Ruralist Lament: More Fire, Less Ice

Mills and power plant, Lower Columbia River. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“It’s just guaranteed to get worse…..Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

– Linda Means, co-author IPCC report

What if an existential crisis came knocking and nobody cared?

August 9th the local daily reported (inside the paper, but above the fold) that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had issued its most recent and most dire warning about “unequivocal” and “human-caused” global heating.

The United Nations characterized it as “code red for humanity.” But …. I dunno.

Since we’ve been farming here in southern Maine, the growing season has lengthened by several weeks. We’ve dug two ponds because it’s drier more often. As the heat has increased there’s more energy in the atmosphere and when we do get rain it more often comes in more violent doses:”Frog Stranglers.” So we’ve had to dig ditches. These “sod waterways” help carry the water away with somewhat less erosion.

Other local farmers who raise tomatoes in so-called “high tunnels”  or plastic-covered greenhouses  report that the highly atypical 90 degree heat in June this year cooked the early blossoms on the crop. That’s not usually a problem this far north but is a fairly common issue for tomato producers further south. As long as there are tomatoes in the stores nobody seems to notice.

The town where I live has been slow-walking a state-mandated comprehensive plan process for the past few years. It’s unlikely that climate will be much of a factor in the deliberations or the land use decisions that follow. The city council is hot to get a new turnpike exit built here to facilitate more  sprawling development in our gentrifying town. The feds have been sluicing millions into town to repave the runway at the local General Aviation airport (about a mile away though the woods), and entice more air traffic there. The new federal “infrastructure” legislation rattling around in Washington proposes to roll more millions into Maine for roads and bridges to further subsidize the all-consuming car culture.

Yes, consumption is The Culture and the political class makes no objection. The Guardian quotes meteorologist Keith Shine, “ I was heavily involved in IPCC’s first assessment back in 1990. We weren’t even sure that observed climate change was due to human activity. The IPCC now says the evidence is ‘unequivocal.’ That means there is no hiding place for policy makers.”

I dunno…..

Hiding places would seem to abound——around here anyway. The new climate report finally begins to acknowledge so-called “tipping points” where our rapid release of carbon long-locked in the earth’s crust pushes the planet’s natural systems back to climate regimes that were dominant before the glaciers covered the northern hemisphere; when palm trees grew in the arctic. It was all very “natural,” you see. But there weren’t any people around back then. So now we’re collectively rolling the dice. Can human beings hack it in the “societally novel climates” of a Neo-Eocene or a Neo-Pliocene we’re so busy generating?  Kind of exciting I guess. In a way.

Of course there’s a lot going on and it’s all too easy to drift away from disturbing notions of climate catastrophe. Celebrities are getting married, divorced, inseminated, settling scores. The chattering classes are braying for more bombing of mud huts and wedding ceremonies in Afghanistan. (“When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) Meanwhile the Sox are swooning. And who’ll be the quarterback for the Patriots?

You see what I’m saying? Focusing on an Ultra-bummer like a climate catastrophe and an evolving climate regime very unfriendly to human beings is hard to think about. So….. we don’t. The trends and the facts have been quite clear for years (even to reclusive dirt-farmers) and it’s not encouraging.

Former NASA scientist James Hansen was one of the first to warn about runaway climate in 1988. He’s been writing lately about why nobody’s really taking it seriously. He suggests that “scientific reticence” may be involved. Scientists have gotten a “clear message: Funding prospects were brighter if one emphasized that the science was very uncertain…”  And of course, if scientists  were more  blunt there was the risk that one would be accused of “alarmism” and needlessly portraying “worst case” scenarios “to get the attention of decision makers.”

I dunno. But for whatever reason it doesn’t look like there will be any serious attempt to alter the Business-as-Usual carbon belching profligacy. Dopamine-triggering distractions are everywhere beckoning from addictive screens. The “Freedom” crowd resents even having to wear a mask against the Delta variant, or restrict mob scenes, music festivals, biker-rallies, and other super-spreader events.

By any rational standard, humanity is up against an existential crisis. It’s “unequivocal” and “human-caused.” It’s a serious problem for serious people and requiring serious structural change and well-functioning  robust societal institutions.

I dunno.

I dunno.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: