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The Ghosts of Climate Past, Present and Future: Part 3

Posted on 25 December 2015 by howardlee

The Ghosts of Climate Past, Present and Future: a 3-part seasonal tale

Part 3 - The Ghost of Climate Future

Links to Part 1Part 2

This story is a departure from Skeptical Science’s usual article style, and is offered for your seasonal reading enjoyment. The tale is based loosely on Charles Dickens’ classic tale: “A Christmas Carol,” updated in the context of climate change and told over three episodes. The story and all names and characters portrayed in it are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. 

The following is a fictionalized but plausible - if pessimistic - projection based on “business as usual” emissions, ie if countries fail to deliver on their Paris pledges and emissions continue at a high rate. It’s important to note that action will make a difference. For example, according to the IPCC, the difference in sea level rise between the business-as-usual vs the more responsible emissions scenario of RCP 4.5 is about 40% less sea level rise by 2100. In other words, if the promises of the Paris agreement are turned into action, urgently, we can slow this thing down considerably and reduce the severity of its impacts. In other words, it doesn’t have to be like this.

Eb awoke gasping for breath, arms and legs flailing.

It took several seconds to realize he was tangled up in his bedclothes, not drowning. He sat up from his damp bed and checked his cell phone: 3:00 AM, no texts, no missed calls. Slowly his pounding heart settled in the normalcy of his apartment. He rubbed his eyes then straightened the comforter, and struggled to pull off his wet jeans and shirt.

As he did so, the sound of water came from the bathroom. He froze, suddenly alert. It sounded like someone was having a shower. The squeak of a faucet being opened, the slosh of water filling a sink, heck! It sounded as if every faucet in the bathroom was open!

He slid open his bedside drawer and pulled out a handgun, pushed the thumb safety and disengaged the firing-pin block. Dressed in nothing but boxers, he crept towards the bathroom. The door was ajar, casting a segment of harsh fluorescent light into the hallway.

Sniffing. A cry of irritation. Faucets closing and opened again.

“Why won’t it work?” said a woman’s voice, in the peak of frustration.

Moving closer he could see the reflection of a gaunt young woman, desperately scooping water from the sink into her mouth, but it just splashed uselessly onto the floor. She gave up and smacked the sink in exasperation.

“Can I help you?” asked Eb.

She yelped and spun around, biting her lip, trying to compose herself.

Her body barely made an impression on the garment, which hung as loosely from her shoulders as from a hanger.

Her dress may have been white once, with a bold floral print. But now it was grayish, stained and dusty, as if it had been reclaimed from a ditch somewhere. Her body barely made an impression on the garment, which hung as loosely from her shoulders as from a hanger.

“Who are you?” asked Eb, his gun pointed at her, “and how did you get in here?”

“Please, put that thing away,” responded the woman. “I really don’t like guns.”

“First tell me who you are and what you are doing here!” said Eb.

“You haven’t guessed?”

“Guessed what?”

“I am the Ghost of Climate Future.”

“Oh dear Lord, not again!”

“Please, put that thing away,” repeated the woman. “It won’t work on me anyway.”

Eb sank, exhausted, onto the toilet seat, clicked the safeties back on the gun and put it on the bathroom floor next to him.

“Much better,” said the woman.

“What’s the deal with the water?” asked Eb, surveying the flooded bathroom.

“It’s silly really,” replied the ghost. “I’m desperate for a drink of water, and here there is so, so much of it! I drink and I drink and yet it doesn't slake my thirst. I splash it over me and yet it doesn’t cool me.”

“Would you like a glass?” asked Eb.

“You don’t understand,” said the woman, half laughing. “I am beyond the reach of water now.”

She cocked her head to one side and examined Eb: He had bedhead, shadows under his eyes, a day’s worth of stubble, and a hairy belly rolled over the front of his boxers. He seemed almost pathetic sitting there.

“You know, you’re not what I expected,” said the woman.

“What did you expect?” asked Eb.

“A total ass - that’s your reputation in my time.”

“Well, just exactly what time is that?” demanded Eb, stung by the insult.

“We’ll get to that. But first I have some things to show you. Put some clothes on, because we’re going out.”

“Again? Look – whatever you want to say you can just tell me here. I’m through with the jumping through space and time – it’s exhausting! I’m getting sick of being lectured at all night.”

“Sick?” said the woman, laughing. “You have no idea!"

“Sick?” said the woman, laughing. “You have no idea! We’re going anyway, so you can come like that or get dressed.”

Eb just sat there, stubborn and petulant.

“Alright, here we go!” said the woman.

The fluorescent glare brightened until there was nothing but white, and Eb felt that now-familiar falling sensation.

He landed, heavily, on a flat stone pavement that felt rough to his bare soles. A gust of warm wind made him sharply aware that he was standing outside in his boxers. Moonlight illuminated an elaborate statue to his right – horses drawing a carriage with soldiers in civil war uniforms, one man holding up his arm, all in pale green weathered bronze. It began to dawn on him where he was, but as he looked beyond the statue he could make out what looked like a huge, blackened, smashed egg atop a round colonnade, resting on a wall of flaking Corinthian columns and pilasters, atop two more layers of high, arched windows, all smashed and blackened.

The United States Capitol. Utterly ruined.

“What kind of messed-up vision is this?” demanded Eb, outraged.

“It’s the future, or at least one of several futures that are possible in your time. This is the future you chose.”

“It’s the future, or at least one of several futures that are possible in your time. This is the future you chose.”

“I chose?”

The sound of barking behind him made him turn around.  A pack of dogs chased a deer across scrubland towards a patch of swamp in front of the Air and Space Museum. In the distance he could see the Washington monument standing, bereft of its pinnacle. He realized that the floodlights were off. Not a single building was illuminated. In fact, not a single light was visible anywhere. Aside from the dogs and the sound of the hot dry wind, there was nothing. No cars, and no planes landing at Ronald Reagan Airport. A literal ghost town.

“What do you mean I chose? What happened?” asked Eb, in helpless confusion.

“The Capitol was burned by rioters during the Great Famine of ’86,” was the ghost’s reply.

“Famine? What famine? Why?” asked Eb.

“Why? There are so many reasons why, and many of them lead back to you, my great-great-grandfather!” said the woman.

“Wait - I have a great-great-granddaughter? You?” asked Eb, bewildered.

“Had. Well, will have… It’s complicated. Great-grandma Emily is pregnant right now with your grandson, my Grandpa Mike, who had my mom in ’41 who had me in ’65!”

“Emily is pregnant?”

“Yes, 6 months gone. You didn’t know?”

“No. We haven’t spoken in a while.”

“Hmm - makes sense,” said the ghost.

It was too much to take in. Eb sat down on the rounded lip of what had once been a reflecting pool, but now was filled with a tangle of weeds and dirt. The phantom sat silently beside him. Several minutes passed as he took in the twin revelations of his offspring and the destruction of the Capitol.

“What’s your name?” asked Eb.

“Emily, after your daughter,” responded the ghost.

That hit him in the pit of his stomach.

“How old are… were you… what happened to you?”

“I will tell you, but first I need to show you what led to all… all this,” she said, pointing at the scene in front of them.

Emily placed her hand on Eb’s arm.

Nobody seemed to notice the middle-aged man in boxers or the painfully thin woman in the shabby dress

Instantly they were surrounded by people. The newly-restored Capitol gleamed, whole and white, bright against a clear blue sky. A row of TV trucks idled in front of them, satellite dishes on their roofs, and beyond them a crowd of protesters was yelling: “shame!” and waving placards. Emily and Eb moved through the crowd towards the steps of the Capitol, towards a forest of microphone booms. Nobody seemed to notice the middle-aged man in boxers or the painfully thin woman in the shabby dress. Then he saw… himself.

“President Scruggio! Mr President!” voices called from beneath the microphone booms.

“How do you feel now that your party has repealed the Climate Protection Act?” asked a reporter.

“It feels great!” Eb heard himself say. “It was one of my key election promises. It represents a victory for common sense and a victory for jobs and energy security. It’s a victory for American values! We cannot afford to have our economy held hostage by climate extremists. My administration will continue to support efforts to figure out if and when we need to act on climate change, but for the foreseeable future we have nothing to fear from CO2 – it’s great for agriculture, and any harmful effects will be mild for centuries! The American Dream is alive and well! Thank you!”

“Mr President, Mr. President!” called reporters in vain, as Eb watched minders in suits and ‘aviator’ glasses close around his presidential self and usher him to a waiting limo. The limo zoomed away surrounded by police motorcycles with lights flashing.

As the crowd dispersed, Emily turned to Eb.

“You asked why. Well, that’s a big part of why,” said Emily. “That blew up the last chance the world had to get serious about the climate before it got completely out of hand. Every scientist you spoke to said you needed to honor the Paris agreement. They begged you not to repeal the Act. But you chose to listen instead to your so-called ‘Office of Conservative Science.’ You must have known.”

“Known what?” said Eb.

“That those experts were nothing of the sort. They were hand-picked by your pal Tiny Tim and the Homeland Institute. You had to know that there was no actual science there. It was just rehashed arguments that science had debunked long before.”

“The Office of Conservative Science is there to counterbalance the liberal bias in science,” said Eb in a Pavlovian reaction.


“Really,” said Eb, sticking to his guns.

Repealing the Climate Protection Act derailed the Paris Agreement 

“So, even though most media and fact-checking sites rated their claims as ‘pants-on-fire,’ you decided their advice was worth following? Amazing!” said Emily. “Repealing the Climate Protection Act derailed the Paris Agreement and delayed progress for another 8 years. You made sure that business-as-usual energy policy continued across the world. China and India refused to lower their emissions if the US wouldn’t. Europe waffled for a while but continued burning coal because their economic competitors were doing so.  Subsidies that rich countries promised the developing world to finance renewable energy never materialized. We lost a decade, the crucial, pivotal decade!” exclaimed Emily, with considerable bitterness.

“Well you need to see what happened as a result,” she continued as she reached for Eb.

It was not a gentle touch. It was more of a jab that sent them into the void once more.

They found themselves in the top row of seating in a large sports stadium. The evening sky was a blaze of orange sunset casting the scene below into gold-tinted shade. Columns of smoke rose from the city around them as the chatter of machine guns echoed sporadically nearby. Eb ducked instinctively but Emily was unmoved.

“By the 2030s the world blew past its 2ºC warming target, and a hundred million people had been pushed into poverty by the changing climate,” she said. “They raided whatever resources they had access to, just to survive, so the rainforests of Asia, South America and central Africa were largely burned or logged away.

By the 2030s the world blew past its 2ºC warming target

“Droughts left northern forests susceptible to wildfires, which consumed vast stretches of Alaskan, Canadian and Russian Forests. In some years an acrid haze drifted across USA and Europe for weeks on end, and people took to wearing face masks if they ventured outdoors. The burning emitted even more CO2 into the atmosphere, along with methane from melting permafrost. The world population was still rising then, and many countries were still burning coal to fuel development. As a result greenhouse gases in the atmosphere just kept on rising faster than the lackluster attempts to curb emissions.”

Emily paused, eyes shut, and massaged her temples as a small convoy of armored personnel carriers sped along a highway near the stadium, and there was another burst of gunfire nearby.

“Droughts and intense, deadly heatwaves hit the world ever more frequently, so crop yields began to shrink in the ‘40s,” continued Emily. “Farmers switched to drought-resistant GMO crops and hardier livestock but the climate changed faster than they could, and besides, nothing grows without water. The price of food rose inexorably, all over the world, so poverty levels skyrocketed, reversing all the gains in living standards since the early 20th century. Famines  became frequent. Political instability grew into wars and ethnic violence, which spilled across borders, until by the late ‘40s much of Africa was controlled by extremist groups.”

Just then a pickup truck with a large-caliber machine gun mounted on it roared into the stadium, circling on the artificial turf. It had white letters sprayed crudely on its doors. Behind it came a couple of dusty black SUVs and behind them a school bus. As soon as the bus stopped, hooded men with hands bound behind them exited the bus, some stumbling as if pushed.  Men got out of the SUVs and began barking at the prisoners. They lined the prisoners up and made them kneel. Eb knew what was about to happen. He looked at Emily open-mouthed as if to say “do something!” but she just continued talking.

“This is the year 2052 and we are in the Uhuru Sports Stadium of Nairobi. The government of Kenya has just been overthrown by Shifta militants. President Jomo Kenyatta the Third, his cabinet and his top generals are about to be executed.”

Eb watched in horror as a man in green-brown camouflage and wearing a red beret walked down the line shooting the prisoners in the head, one by one. He paused to reload, then continued. When the last prisoner was dead the group cheered, danced and fired shots in the air. A couple of bullets buzzed perilously close to Eb.

You have witnessed the passing of the last nation state in Africa

“You have witnessed the passing of the last nation state in Africa. Now the entire continent is controlled by a fluctuating patchwork of extremist militias. The Shifta fight the LRA who fight the Mai-Mai who fight the FRPI who fight the Sudan Revolutionary Front who fight Boko Haram who fight the Niger Delta Liberation Front, and on and on it goes,” said Emily. “Anyone with any money migrated to Europe, Russia, and North America long ago. The rest have no hope. They are fighters or they are slaves until they starve to death.”

“It was the same in the Middle-East and South Asia,” she continued. “Anyone who could do so left the region to escape civil war made worse by climate change. But that began in your time, so you already know this.”

Eb sat in stunned, nauseous, appalled silence, unable to take in what Emily was saying.

“Once you’ve seen a few, you harden to it,” said Emily as she touched his arm again.

The call of seagulls and the smell of the ocean was a welcome change of scenery. It brought Eb to his senses, but man! It was humid! They were rocking back and forth in a tattered boat that had obviously seen better days, moored to a rotting palm trunk rising from the water. In front of them the iconic Art Deco beach-front properties of Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive were in various states of disrepair. Some were boarded up, some entirely derelict, and some had clearly subsided.  Concrete barriers poked out of sand dunes, some toppled and scattered on the beach, which was just a trash-strewn silty strip studded with tree stumps. A couple of planes droned in the distance but the part of the city he could see was deserted and quiet, apart from some drifters with their dogs.

it was the repeated nuisance flooding from storm surges and exceptional tides that did the damage

By the ‘50s the world realized that sea levels were rising in line with the fastest of projections, just like they had in prehistoric warm times,” said Emily. “West Antarctica and Greenland were melting fast. It wasn’t so much the absolute sea level that was the problem at first, it was the repeated nuisance flooding from storm surges and exceptional tides that did the damage, well before the official mean sea level reached those levels. Nuisance flooding just got more and more frequent in many of the world’s coastal cities to the point that nobody could get insurance or afford to repair the damage.”

“Death by a thousand paper cuts,” said Eb.

“Or a dozen floods!” said Emily. “Housing, industry, railways, roads, sewerage, water, electricity generation – they were slowly abandoned along with their property taxes. Rebuilding aid money didn’t cover the cost of repairs, and it took years of bureaucracy to get any, so people just left to find work in other cities. It led to the blight and piecemeal abandonment of low-lying parts of the world’s most populous cities like Alexandria, Ho Chi Minh City, Osaka-Kobe, New Orleans, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Tianjin, Mumbai, Shanghai, Kolkata, the NY-NJ metro area, and right here in Miami.”

A touch of the hand and they were somewhere new.

The gulls sounded the same, but now it was pouring with torrential warm rain. They were standing on the ramparts of an ancient castle, marooned by a churning torrent of muddy brown water. In the distance, rising from the water, a collection of tall buildings included one he recognized – the sharp glass pinnacle of London’s “Shard.”  An assortment of debris was being carried by the water, a parade of sorts: a vehicle of some kind, some boarding, a tree trunk, an upturned boat, a bloated cow… The twin towers of Tower Bridge rose from the water to his left, still crowned by Victorian ironwork, now rusted and bird-stained. In the distance there were sirens, but other than that it seemed the city was deserted.

London is no longer the capital city of the United Kingdom

“London is no longer the capital city of the United Kingdom,” said Emily. “The Houses of Parliament were in disrepair long before, but after the Great Flood of ’53 the UK government cut their losses and relocated the capital to Birmingham.”

“The UK was not alone in this. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, many of the old cities of Europe had become irreparably damaged by floods. Paris relocated to Reims, and Prague to Brno, Berlin to Leipzig. Floods on the Elbe and Rhine severely damaged Germany’s manufacturing base and Europe’s economic core. The Netherlands, which had held the waters at bay for 8 centuries, finally succumbed to the twin forces of storm surge and river flooding, losing both Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Mosquitos bred in the stagnant pools of flooded cities, and drug-resistant malaria plagued Europe. Cholera outbreaks occurred frequently because 19th and early 20th century sewers were ruined by flooding.”

“What a waste!” said Eb, shielding his eyes from the rainwater dripping down his face.

“So, is this the prosperous future you killed the Climate Act for?” asked Emily.

“Hardly,” was Eb’s response.

“You haven’t seen the worst of it yet,” said Emily, putting her hand on his shoulder.

A tiny huddle of humanity scattered into the razor wire

It was now night. Up ahead there were high watch towers with searchlights behind a tall metal fence topped with razor wire. Several rows of razor wire gleamed in the searchlight’s beam on the ground between them and the fence. Off to their right a siren sounded and a section of the fence was instantly bathed in light. A tiny huddle of humanity scattered into the razor wire. Trapped. Screaming. Gunfire. Silence. It was then that Eb could make out many such bundles hanging on the razor wire like a scene from World War 1.

Emily began to drift silently towards the lights and voices behind them.

Eb, still damp with London rain, followed her across the dusty ground, sharp stalks of dry grass jabbing his bare, muddy soles. After a minute or two Emily stopped and Eb caught up.

A vast shanty town spread across the land in front of them. Lights gleamed, corrugated iron roofs flapped in the breeze, cats fought, and human voices carried across the intervening space.

“Careful where you step,” warned Emily, moving off again.

The smell of human feces told Eb why. Gingerly picking his way, he followed her into the camp until they arrived at an open area where some tens of people were gathered around a fire, singing songs and laughing. There were French, Italian, British, West African, and Indian accents. It seemed all they had in common were broken English and old Beatles songs. They struggled through a verse or two and then gave up, laughing. A bottle was being passed around.

“They call this place ‘Nirvana,’ ” said Emily. “It’s migrant humor,” she added by way of explanation.

“We are in north-eastern Poland, by the border with Greater Russia,” continued the ghost.

By the late ‘60s much of American cropland was a dustbowl

“By the late ‘60s much of American cropland was a dustbowl and cities that ran out of water were abandoned. Australia was worse and even Europe struggled with periodic droughts. Many nations defaulted on their national debt after pouring reserves into food aid, repair and relocation. The global slowdown became a profound economic depression.”

“Southern Europeans migrated into an already-overcrowded Northern Europe preoccupied with relocating its own citizens. A lucky few took jobs on infrastructure relocation projects, at way less than the minimum wage, as criminal gangs bribed and bullied the authorities into looking the other way. Clashes soon broke out between locals and immigrants as food and jobs became ever scarcer. Opinions polarized with each clash until much of Northern Europe descended into a low-grade civil war through the ‘70s.  Seeing the writing on the wall, Scandinavian and Baltic states sought protection from Russia, which gladly absorbed them into Greater Russia.”

In the distance they heard another siren, and more gunfire. The camp fell silent for a second or two, before someone held up the bottle saying: “to the departed.”

“To the departed,” repeated the others, each taking a swig from the bottle as it was passed around.

And then they started talking again as if nothing had happened.

“Let’s go,” said Emily, quietly.

Another tumble through space and time.

You are now entering the American Sector – American Federation - State of Toronto

It was different, but almost the same. Another fence, watchtowers, and razor wire. But here bluish lights mounted along the fence illuminated it every few feet. Concrete barriers and sandbags were staggered along a road leading to a checkpoint manned by soldiers and protected by some kind of multi-barreled tank. A large sign attached to the fence read:

“You are now entering the American Sector – American Federation - State of Toronto.”

It was hot. Really hot. The dry wind had already chapped his lips and for once he was glad to be dressed only in boxers. The sign reminded him of Checkpoint Charlie in 20th century Berlin, but this was definitely not Berlin. He turned to Emily for explanation.

“In ’86 there was a super El-Niño.  The northern hemisphere went through the worst, most severe heatwave humans have ever known. We called it the ‘The Long Burn.’ ”

American Federation Border

“Millions died In the Persian Gulf region as the temperature became lethally hot. In a few weeks the region was emptied of its population, either by death or migration. Migrants surged through Central Asia towards Russia.”

Emily put her hands up to her forehead and closed her eyes tight for a minute.

“Sorry,” she said. “I just can’t shake this dehydration headache.”

They couldn’t pump groundwater fast enough to keep crops alive

“Anyway,” she continued. “They couldn’t pump groundwater fast enough to keep crops alive, even in Canada and Russia. The few places where food would grow, locals or bugs ate it. And so the Great Famine began.

“It practically emptied the tropics. They say that the roads from Asia into Russia were so lined with corpses that the Russian military would dig new mass graves every week. The refugee camps like ‘Nirvana’ on the Russian border were barely better as Russia choked off immigration. They only wanted the fit, the educated, and the young. Every few weeks there was a riot that ‘peacekeepers’ put down with live fire. Yet still the desperate came seeking a life free from thirst and hunger.”

Emily began to walk along the road, away from the checkpoint. Once again Eb followed, keeping to the dusty verge to avoid the potholes and cracks in the asphalt.

“Here in the USA many states became unbearably hot in The Long Burn,” continued Emily. “Nuclear reactors couldn’t cool, so they shut down. Some areas that had solar or wind-power were OK until the national power grid failed. Practically all vegetation withered to dust, and dust storms choked the air for days on end.  Food became scarce, so people began to move, by the millions.

“Law and order broke down, so they conscripted all men into the army, and I never saw my Dad again. Mom and I decided to go to Canada. We took whatever we had to sell or trade, and we drove north. We ran out of juice in Gettysburg, but there was no power there to recharge the car, so we abandoned it and continued on foot.”

Emily turned around to make sure Eb was paying attention.

“But by then Canada was overwhelmed with migrants,” continued Emily, “so they closed the borders. That’s when The American Federation was born.”

She turned and continued walking away from the lights, beside the cracked highway. She was moving faster now and Eb found he had to work to keep up.

negotiations started under the threat of nuclear war

“When the Canadians closed the borders the US protested,” said Emily, “but many Americans were dying at the border. So President Hernandez got Congress to declare war, and USA invaded Canada. Britain came to Canada’s aid but it was a futile gesture. Even the combined forces didn’t have the troops or the hardware to defend the provinces.  Ottawa fell in a little over a week and negotiations started under the threat of nuclear war. The result was an uneasy peace and a new country, the North American Federation, with territory partitioned between America and Canada. Rich Americans and politicians soon relocated to the new country, but many Americans were left behind, destitute in the desiccated remains of the USA.”

“Then the Federation government declared that US citizens no longer had automatic rights in the American Federation. We all had to apply for visas. That night, when it was cool enough to bear the streets, the abandoned citizens burned the Capitol in disgust.”

“So that’s how the Capitol was destroyed,” said Eb. “But what about you, what happened to you?”

Emily kept walking along the road.

“It was hard to walk to Canada,” replied Emily. “It was dangerous. People would do anything for clean water and food. We made it to Binghamton by the time of the negotiations. It was easy to find a place to stay there because so many houses were abandoned. The tricky bit was getting food and water. We decided to wait there until they opened the border, but they never did. There was no law any more, just gangs. We saw things… we saw things no human should see.”

“We laid low in Binghamton for a few weeks, and then one day my mom went out and never came back. We always went together but that day I was sick. When she didn’t return I searched the streets for her. I found her just a few blocks away. She had been stabbed for her shoes and her watch.”

Emily swayed and stumbled. She was weeping.

“So,” she said, sniffing, “I left Binghamton and walked north.”

“So you made it then?” asked Eb.

Emily turned on Eb and pounded furiously on his chest, a ghostly pounding that startled Eb despite its lack of physical impact.

“You fool!” she cried. “You always believed in that fairy-tale ending. You always believed that you could do whatever you liked and it would turn out OK. Just somehow. You didn’t attend to how, you just had faith that it would all work out in the end. Well, you stupid, arrogant man! It didn’t! Alright? Am I getting through that thick skull of yours? It didn’t work out!”

Eb noticed an odd-shaped bundle by the roadside, a short way further. Inexplicably he was drawn to it. As he approached it, it seemed familiar. That dress! The stained dress with the floral print! He ran to the bundle and pulled at the dress. The head flopped back and Eb found himself staring into the lifeless eyes of Emily, his great-great-granddaughter.

The electronic flutter of his cell phone jarred Eb awake.

He sat up, trembling, sweating.

Still the cell phone rang, demanding attention.

Automatically, he answered the call.

“Eb, my man! It’s Tim here! Hey, sorry I didn't call you last night, but something came up.”

Eb’s eyes were drawn to the window. It was still dark.

“Anyway,” the voice continued. “I wanted to talk to you ahead of your announcement, just to make sure we are on the same page regarding that damn Climate Act. We can depend on you to kill the Act, right Eb? .... Eb?”


Special thanks to JG for his wonderful illustrations. Thanks to Andy Skuce, John Garr, Rob Painting, David Kirtley, Kevin Cowtan, Paul W, Mike Korsch, Baerbel Winkler for corrections and suggestions.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. What a remarkably accomplished climate change re-creation of Dickens’ tale you have crafted here, Howard. I thought this last part was especially effective in achieving its end.

    Now if we could only get various Senators Scruggio (and others) to read it, including in my case a certain nephew.

    Thank you.

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  2. Thanks! With Scruggios (or Cruzios) vowing publically to derail the Paris agreement, denial still has plenty of poison in its tail. We may not ever reach the Scruggios of this world directly, but bit by bit hopefully we'll reach enough supporters, parents, sons and daughters, uncles and aunts, to point out that these emperors of denial lack a shred of scientific clothing. 

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  3. I had occasion to write an article about 6 years ago that I called orwells boot. (As far as I can tell it is no. 1 or sometimes no.2 on all search engines.  The first line is:  Orwell's Boot: our inevitable? descent into tyranny

    I set forth a lot of information and logic that shows that evolution operates in such a way as to make people unwilling or unable to learn from any source other than their preferred authority.   You may also want to read the true believer by eric hoffer.

    I think that my article does a fairly good job of predicting Mr. Trump.  If we are going to address our most critical problems, we need to figure out how to tweak evolution, or work contrary to how nature works.  We are confronting large scale stupid.  Trump is capitalizing on that.    Not an easy task.   Logic will not work.  Frankly I see no solution.

    Our founding fathers were correct, and we ignored them.  Democracies suck and always fail.   We made a serious error when we removed any qualification  for the right to vote.   Consider this:   Give the customers of walmart the same voting rights as the share (stake) holders.  How long do you think that Walmart will survive?

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  4. factotum,

    Don't be so hard on the American people. I have to say, though, it is scary to think that neither Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush would have campaigned on Trump's platform, or engaged in his demagogic rhetoric. However, Trump still has to get nominated, and then he still has to win. 

    While he pleases an element of the Republican party, he is still very far from the preferences of the median American voter, on a range of issues from social welfare to energy.

    It is also scary that some of his opponents, like Cruz, are probably worse than he is, if such a thing is possible.

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  5. Factotum: I couldn't disagree more. Restricting the right to vote by some kind of "qualification" would be disastrous and divisive.

    I think I would rather live in a society governed by a popularly-elected President Trump than one ruled by a President Factotum who, it seems, would disenfranchise citizens and render them peasants based on where they shop or some other arbitrary criterion. 

    If democracies suck and always fail, please point to some historical cases of non-democracies that have thrived and persisted for as long as the G7 nations, for example.

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  6. Factotum I disagree with the idea of restricting the right to vote. However there are some areas that might be worth considering. Probably not practical but they get to the gist of some of the problems.

    • Remove the legal notion that corporations are people and have the same freedom of expression rights. Corporations lying about anything is a criminal offense targetted at the directors.
    • Mandate a public interest test and an impartial presentation of information obligation into the licenses for radio and TV stations.
    • Maximum ownership rules for the media. No individual or corporation can own or control more than a small section of the media. And yes I am thinking of a certain ex-Australian of dubious repute.
    • In parallel with a Bill of Rights, a comparable Bill of Responsibilities, that outlines the reasonable responsibilities of individual citizens. Just getting a 'my rights carry responsibilities with them' discourse might be useful. The notion that we have equal rights but not limitless rights.
    • A nations constitution is reviewed, rewritten perhaps, and reratified by its population every 50 years or so. Build into everyones thinking that democracy isn't some static wonderful thing handed down to us by some 'founding fathers' but rather an evolving living thing where the early versions from our history were just the clunky early prototypes. And we are all obliged to be engaged with that process. This is just the price of a ticket into our society.
    • Ban all campaign donations and financing. Political parties are funded from the public purse and nothing else.
    • Upon being elected, all members of every legislature must resign all membership of political parties and other similar institutions - churches for example. They represent the people of their electorate and their nation, nobody else.
    • Maximum inheritance laws. No individual can inherit vast fortunes. Leaving a few million to each of your kids - fine. But passing on vast vast fortunes down through generations is just creating power centres that aren't governed by democratic processes. Vast empires should always be broken up. So a Bill Gates can become a billionaire through his efforts but his kids have to do that again on their own. This is exactly what Bill is doing with his Pledge. It needs to be law.
    • The compulsory breakup of any corporation that grows beyond a certain size. A world of huge numbers of smaller corporations would probably work better. Not big enough to dominate they are forced to compete and cooperate instead.
    • Adding the teaching of analytical and critical thinking skills into the school curriculum from a young age. Humans aren't necessarily good rational and analytical thinkers but we can all be taught to be.

    Just some random thoughts on what a better democracy might look like.

    Democracies do suck, sort of. Because they haven't evolved into better democracies. Perhaps America is currently the worst example of the problem because it was one of the first modern democracies to appear. And it was born traumatically rather through evolution. So American thinking about democracy seems to have become frozen around the idea of checks only on government and that the individual can be sovereign in everything.

    When in reality a society needs checks and balances on all centres of power. And some checks on ourselves as well. We are not infallable and we all need to recognise that. So long as the process of applying the checks doesn't give any individual or group greater power than others.

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  7. Factotum @3, I assume from your analogy that you are proposing some form of property based qualification to the right to vote.  That being the case, I will note that:

    1)  Trump is a property holder;

    2)  The Republican Party (so named because it insists the US is a republic, not a democracy) is traditionally the party of the well to do, ie, the property holders; and

    3)  The rise of Donald Trump (and before that, of George W Bush, who was also a property holder) has come about because the Republican Party has thought it desirable to harness the less rational part of the US population as a means of bolstering the vote for legislation favourable to the most wealthy.

    It is clear from the above that a property based qualification on voting would not prevent the absurdity of a Trump leading the race for nomination for President by the Republican Party; nor the absurdity of the US having elected George W Bush.

    I will also note that any property based qualification to vote, or indeed any non-competence qualificaion (such as age, mental well being, and possibly serving a prison sentence) is immoral because:

    1)  The non-voters would still be subject to the legislation, which thereby constitutes tyranny;

    2)  The non-voters would still be expected to serve in armed forces, and therefore die for a land that does not allow them the franchise; and

    3)  The non-voters would still be subject to taxation, even if only indirect taxation (and or course taxation without representation was the anathema of the founding fathers of the US).

    Democracy is not the best form of government because it is less worse than the others, but because it, and it alone has the potential to be a moral government that recognizes that all people are equal.  Of course, if you don't agree with the declaration of independence, as apparently you do not, you can always move a constitutional ammendment for the US to once more become subject to the Brittish Crown on the basis that the original revolution was not justified in either morality or law.

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  8. Glenn Tamblyn @6, specifically for the US the key, and possible reforms are:

    1)  Restrict political donations to those by citizens alone (corporations are people, but not citizens under current law);

    2)  Require donations over a certain level to be public;

    3)  Require that donations over that level preclude the donator or his full controlled business interests from receiving government contracts;

    4)  Require electoral college votes to be apportioned proportional to the vote in all states;

    5)  Require electoral college voters to vote for the person in whose name they were elected in the first instance, but if they are defeated either, in accordance with the direction from that person or according to a pre-election list of secondary preferences.

    6)  Require reports claiming to be 'news' or 'current affairs' to be fair, balanced, and based on factually correct information.  Allow any other reporting as the media like, provided a disclaimer is provided that the report does not purport to meet the standards of 'news' or 'current affairs' with regard to accuracy, etc.  (It is not a free speach issue, it is an honest advertizing issue.)

    (5) Would be particularly useful in the US as it would allow third party candidates to not simply detract from the vote of one or the other of the primary parties, and would require that whoever is elected president is the least objected to among all candidates.

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  9. Aren't electroral colleges a completely unnecessary relic from horse and pony days? I note that other civilized democracies manage extremely well without them. 

    To my mind, it should be a constitutional principle that you cant buy an elected official's vote. If you have "lobbiest industry", then you have a democracy in trouble. It implies that the way to get the laws you want is to influence the elected official, rather than campaigns to influence the electorate. It immediately brings into question how the elected member is being influenced. The proper way is public representation to a committee of elected officials considering a new laws. Offering party donations is absolutely the worst way.

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  10. Ohhh Tom

    I like your #3.

    That would put a lot of dubious corporate types between a rock and a hard place :-)

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  11. This has been a fascinating anthropocentric discussion that touches on only a little of reality. Future generations will have to try to cope with the demise of the infrastructrure that provides them with services they have become so dependent on. The operation and maintenance of this irrreocably aging infrastructure entails using up the limited natural material resources as it generates the wastes that are polluting land, sea, air and all organisms, including people while devastating the environment, including the climate. 

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