The IPCC released it's latest report recently, and the news was not good. But we knew this already–we're beyond the heady days of five years ago when we had to predict the catastrophic events of climate change instead of see them everywhere we looked. The report does let us reckon in fewer uncertain terms, though: we're looking at 3C (5.4F), not 2, not 4. 3 is not extinction-level for humanity, but it is very, very rough. It also doesn't mean that extinction isn't out of the realm of possibility–the tenuous position of many tipping points, and their complex nature, mean we could be facing runaway temperature increases, and then we're out of luck.
What we're going to talk about today is the worsening of familiar disasters. You might be thinking, what difference is a 100 degree increase in a 400 degree pot? And that's a valid argument. Why am I hollering about this when it already feels like doom? The answer is that it's not. It doesn't have to be. But the trouble with seeing the disasters around us right now is that we may come to think that we have an understanding of what's going on, and what's coming. But I don't think we do. It's important to keep the mindset that we had when things were just starting to get bad; we need to keep in our heads a kind of negative capability of disaster.
Climate change is the mother of all life-threatening dangers from now until the day you die. I think it's safe to say it has officially supplanted "incipient fascist state" in that regard. But I don't mean that in the "this is the biggest danger" sense. I mean it in the "climate change gives birth to monsters" sense. And much like the Greek mythology from which I borrowed the Echidna, these monsters make little demigod disasters we didn't see coming.
Take, for instance, the Heat Dome in the PNW. This singular disaster, taken on its own, was an extended, intense, heatwave that killed around 500 people. But it had cascading effects: it boiled billions of animals in the Pacific; it caused the buckling of public transportation infrastructure; and, of course, the heat exacerbated wildfires in the area. These wildfires then make the area susceptible to flooding and mudslides–this is what I mean by disasters begetting disasters. Flooding, naturally, washes away topsoil and can wreck a harvest. The hits keep coming because we are no longer living in a normal system–one whose state of equilibrium was one that benefitted us. The system's natural state now is one that looks more like chaos.
This chaotic state is responsible for another Echidna-trait; each singular disaster is getting stronger. The fires we saw this year were some of the largest in their respective states' history. And fires are not just a West Coast problem. Wildfires can occur anywhere, and as our weather patterns swing further into the On/Off cycle of absolute downpour/drought, we're more likely to see them spread. The following link, to the US Drought Monitor, ought to make you wince. The drought gripping the west spread east, and of all places, most of West Virginia was experiencing dry or mild drought conditions. This July was the hottest in recorded history. Lake Mead, the United States' largest reservoir, is at 40% capacity and now under restriction. Even the simplest, moment to moment problems we face are worse than expected. Texas endured a historic freeze last winter. Flooding that recently struck Tennessee has no analog in historic record–17 inches of rain fell in hours. This Washington Post piece does a great job of illustrating how and why flooding is going to get worse. We saw floods in the Northeast this month that smashed records set only a week prior. We are in an unprecedented age of disasters.
The bottom line is that the Echidna is going to hit us with more than we think. It's not as simple as a hotter planet (though that would be plenty). It's not just one and done disasters like flash floods (though they're bad enough). It's multi-tiered, interacting, compounding disasters–some of which going on to create more, and still worse, disasters. We're at the bottom of an exponential curve, and we're liable to drown looking up if we simply watch it rise.
A Matter of Perspective
Way back in undergrad, I earned an East Asian Studies degree, and boy has it not come in handy. However, I am reminded of a lesson from Confucius (seriously) that applies to how we should move forward--both in acute disaster situations and the broader scheme of collapse. He said that "To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must [fix our own shit]"
From the lens of disaster, you're not going to be able to help anyone until you set your broken finger, clean that dirt out of your cuts, and make sure you're well-fed enough to work without falling over. Otherwise, you're not an asset; you're a liability. Once you've got yourself established, however, you can then help your neighbor. You and your neighbor can then assist your community. Your community can then put some muscle behind the broader region. Make sense? This is why, even though our aims are always collective, our actions and responsibilities begin at the individual level. This mindset applies to time, too: you have to save yourself from an immediate disaster before you worry about something that's looming on the horizon.
Applying this lesson works great if you're only beginning to come around to preparedness. It allows you to focus on manageable problems with manageable preps instead of inundating you all at once with everything you may or may not need to do. Are you brand new? Put together a bugout bag. Got a bugout bag? Learn how to suture. Know how to suture? Teach a friend. Work your way up to the indomitable problems we face, rather than let doomerism take you.
It's critical that we do move up the ladder of Confucius' prepping, though. Don't linger on a rung you're comfortable with. Move up. Learn new skills, teach others, work to build a community. There is simply too much to learn and do yourself. You can start small but the key thing is to start. A "regular" disaster today can spiral, thanks to our proximity to the brink, and before long we're weeks without power and clean water, almost out of food, and wondering when help is going to arrive. Don't wonder. Be secure in yourself so you can be the help that's coming for others.