The old future’s dead and gone
Never to return
There’s a new way through the hills ahead
This one we’ll have to earn
This one we’ll have to earn
Hunters in October
Raise their guns in sport
Is war another animal or
A beast of last resort
The beast of last resort
The old future’s gone
The old future’s gone
All passengers must disembark
The old future’s gone
Fear took down the winged life
The winged life we’ve led
So kiss the joy as it goes by
Poet William said
Blake the poet said…
The Old Future’s Gone
The second class began much the way the first had. The professor entered the room with the same grace and waited. When the room had quieted, she waved her hand over the desk and said, “Let’s begin, shall we?”
The globe appeared again and began to focus on the North American continent. This time there were no satellites or space station in orbit around the Earth and the students wondered if she had made as error. Had she gone back in time too far? There was a haze in the atmosphere turning everything a sallow yellow color. North America had a tan swath through the mid portion of the continent again but this time the area was much larger. Only the very edges of the continent remained green. The continent itself was almost unrecognizable. The area that had once been called Florida was completely absent and the former Gulf Coast looked mouth eaten. There was a large whole in the middle of what was formally known as California. An impenetrable, brown fog engulfed the middle Atlantic Coast-Near the Ancient capital of the United States, Washington DC. And to the North of that there was a hurricane that covered the entire northern half of the coast. But that is not where the focus turned.
The focus cruised across the continent. Unlike yesterday there were very few spots of light and these spots were much smaller. Again the Western half of the continent began to grow larger. In the tan area right before the green coastal strip the picture began to enlarge. Small trails of smoke rose up from the only set of buildings. The buildings were encased in a wall. The focus slid outside of the wall. Many people were sleeping around the wall. Some very close to the wall. The focus traveled further away from the wall. The sleeping bodies became more sparse. In some scrub brush far from the wall the focus concentrated on two figures lying in the dirt….
DJ woke from a restless sleep on the parched ground. He did not notice the grit in his mouth or the continuous odor coming from his friend and father figure Gerald. These were permanent fixtures in his life. It was just before dawn. He rubbed his teeth with his finger to stimulate his spit. His remaining molar was bothering him again. Soon the the pain would drive him to do as he had done with the rest of his molars. He would take the pliers in Gerry’s back pack and snap off the crown of the tooth to relieve the pressure. One second of unbearable pain would be replaced by relative calm and then healing in his mouth. But he was not quite in sufficient pain to do this yet.
DJ was in his mid 30’s although he looked much older. He looked as ragged and worn as everyone else he knew so it did not occur to him that he was aging quickly. Sleeping outside, poor diet and stress took their toll on everyone.
DJ rose and began to search for some bit of scrub to use as a latrine. He walked several yards from his sleeping companion. This was DJ’s favorite part of the day. The air was cool and the sun was still weak. No one demanded anything of him and he could just exist and let his mind wander. He found a likely bush to start his morning routine.
As DJ was refastening his pants he heard the menacing rattle of a snake. DJ looked around quickly. He located the sound behind a rock close to the brush he had just used. Slowly and carefully he walked toward the rock. He took his knife from its sheath on his belt. He almost tip toed around the boulder as the rattle sounded again.
The snake was coiled in the shadow of the rock keeping warm by huddling close to a rock that still held the heat of yesterday within it. DJ calculated in his mind. The snake was in the crevice under the rock. Difficult to get to. Dangerous. Better to force it to strike and make it extend itself. DJ brought his boot close to the snake but far enough that the snake would have to reach in order to strike. He then shook the boot.
The snake took the bait. It lunged at the boot. With lightening speed DJ withdrew the boot and plunged the knife down toward the snakes head. As he had planned it in his mind he withdrew the knife equally quickly in case he missed the snake and the animal turned on him. But the animal only writhed for a moment and then lay still. The knife had hit its mark.
DJ picked up the snake and smiled. He walked quickly and cheerfully back to his camp. His companion Gerry was still snoring softly. Inspired, DJ grabbed the snake by the tail end. Then he leaned over with his prize and shook the rattle in Gerry’s ear. Gerry’s snoring was interrupted by a couple of snorts but he did not wake. DJ shook the rattle again and this time Gerry set up quickly with a start. Then he looked about confused.
DJ began to guffaw and took a step backwards. He tripped over a stone and fell on his butt with a look of surprise. Gerry looked at him and spied the snake in DJ’s hand, “Serves ya right. Tryin to scare an old man to death.”
DJ laughed even harder. Then he held up his prize. “Ya ought to thank me old man. We eat good tonight.”
Gerry spit on the ground. “Pity ya don’t know how to cook it.”
“That’s what I keep your worthless hide ’round fer.”
Gerry favored DJ with a near toothless grin. Then he got up and found his own bush. DJ started their morning chores. DJ was using the piece of spade that served as a shovel and he was in the process of digging a hole in the ground when Gerald returned. Gerry took his turn at the shovel.
They dug a hole about 3 to 4 feet down and 2-3 feet wide in a new spot every day. Today DJ coiled the body of the snake and placed it at the bottom of the hole. Then they lined the hole with a piece of worn tarp they had scavenged. They gingerly placed a frail looking, clear piece of plastic over the hole and fixed it with a circle of stones. Finally, they placed a small stone in the center of the clear plastic sheet. As the desert heated up, the moisture in the ground would evaporate throughout the day. The water would condense on the clear plastic sheet and drip down to the tarp below. In this way DJ and Gerald were able to get an extra gallon or two of water a day. The water was being poured into a plastic container buried under the ground with a funnel up to ground level made of an auto tail pipe.
A “coyote” that DJ and Gerald had heard about would take a person out in the ocean and guide them through the mine fields and sharp shooter boats that surrounded the coast of British Columbia so that they could immigrate to Canada.
In Canada there was said to be “running” water. Water that was standing in lakes and ponds. Water that ran down mountains. In Canada it was said that people cleaned themselves with water…not sand like DJ and Gerald did now. In Canada there was plenty to eat and respectable work. Just one problem. The coyote dropped you off about 200 yards from the coast. You had to swim for it, and neither DJ nor Gerald had ever seen enough water to actually submerge themselves in, let alone swim. Never the less, they planned to take their collected water to the coast and learn to swim in the ocean. They dreamed of making it to Canada and a new and easier life.
After the hole digging ritual, Gerald had a crust of bread for breakfast. DJ did not eat breakfast. Instead he watched Gerry eat and rubbed his right cheek. Gerry eyed him, “No breakfast?”
“Taint hungry.” DJ stated briefly. Gerry eyed him for a moment longer then finished his bread.
They went down to the fields. People who were able to work the fields for Fort Cheney were allowed to stay and were given water and food. Those who could not were not fed and either moved on or succumbed to the elements and dehydration.
And so DJ and Gerry walked together in silence to the fields. The fields were behind 10 foot walls with razor wire on the top. They lined up behind the others and the Blackwater at the gate allowed them in. More Blackwaters patrolled the fields.
They worked for 10 hours at the grueling labor of field work. Water was freely available while they were working and one gallon was allowed to be removed at night. Occasionally, DJ could do without the whole canteen and would add it to the stored water in the morning. Often he could not make himself conserve that much water.
The work of the day was not too strenuous and the day was not too hot. This was fortunate because DJ was feeling feverish as the swelling in his jaw throbbed with increasing intensity.
At the end of the day, guards rolled carts filled with food out to the fields. Each person was about to be given a ration of food that would last them to the next day. The crowd assembled but there was some hesitation to approach. Finally a young man who was fairly new to Fort Cheney came to the carts and took his ration. This seemed to ease the crowd’s indecision. Slowly they lined up for their share. DJ and Gerry took their rations and walked back to their camp site.
The first thing they did on their arrival was to disassemble the plastic lens they had created in the morning. They carefully added the harvested water to the plastic container through the tail pipe and then hid the tail pipe with a stone again. Then Gerry lifted the somewhat cool snake out of the pit. He began to skin the snake while out of the corner of his eye Gerry watched DJ press his fingers against his cheek and make a sour face.
“Ya would enjoy rattler stew better if I got rid of that for ya.” Gerry commented in a neutral tone of voice. He did not look up from his task.
DJ snorted but appeared to consider this. Gerry started to cut the meat of the snake’s body into chunks and place them in a pot. He added the rations that the two men had obtained that day aside from the bread which he rewrapped and set aside. Then he looked at DJ.
“A second ‘o pain and ’tis all over. By the time the stew is done ya’ll be feelin better…. Ya know its goin to happen anyways.”
DJ looked at him in a dead pan stare. Finally DJ nodded once and took on an even stonier gaze.
Gerry nodded back. “Yep.”
He got up and reached into his back pack which had remained hidden in a crevasse between two rocks with DJ’s pack during the day. He pulled out a well worn pair of pliers. Gerry walked over to his companion and stood before him. DJ’s stare was as fixed and unfocused as before, but he nodded again and opened his mouth slowly. Gerry peered inside and was just able by the dim light of the cooking fire to make out the swollen gum around the last of DJ’s molars in his right lower jaw. Gerry straightened and placed a boot on his friend’s right shoulder. Gerry had done this before for a good many friends and had done it to himself as well. He was an expert. He would have to do it fast and without hesitation. Taking it easy on the poor guy had no place here. If your movements were slow or uncertain, the poor slob just suffered all the more and for nothing.
Once Gerry was balanced properly with his foot on DJ’s shoulder he asked DJ to open his mouth again. DJ complied and Gerry planned his movements in his head before he executed them. With amazing speed for his age Gerry reached into DJ’s mouth with the pliers, grabbed the tooth and yanked upwards and out as fast and as hard as he could muster. The tooth gave way immediately and Gerry nearly lost his balance. He took a step backwards off DJ’s shoulder and staggered back a few more steps. He was still grasping the errant tooth.
For a moment DJ did not realize that it was over. He sat there stunned and watched his friend stumble backwards. In misery he thought to himself, “The old fool lost his balance. I’ll have to do it again!” Then he saw the blood and bone in the pliers and the pain hit him like a punch in the face. Fierce, red hot pain that slid from his mouth, down his neck and into the pit of his stomach. Then worse then the pain, his mouth began to fill with blood and pus. DJ leaned to the side and began to vomit.
“That’s it boy. Get all that poison out of ya.” Gerry comforted while he stood over DJ. He discarded the tooth by throwing it into the desert. DJ finished emptying his stomach and began to spit the blood out of his mouth. He could not at that moment remember ever feeling so miserable.
Then there was a hand on his shoulder pulling him upright. Gerry had a wad of something grey green in his free hand. “Desert sage. T’il stop the bleedin and keep ya from gettin infected.”
DJ opened his mouth weakly this time. “Don’t ya bite me now.” Gerry cautioned. He placed the wad of greenery in the crater where DJ’s tooth had been. DJ felt a fresh surge of pain and struggled not to clamp his jaw shut. His hand went reflexively to Gerry’s hand with more force than he intended. Gerry fought against DJ’s hand to place the herb properly and then withdrew his fingers and said, “OK, now ya can bite down and hold that plug in place.” DJ did as he was told and the pain slowly ebbed to a dull roar.
DJ crawled to his bed roll on the ground and lay there exhausted. Sleep took him but only after a fight. Gerry buried the mess DJ had made and went back to cooking dinner. Despite his hunger Gerry deliberately cooked the snake stew slowly and let DJ rest. It would taste better slowly simmered anyway, he reasoned to himself. He leaned against a rock and half dozed as the stew simmered.
Three hours later DJ woke to the sound of a snake’s rattle. “No.” his half dreaming mind thought, “I killed you.” He slowly came around to a semi dream state when the rattle sounded again. DJ woke fully but moved cautiously. Then he heard Gerry snickering to himself. DJ rolled over.
“Serves ya right for what ya done ta me earlier, boy.”
“Ya got your revenge earlier. Besides ya didn’t fool me at’tal old man.” DJ replied in a somewhat muffled voice. DJ had to admit though that he did feel better. His jaw ached but the bleeding had stopped and the sharp agonizing pain had gone. DJ spit out the sage and buried the remnants in the sand with his hand. Then he sat up fully and felt a little light headed but that passed quickly. He was surprised to find that he was ravenous. Gerry ladled out a portion of the stew into DJ’s cup and handed it to him. Good to his word, DJ did enjoy the stew and a portion of seconds as well, although he had to chew with his front teeth exclusively. When he fell asleep the second time it was a satisfied and deep sleep.©
The Concepts Behind the Fiction:
1.) What will the world look like at 6 degrees of global warming?
You might have noticed that DJ’s world is a lot different than Jack Randall’s world. DJ’s world is based on the book Six Degrees, Our Future on a Hotter Planet. The author of that book, Mark Lynas, took 6 degrees Celsius as the maximum amount of global warming because at the time it was considered the worse case scenario for global warming. Since then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) has revised their worse case to 11 degrees saying that the world is warming far quicker than anyone anticipated. Unfortunately, I do not think humans will survive at all in a world that is 11 degree hotter. That would make this portion of the story rather unexciting. So I am sticking with my original premise.
Besides a planet that is 6 degrees warmer is bad enough. Fresh water will be in short supply while sea water will rise. Without enough fresh water food will also be in short supply and world wide famine will ensue. The interior of large continents will largely become deserts. The midportion of the US, where most of our food is grown, is at risk of becoming one of those deserts. With no attempt to stop this, the desert will grow much the same way the Sahara is growing now. Storms and prevailing winds will increase in size and strength. With warmer ocean temperatures hurricanes could actually be seen in the northern Atlantic coast.
The distant past probably gives us the best view of what a world at 6 degrees warmer would look like. During a period known as the Younger Dryas we know that many prehistoric humans, the Clovis People in particular, and many of the large land animals like the wooly mammoth died due to rapid change in the environment. That period was not hotter, but due to the shut down of Thermohaline Ocean currents, it was actually colder. But more importantly, it was dry. Very dry. So dry that there was a permanent dust storm over the East Coast. Picture a haze of fine dust that never went away. This alone may have been what killed the larger mammals.
From the IPCC 2007 report:
There is high confidence that by mid-century “many semi-arid areas, for example the Mediterranean basin, western United States, southern Africa and northeast Brazil, will suffer a decrease in water resources due to climate change.”
Additionally during this time the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment returned with a report that 29% of edible fish species are in collapse in the ocean and that by the middle of the century 90% of marine life may be gone. This is just the latest of studies to show that we are creating Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. This is nothing if not a dire situation that is completely inadequately addressed.
In addition to mass extinction and global warming, we face other serious problems in the coming decades. In a 10 square mile radius around Chicago, the worm population is decimated. Most likely this is due to the toxic chemicals we use in every day life that have soaked into the ground. This is called toxification. This process is repeating itself in urban areas throughout America. Like many things, we are discovering that dirt is a complex ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and small animals that allow crops to grow. We have destroyed this ecosystem in our farmland and replaced the once vibrant soils with dead soils soaked with toxic chemicals and fertilizers in order to get monoculture crops. This is a process called soil degradation and we are rapidly reaching a limit to what this sort of cultivation can give us.
Think DJ’s situation is far fetched? The Pentagon doesn’t. From their recently unclassified document An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security (October 2003):
Ocean, land, and atmosphere scientists at some of the world’s most prestigious
organizations have uncovered new evidence over the past decade suggesting that the
plausibility of severe and rapid climate change is higher than most of the scientific
community and perhaps all of the political community is prepared for. If it occurs,
this phenomenon will disrupt current gradual global warming trends, adding to
climate complexity and lack of predictability. And paleoclimatic evidence suggests
that such an abrupt climate change could begin in the near future….
Within adequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.
1) Food shortages due to decreases in net global agricultural production
2) Decreased availability and quality of fresh water in key regions due to shifted
precipitation patters, causing more frequent floods and droughts
3) Disrupted access to energy supplies due to extensive sea ice and storminess
At first the changes are easily mistaken for normal weather variation-allowing skeptics to dismiss them as a “blip” of little importance and leaving policymakers and the public paralyzed with uncertainty. But by 2020 there is little doubt that something drastic is happening. The average temperature has fallen by up to five degrees Fahrenheit in some regions of North America and Asia and up to six degrees in parts of Europe. (By comparison, the average temperature over the North Atlantic during the last ice age was ten to 15 degrees lower than it is today.) Massive droughts have begun in key agricultural regions. The average annual rainfall has dropped by nearly 30% in northern Europe, and its climate has become more like Siberia’s.
Violent storms are increasingly common as the conveyor becomes wobbly on its way to collapse. A particularly severe storm causes the ocean to break through levees in the Netherlands, making coastal cities such as the Hague unlivable. In California the delta island levees in the Sacramento River area are breached, disrupting the aqueduct system transporting water from north to south.
Megadroughts afflict the U.S., especially in the southern states, along with winds that are 15% stronger on average than they are now, causing widespread dust storms and soil loss. The U.S. is better positioned to cope than most nations, however, thanks to its diverse growing climates, wealth, technology, and abundant resources. That has a downside, though: It magnifies the haves-vs.-have-nots gap and fosters bellicose finger-pointing at America.
Turning inward, the U.S. effectively seeks to build a fortress around itself to preserve resources. Borders are strengthened to hold back starving immigrants from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean islands-waves of boat people pose especially grim problems. Tension between the U.S. and Mexico rises as the U.S. reneges on a 1944 treaty that guarantees water flow from the Colorado River into Mexico. America is forced to meet its rising energy demand with options that are costly both economically and politically, including nuclear power and onerous Middle Eastern contracts. Yet it survives without catastrophic losses.
As the planet’s carrying capacity shrinks, an ancient pattern reemerges: the eruption of desperate, all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies. As Harvard archeologist Steven LeBlanc has noted, wars over resources were the norm until about three centuries ago. When such conflicts broke out, 25% of a population’s adult males usually died. As abrupt climate change hits home, warfare may again come to define human life.
2.) Those who do not learn from history are doomed…..
Consider Easter Island. There was a time when Easter Island was a lush tropical island similar to the other South Pacific islands. The inhabitants had a custom of celebrating their ancestors by building these huge stone faces on the shoreline. This custom eventually became attached to status. The people who could build the most or the biggest of the statues had the most status on the island. They cut the faces from quarries remote from the shore and cut down trees to use as wheels to transport the stones to the shore where they were set in hole so they stood looking out to sea. As this custom began to get associated with a family’s status, more and more trees were cut down to move these stones. As the forests were cleared the loose sand of the island began to erode. The top soil blew away in the wind or washed away in the rain. The under soil was unable to hold water and no crops could be grown in the areas that were cleared in this way.
Despite the fact that the people on this small island could clearly see what was happening they continued to destroy their own environment. In fact the destruction even grew worse. They seemed to cut down the forests faster. Finally the last tree was cut down. The person who cut the last tree had to know it was the last tree. That person had to know that it would permanently change their world. Yet he did it anyway. What was going through his mind? (I can only wonder if that person was actually in a leadership position on the island.) Now the people were stuck on an island with no material to build boats and slowly degrading soil. What did they do? Did they realize what they had done? Did they put some effort into rebuilding their soil? Perhaps terracing their soil to prevent it from being blown and wash away? Many cultures of the time had done this in less hospitable areas to grow crops.
No. They built more and larger stone faces that they could no longer move to the shore. Presumably they did this because they had the delusional belief that the ancestors they honored would save them. They did not.
The clans on the island soon began to have resource wars. Many died in the wars. Those who did not die resorted to cannibalism as the food situation grew worse. In fact a common insult on the island was “Your grandmother’s flesh sticks in my teeth.”
Is any of this hitting a chord? Does it sound vaguely familiar? Perhaps the argument that global warming is good because it means that the Rapture will happen sooner and Jesus will take the deserving away sounds a little like “the ancestors will save us”. In any event, the inhabitants of Easter Island were as incapable of saving themselves as we appear to be. We have a long history of killing ourselves not just in war but in blatant poor leadership. Similar situations occurred to prehistoric man, the Summarians, the Mayans, and the Romans as outlined in the book A Brief History of Progress by Ron Wright. You can hear an interview with Ron Wright on KPFA’s Against the Grain. The difference this time is that these were isolated populations and that there was always another human population somewhere else that flourished. Now it is the entire population that is endangered and a good part of other species as well.
3.) A Plea to Fundamentalist Christians
If you do happen to be a Fundamentalist Christian here is my argument for why you should not be seduced by this “bring on the Rapture” argument. The Bible is full of stories of people who thought that they could outwit God. You know, Jonah and the Whale, Cain and Able. Even Noah and Moses get a stern talking to by the Lord in their initial conversation. This never works. God always outwits the person and teaches him humility. Do you honestly believe that any one, or for that matter any number of people, can force God to come down here and start 1000 years of peace if he is not ready to?
Trying to create global catastrophe is very much like suicide. Yes there is glory after death. Yes you get to go to Heaven and meet God. But not if your death is achieved at your own hand. It is also not ethically allowable to stand by while someone else commits suicide and do nothing. Creating Global Catastrophe to hurry the end of the world should be looked at as a similar sin. We should do our best to care for the world we were given. Anything less is a sign of infinite disrespect for our own good fortunes. Christ made it clear that we are to decrease the misery of the world while we are here. It is not up to us to decide to hurry the Lord by creating famine. Even if we do our best to fix the problem if the Lord decides this is the Rapture, then so be it, there is nothing that can stop that either.
4.) Dental Nightmare:
Oddly enough this is not solely a work of fiction. The United States allows 22,000 people a year to die from lack of medical care. For those of you who are afraid of the government rationing your health care, we already have health care rationing. The poor and middle class don’t get it.
The saga of pulling a tooth was actually told to me by a man who pulled all of his molars with a pair of pliers when the pain became too horrible to bear because he had no access to dentistry or medical care. The infection in one tooth would then spread to the next tooth until he lost all of his teeth. In the richest country in the world, this is our health care system.
It might interest you to know that America spends as much in taxes per person on health care as countries that provide affordable health care for all of their citizens. In addition we also spend double what they spend because we have additional out of pocket expenses to pay insurance companies. I would tell you that the estimates of what we pay in taxes for health care in this country are too low compared to other countries. This is because other countries treat their mentally ill people within their health care system, where we imprison a fair number of ours.
The threat of higher taxes has been in the news lately at every presidential debate. If our government ran our health care system the way other countries did we would pay half of what we are paying now. Granted it would all be in taxes, but it would still be half of what we currently pay. Sometimes a marginal increase in a tax, that is well managed, can mean that you spend less overall and have a higher satisfaction for what you do spend. That is the truth that goes unspoken in our media system.
Poor tooth condition has been linked to heart attacks, digestive conditions, and preterm labor. Most indigent health care does not cover dentistry. Those states that do cover it will only cover emergency tooth pulling but not preventative care. It is as though they expect the poor to lose their teeth. So the next time you see a stereotype of an ignorant, poor, toothless hillbilly, consider this. The poor tooth condition is helped along by government agencies and it is used to mask chronic stress, poor diet, horrible pain and unspeakable acts of desperation.
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas
A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright
With Speed and Violence by Fred Pearce
The Dominant Animal by Paul Ehrlich
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen
Red Sky at Morning by James Gustav
For the More Visually Oriented:
Sicko by Michael Moore
Flow by Maude Barlow
This Week’s SciFi Suggestion:
The Drawing of Three by Stephen King