Notice I’ve said, “sane” America, and not “perfect” America. What would a saner world even look like? Given the fact that we stand at the precipice of extinction-level changes to our natural world, the only sane, reasonable, and logical response is clearly NOT to keep doing what got us “here.” Indeed, in the last decade, we’ve ramped up our coal burning, fracked at a feverish pitch for ever more natural gas, and crazily worked to perfect even newer and more aggressive ways to get at every last drop of fossil fuel. Who can even blame the average person for not considering climate change a looming threat to their very survival when such “business as usual” attitudes abound from both sides of the political aisle?
At this point in the game, most people suspect, even feel, deep in their bones, that something is just not right with the environment. They may try to look away from it, busy themselves elsewhere, mentally, but they’ve got that icky feeling of dread swelling up inside them. And while good fights are being waged against the fossil fuel industry by groups like Our Children’s Trust, there is an army of paid shills, like this group of nitwit members of Congress who try to unravel any type of progress. Folks, the sooner we shove people like Lamar Smith out of the way and even begin to deal with the problem of an increasingly hot planet, the less painful it’s going to be.
One of my greatest fears is that once we have reached one too many tipping points and the full depth of our situation becomes glaringly apparent to an overwhelming majority of citizens, the very same people who have put our lives in peril have another “solution” up their proverbial sleeve, all queued up and ready to use on an unsuspecting nation. It’s called geoengineering and it’s not just one thing, but actually more like a Little Shop of Horrors with such extreme and insanely dangerous maneuvers like launching umbrellas into space in order to block the sun (I’m not even kidding), or dumping a bunch of crap into our oceans to force them to absorb EVEN MORE carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ordering off this a la carte menu of stupid will quickly spell disaster for large swaths of under-represented and under-valued civilizations (Africa: you’re the first to be sacrificed, by the way). The scale and urgency of what needs to be done, in fact, what needed to be done decades ago, is staggering and somewhat terrifying, to be sure, but once we awaken from our collective stupor, our shared mission to save ourselves just might have a chance of working. And by “a chance,” I actually mean “against all odds.”
So what would a day in the life of the average American citizen look like in a sane and logical world, given our unraveling climate crisis? I pick America because we are, without a doubt, the biggest part of the problem. Spoiled, judgmental, privileged and pouty, our leadership and, by extension, the people of my own country hold most of the cards, and we don’t play well with others unless it suits us, first and foremost. That is going to have to change. Like they say about alcoholics, the first step is admitting the problem. We haven’t even gotten to that point yet, but let’s travel ahead in time, perhaps a decade into the future. It can’t be much more than that because any further out and quite possibly any semblance of order and cooperation will be utterly out of the question.
Our day begins in middle America, not on either coast, which will have their own unique set of problems to deal with. Let’s plop down in Oklahoma, home to the former climate denier and fossil fuel shill, Senator James Inhofe, who is now serving time for collusion, corruption, obfuscation, and perjury in a state penitentiary where he will live out what’s left of his miserable life. Our average American family, who we’ll just call the Smiths, consists of a husband and wife, their high school daughter and college-age son, along with two grandparents.
It’s Monday morning and the Smith family is just starting out their busy work week. As the family begins to wake up after a restful night’s sleep, their small, yet cozy home, has been fully charged from the previous day’s sunshine since solar panels are embedded in each window’s pane of glass, and throughout the external structure of their house. Excess energy gets fed back to the grid and used wherever it’s needed. No one gets up before the sun comes up because they know there will be no electricity made available.
With all jobs, work sites, and projects now located close-by, and energy usage metered, limited, and preciously needed to build the necessary renewable energy infrastructure and the new economy, the pace of life has changed considerably. While certainly no less purposeful, each and every American understands that their role in life has changed, having gone from insatiable consumer and master of their environment to servant of the greater good, which means all hands on deck to begin reversing the perilous course this wreck of a “ship” is on.
After each member of the family syncs their personal (and embedded) microchips, which takes less than 30 seconds to do, and which will allocate and monitor usage of dwindling resources such as water and energy, the family, along with the rest of the country, is updated on CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Every American keeps an eye on such levels since they dictate not only policy, but also progress. Once carbon dioxide levels are seen and discussed, the family takes turns using the bathroom, with each shower limited to three minutes (the shower heads are on timers and have mandatory flow suppressors and are, of course, synced to each microchip) and then they gather at the kitchen table to eat their largely vegetarian breakfast, which is supplemented with protein pills making up for the (now illegal) consumption of animal protein coming from cows, pigs and other previously consumed livestock. Since such farming practices, such as beef production, are extremely damaging to both the atmosphere and the land (which is now being converted to carbon sinks through massive tree planting and other carbon-absorbing campaigns), they have been quickly phased out.
The new dietary restrictions, which have been implemented across the United States, coupled with changes to our national transportation system, which is now available nearly everywhere and is almost completely powered by renewable energy, has led to the (once only theorized) decline in obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease. More healthy diets plus mandatory limits on personal vehicles has prompted more cycling and walking as a form of transportation. This has nudged life expectancy up a bit and also sharply decreased healthcare costs, which has had the added benefit of reducing each person’s carbon footprint since hospitals, clinics, transportation to and from appointments, and pharmaceutical production have all been greatly reduced.
Mr. Smith leaves for his job, which involves ramping up wind production in his area so that it will soon equal, and eventually surpass, solar power. Mrs. Smith sets out to her town’s community center where she will continue her work raising surface albedo levels in the surrounding area. This is achieved by either applying (nano) reflective paint to previously dark (asphalt or tar) surfaces, or by greening previously dark/heat absorbing surfaces like courtyards, walkways and parking lots. The elders in the Smith household will tend to their family’s personal garden, insuring their abundant food supply.
The Smith’s high school age daughter spends the first part of her day, as does every high school student in the US, working on sustainability and conservation issues which specifically apply to her region, with the second half of her day spent on campus, delving deeper into topics such as water conservation, personal health (reproductive health is important at the high school level, with birth control and other forms of contraception freely distributed along with education about how each additional person on Earth impacts our tenuous climate crisis), and the historical circumstances which have led to humans potentially causing their own extinction. Without future generations being taught such lessons, the same mistakes are destined to be repeated.
The eldest Smith child, who is of college age, reports to his Local Climate Precinct, as does every other 18-22 year old in America, to fulfill his compulsory four year Public Service Commitment (PSC). His microchip is scanned upon entering the auditorium, and duties are handed out and are geared towards regional and national goals aimed at 1) building and maintaining the new energy infrastructure, 2) reversing the skyrocketing trend of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which have been accumulating in the atmosphere and in the oceans since the 19th century. This 2nd step is key, and is addressed through large scale implementation of carbon capture and storage (which was previously infeasible because it was initially meant to merely increase fossil fuel production) along with massive creation and nurturing of natural carbon sinks, and 3) repurposing buildings, facilities, and older infrastructure so that it’s useful in fighting climate change and limiting new construction projects (which are very carbon-intensive).
Updates on the environment, along with new or adapted strategies directed at decreasing the Earth’s temperature and reducing the build-up of greenhouse gases are also sent out throughout the day to each person’s smartphone, which is issued by local precincts, and which also syncs with each person’s embedded microchips. By utilizing existing satellites and other Earth-monitoring systems, scientists are able to gauge the effectiveness of large-scale efforts at healing the planet.
The timing of each region’s work day changes according to the seasons, since everything is timed to coincide with the amount of natural daylight in each area, thus managing and minimizing energy consumption when it’s dark.
The Smith family reconvenes at home at the end of the day, where they make and share dinner, relax, watch TV, etc., with two hours of locally generated electricity provided to each household at dusk before a mandatory lights out (to conserve and store extra energy). Every radio station, every channel on television, and every weather and news broadcast is mandated to begin their broadcast with 1-3 minutes of recap and discussion about carbon dioxide levels.
Because every household is keenly aware of energy constraints, the first things that get done upon arriving home revolve around preparation for the next day, and towards the smooth operation of family life. While this was, at first, a new way of thinking and acting, it quickly became second nature.
Do the Smiths feel like they’ve lost their personal freedom? Their “right” to make the choices they want to make? Do they feel like they are being controlled, or that their situation is, in some way, unfair? The short answer is, “no.” America of yesteryear was, without question, individualistic, self-centered, and myopic. The one key thing that keeps America in the year 2026 more or less in balance and maintains that sense of “fairness” is that everyone, every single person, has a microchip. They are unalterable, and the information pertaining to our national mission, which is to save ourselves, is 100% transparent. What is the President of the United States doing today to fight climate change? Look it up. How about his wife, or his kid? Again, it’s “discoverable.” When America’s environmental “wake up call” eventually came and people suddenly experienced their paradigm shift, which led to the realization that their very lives, and the lives of all future members of their species, were at stake, capitalism and the monetization of society crumbled as fast and as easy as the Twin Towers on September 11th.
What was once monolithic and immovable gave way to a deeper and more primitive desperation to survive.
Back to 2016
To be clear, nothing I’ve laid out above goes technologically beyond our current capabilities. None of it is science fiction. The only thing which prevents us from working towards actually saving ourselves (from ourselves) are artificial constructs which are malleable and arbitrary.
If such a paradigm shift seems outrageously naive, simplistic, or inconceivable, think back to that day, September 11, 2001. The attacks, which played out on live TV, were entirely manmade, avoidable, somewhat expected (remember that there were attacks on the World Trade Center before 2001) and specific. One might even say that what transpired on September 11th was somewhat manageable. And yet, that day changed America and Americans. Not overnight, but pretty darn close.
Now think about the laws of physics, which are not negotiable, and definitely not within our control. And how about climate change, which is entirely non-linear, unpredictable, and can often be blindingly “unfair.” It’s not difficult to guess at the kinds of tipping points which are potentially right around the corner.
Just imagine that an immense part of the Antarctic ice shelf collapses without warning and we lose New York City, parts of Florida and many other cities along coastlines due to rapid sea level rise, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. This happens right before our eyes. You can watch it and re-watch it on TV, YouTube, from smartphones, anywhere. It’s like the worst apocalyptic movie ever. Sort of in slow motion, except that it would actually be too fast to evacuate or warn people. Boom. Gone. So goes London and other major cities like Tokyo. This is not only possible, but it’s increasingly probable. How hard is it to imagine that things start going to hell, crumbling before our very eyes, and it is, unlike anything else we humans have experienced, happening entirely beyond our control. Wouldn’t you be willing to do anything to save yourself and your species?
I’m increasingly convinced that such horrific situations are what it’s going to take to wake people up. I hate to say that, but not for the reasons you may think. The specter of death and destruction may only be the opening volley. We are melting everything on our planet, releasing methane from permafrost that should be frozen. By heating up the planet and melting so much ice, we’re even changing gravity. Thanks to an epic drought, parts of California are literally sinking. In short, when too many tipping points have been reached, no kind of “Marshall Plan” for the planet may make the slightest difference, no matter how heartfelt, desperate, and sincere it is.
And while I highly doubt we live on the only planet with life on it, I do suspect that humans may be one of the few, if not the only, highly intelligent beings in the universe. If for no other reason than this, we simply must do better to protect ourselves and insure our collective future as a species.
Three easy steps which would finish off the fossil fuel industry for good;
This is what it’s going to take to save humanity;
The most important legal case on Earth;
When your worst nightmare comes true.