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Gentle Decline 2/29: Crisis & Calm
We didn't start the fire, or more accurately we as a species are in complete denial about who started it, and also whether anything can be done about it. Mmm, fire.
Hello. Once more, what I said would happen next issue is not what’s happening in this issue. But there’s been a lot of stuff in the news lately, and it feels very much more apropos to look at it. So we’re going to talk about: wildfires and flooding in the Mediterranean and Canada; effects of those on infrastructure (and a quick look at some infrastructural things in Ireland); ocean surface temperatures off the coast of Florida; and a possible flip in the AMOC (aka the Gulf Stream) sooner rather than later. We’re also going to look at some material I’ve been reading on how to cope, which comes not from a climate but an anarchist background.
[Gentle Decline is an occasional newsletter about climate crisis, and - more to the point - how to cope with it. All issues are free! You can support the newsletter via Patreon (where there’s sometimes further discussion about particular points), Ko-fi, or by buying some of the seriously classy merchandise, including the new Plant More Trees t-shirt.]
The EU has passed a wildlife restoration law. Technology intended for fracking can be re-purposed for geothermal energy. And incandescent light-bulbs are almost gone in the US, as well as in the rest of the world.
There are several bits of the Mediterranean that are on fire at the moment. Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, Croatia, France, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, and Turkey all have major wildfires. These are connected to high temperatures and a “heat dome” across the area, but also to longer-term high temperatures that lead to drier conditions. Tourists are being evacuated from many of these areas, but the locals don’t have anywhere to go. Death tolls are already over 40 at the time of writing, and there’s every chance they’ll climb higher. Here’s a first-hand account from someone visiting Rhodes in Greece (where about 10% of the island’s land area has already been burnt). The BBC has some coverage with maps and photography.
At the same time, Canada is also suffering from the worst wildfire year on record, with smoke spreading across much of North America.
Flooding: Residents are advised to stay off the roads. There is significant damage to roads and infrastructure. Conditions are not safe for vehicles and pedestrians at this time.
There’s more detail at the link, assuming you’re still using Twitter/”X”.
Salient point here: Twitter is no longer useful for dispersal of information in an emergency; you now need to be logged in to view tweets, and having to remember login information (or have an account in the first place) in an emergency is a major barrier.
Anyway. The floods in Halifax took out the main train line:
(Image from Reuters via trains.com; link above)
That’s not just passenger rail but also freight into the Port of Halifax, so there’re going to be more supply line issues in Canada - this is after the rail line to Vancouver was taken out by flooding in 2021. Canada is, as far as I can make out, pretty good about maintaining infrastructure, but there’s only so much you can do in the face of 20cm of rain in a day. Obviously, this is going to keep happening, not just in Canada but everywhere. And it’s equally obvious that investment in infrastructure in many western countries is not up to dealing with this; there are reasonably major bridges in the UK to which I’ve given some side-eye in the last year, and I know there are worse ones in the US. A bridge in Pittsburgh famously collapsed in 2022, but there are other collapses every few weeks. One in Philadelphia and a rail bridge in Montana in just the last month, for instance.
There’s talk in Ireland of infrastructural investment. There’s even a plan for Irish Railway Expansions, although various politicians are already doing their level best to undermine it. Apart from the reduction of emissions, there isn’t much of a climate-coping side to this, but it’s worth noting that many of the train lines in which there would be investment are inland. The Wexford line is one major exception to this; parts of that line are practically at sea level, and the train literally runs along the waterfront in Wexford town. There’s work being done on this, although most of it deals with increased erosion, rather than sea-level rise.
Ocean Surface Temperatures
Florida has recorded ocean surface temperatures that are more or less the same as you’d experience in a hot tub. Honestly, I’ve read a lot of climate disaster stuff in the last five years, and this one is the first to give me physical shudders. There is no way water outside of thermal springs should be at that temperature anywhere in nature.
Speaking of shudders and other reactions, here’s an interview with the guy who came up with Deep Adaptation, Jem Bendell. For those unfamiliar with him, he published a paper in 2018 with the general thesis that it’s too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today, and that we need to consider what we do in the face of that. Obviously, he’s in many of the same lines of thinking as I am, although I reckon his timetable is a little steeper than mine.
Speed of Change
However, I’ve been forced to rethink some of my own expectations with regard to the speed of climate change in recent years, with the heatwaves that have been hitting Europe. I even know a few people who have had to move out of places that are now hotter than they can handle in summer. These people are climate refugees - not the desperate kind whose homes have disappeared into fire, flood, or rising seas, but the kind who can get out ahead of that.
One of the things that’s also possibly closer than expected is the Gulf Stream shutting down. Here’s an article from the Guardian about a new study, which attempts to pin down when that might happen. The prediction has a “central estimate” of 2050 (I do not know if “central estimate” is a real term, or one the Guardian writer threw in, and I don’t have the stats background to read the paper in enough detail to verify it, so caveat lector). However, I do understand the concept of an error bar, and the one on this estimate runs from 2025 to 2095. I do not expect to make it to 2095, although I’ve plenty of relatives from previous generations who got close to or past the century, but I do expect to see 2050, and 2025 is very close. Like build-up-the-woodpile close.
So all of that is pretty grim, to be honest. But I came across some stuff on Tumblr recently which is interesting. This is not in direct response to climate, but to the growing economic and social world-is-fucked worldview. It proposes this nine-step anarchist solution.
Many of you are aware that I’m an anarchist at heart. Anarchism will only work with people who are willing to engage with it, though, and most humans are not willing to do that. I’ve mostly stopped saying “too stupid to do that”, because I can see that people have their reasons, or traumas, or other things blocking that. But at the same time, I don’t see routes out of climate crisis that involve the current set of corporate-driven nation-states remaining in charge. I think that the pace of change is slow enough that I’m not going to experience it here in Ireland until I’m quite old, although there are probably error bars on that too. But in the US or the UK or other places where corporate interests have been allowed to pillage resources, both natural and human, I think things will change sooner. So I’ve been reading a lot about anarchist networks, and anarchist understandings of the future (that link is a detailed expansion of the points above; it’s very much worth reading). And it’s really interesting to me how much that parallels my own thinking.
I have my 3 Rules for the future. Move Inland, Develop Practical Skills, Be Generous. Those are basically a condensed subset of the nine above. “Find Each Other”, “Share a Future”, and “Expand the Network” more or less fall into my “Be Generous”. “Become Resilient”, “Bring the Fight”, “Build Autonomy”, and “Destitute Infrastructure” fall into “Develop Practical Skills”. “Establish Hubs” comes under “Move Inland” (and a bit under the community aspects of “Be Generous”). And the one that stands out is “Become Ungovernable”, because that’s very much an anarchist ethic, and one I’ve not really considered in detail in terms of coping with climate change. It depends, I suppose, on whether I think that an ungovernable - and ungoverned - people have a better chance of survival than one with government in place, and how much ungovernability will benefit people.
To date, I’ve included some of what might be called activism in these newsletters - encouraging people to participate in democracy, to vote for green (not necessarily Green) politicians, and to contact representatives with messages about the handling of climate crisis. Honestly, I’ve not seen any of that being particularly effective. The prposed rail changes are as good as the Irish Green Party have got, and they’re pretty likely to be watered down by the coalition parties. It may be time to start considering that governments as they are are not a useful route to thriving in an era of climate crisis. I’m not advocating for revolution here, mind; my current feeling is more like moving on without governance, and without looking to governments for help. So I’ve some reading and thinking to do about that.
This issue has been weightier than most, and I’d appreciate your thoughts and feedback. Just hit reply, and tell me what you think. I’m about to be away for two weeks, but I’ll be reading and thinking during that time, and I’ll probably have more to say - and some responses to discuss, I expect - by late August.