger than a chipmunk is just redoing the bad stuff we’ve already done. Is that our goal? Should that be anyone’s goal in these times?

I understand why people are tired of watching, reading, and hearing the news. They are weary with boorish, stupid, ignorant leaders and want them to shut up and go away. I think Trump will lose this election. It won’t be because of the evil he has done but because he has exhausted Americans. His “base” is not a majority. It wasn’t a majority in 2016 and it is less so now, no matter how big his “rallies” are.

My fear is that the essentially conservative people of this country will elect someone who promises to make things the way they used to be. That won’t happen. We are not going backward. Forward will be a long, hard road. If we and other countries continue to put into power people who lack the guts to do what needs doing to keep our planet livable, our grandchildren won’t have a world that’s livable. It’s going to cost a lot of money, piss off a bunch of corporations, and make a lot of rich executives take a smaller profit.

Few politicians have the balls to take on the Big Money people, but that’s what needs to be done. Who can do it? Who WILL do it?\

And I would say this falls nicely under Fandango’s daily word: Scary! If you aren’t scared, WHY aren’t you scared?