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An Atlas of Collapse: The Climate Crisis Pt. 2

An Atlas of Collapse: The Climate Crisis Pt. 2

So, last week's letter went a little long, and between that and writing the thing for more than a week, I have too much more to address that's applicable and so, we get a part two of a part two. It's important that we talk about climate change in depth, and in the case of this week take a look at world events, as they're indicative of the growing frequency and intensity of disasters. In just the few years that I've been working on this project, I can see the increase. But enough throat-clearing–let's dive in.

Around the World

The world is once again moving too fast for me to cover. Brazil has suffered historic flooding that has killed over 100 people. The scope of this flooding is really hard to understate: occurring in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, four out of five of the state's cities were damaged by the flooding. Over 200,000 people have been displaced, 500,000 left without power, and many of these cities completely cut off from services and aid. One city, Eldorado do Sul, was said by the mayor to have been completely destroyed.

In Mexico City, as we've discussed, Day Zero is approaching for many residents. The area around one of the world's largest cities has had below-average rainfall for the last several years. Reservoirs are drying up, and water being pumped to citizens currently is often undrinkably contaminated. You're going to see this happen more and more frequently, as weather patterns are disrupted (particularly when AMOC dies off) and rain becomes less frequent and more torrential.

In the Sahel region, constant heat waves have killed hundreds, and up to thousands, when considering "excess deaths." The heat waves, unfortunately, had coincided with Ramadan. Outside of the US, right now, which is itself warmer than usual, temperatures are breaking records constantly. Thousands on thousands of records at observation stations around the world have fallen, and the very world itself is on a record-breaking track of heat, as temperatures have increased for the last year straight.

It's really a shame that this is happening almost entirely around the United States, because the volume of records being broken is mind-boggling, and we're just not the sort of folks to care about, or even really know about, other countries. So for me to say that thousands of heat records have been broken at weather stations in Oceania and across Asia, in the Sahel, in South Africa, in South America–these just sound like names. They don't sound like what they are: the ringing, the continuous clanging, of alarm bells. It is hot, and that's never going to change.

I Wrote That Last Paragraph Over Two Weeks Ago

And it shows. Because not two weeks after saying this isn't happening in the United States, we've got a deadly heat scenario in Houston. (As I'm writing now. Which, on delivery, may be overshadowed by some other crisis.) Several days prior to my writing this, Houston was hit with a severe windstorm. Friend of the show ERCOT, Texas' reliably unreliable grid, failed*, and some 500,000 people are without power. Seven died in the storm itself, from falling trees, construction debris, and one to carbon monoxide poisoning in the wake of the storm. This, you might have guessed, was due to running a generator improperly. Hence why I don't recommend gas generators lightly.

We've talked about the deadly combination of a power outage during a heatwave. With no way to effectively cool off, even a person resting in the shade can be at risk of heat stroke, permanent organ damage, and death. For Houston, these possibilities are in play. Temperatures are in the low 90s, with heat indices rising to 100, and no relief in sight. To pour salt on that wound, Houston is currently facing a third problem: along with the heat has come smog. This is a very dangerous situation–especially for people with health problems. A lot of damage can be done to a body exposed to this kind of heat, and breathing in air pollution that thick.

*In this instance I don't think ERCOT is particularly to blame, actually. The wind was so powerful that some transmission towers were torn apart.

An Economic Storm

The real-world impacts of climate change are more than enough for us to want to act, but recent studies have come out illustrating the damage climate change has done and will do to the make believe world of money, too. The National Bureau of Economic Research has released a working paper that states we have undercounted the economic impact of climate change, and that it's actually six times worse than we thought. A 1C rise in temperature–which we have already passed–decreases the world's GDP by 12%. You can imagine that we really can't afford that kind of hit.

But that's not the end of it. With the predicted rise in temperature of 3C by 2100, (according to some), we can expect the same sort of economic impact as would be felt if we were waging a war domestically–which, within that kind of timespan, we probably will be doing literally. Put in numbers, this is a decrease in GDP greater than 50%. That is not a sustainable figure for life as we live it in this country. That's everything but the police and military thrown out the window. And don't let the 2100 timeframe lull you–we may not hit 3C in our lifetimes (I hope), but temperatures will continue to increase, as will those economic impacts.

Another study shows that by 2050 annual damages around the world will total a staggering $38 trillion. That last link notes, wisely, for Forbes, that acting on climate change now to prevent further warming is far cheaper than the coming damages. But we all know our leaders won't act on this information.

What's Coming

Everything that we're covering during this series, taken individually, is enough to give humanity a run for its money. The end of fossil fuels without sustainable replacements ensures our world changes dramatically. Climate change alone does the same. The rise of fascism around the globe is going to fuck up a lot of shit. The fact that we have to deal with all of it at once is harrowing.

So, with the world bound to falter all around us, we have got to pick up the pieces–or, even better, replace them. So much of what makes this world fragile is its dependence on ways of life that are based on exploitation–of other people, of the environment–that simply needn't be. We can learn to live differently, without sucking the planet dry or abusing the people around us. We've just got to live long enough to figure out how.