Tomorrow’s Hellscape Today
It’s not like we haven’t seen this coming, and for a very long time. In 1958, CBS broadcast one of Frank Capra’s science specials, The Unchained Goddess, warning that “man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization.” In case you missed the 16mm version in school, SNL presented “Carl Sagan’s Global Warming Christmas Special” in 1990. Around that time — thirty years ago — we first encountered the idea of a “tipping point”, when atmospheric carbon reaches a level where the climate flips like a canoe, and there’s no going back.
Back in 1958, when live-action Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker were laying it down for America’s television families, the first carbon-dioxide measurement was taken at NOAA’s Mauna Loa weather observatory in Hawaii, more than two miles above sea level. There, beyond any local conditions that might clutter the reading, the initial number was recorded: 313 parts per million.
The Tipping Point — the idea is more complex now — was regarded as somewhere above 400 ppm.
Last month, it was 419 ppm.
And it’s not slowing down. Whatever industrial difference the pandemic made down here, it changed nothing up there.
It’s still only June. Water levels in the western United States are already dangerously low. Wildfire seasons are starting early. Here in Denver, we had three 100-degree days a week ago, part of an enormous regional heat wave.
But today we’re here to talk about Eugene, Oregon, our hometown, nestled in the southern end of the Willamette Valley, a hundred miles from Portland. Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, perennial home of the Olympic Trials since we were growing up.
Eugene, where it rains so much that you can plan on bringing an umbrella to graduation, where a popular local joke was “Oregonians don’t tan in the summer — they rust.”
Eugene, where Sunday’s forecast is 111 degrees.
Previous high: 108. In August.
This is the world we now live in, a world born of a few short generations of ignorance and denial. A world that has little hope of getting better, and high odds of getting much, much worse. A broken planet that we’re leaving to our kids and grandkids, but not before getting a good whiff of it ourselves.
There’s hardly anyone alive in America today who didn’t grow up under some existential crisis: Depression, world war, nuclear weapons, Republican administrations. This one isn’t going away. The moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but there’s no guarantee that anyone will be left to benefit when it finally touches Earth.