Climate Change, What if we are too late?

               Right now, most scientists predict that 2030 is close to the point of no return, where by then the damage to our polar ice caps and glaciers will be irreversible. The amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and the more damaging methane) are at the highest parts per million in recorded history – though we know Earth had more carbon in earlier stages of development. For an excellent explanation of the effects of greenhouse gasses, here is a paraphrased example from Cosmos. Imagine on a scale of 1-6, the lower number being no greenhouse gases, the planet would be an ice world. At the highest number, Earth would resemble Venus. Either case, life as we know it would not flourish on the world we call home. Right now, Earth was about a 3 on this scale, but we are slowly increasing upwards, a slight increase is probably manageable, but turn the notch up to a 4, 4.5, or 5, who knows dire the effects will really be.

               Currently, there is a good framework offered by the Paris Climate Agreement in cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and generating energy from renewable sources. Under the leadership of one of the most uninformed and curiosity-challenged executives, the United States withdrew from the agreement because it is allegedly hurting America. The argument it is hurting America is bullshit, because climate change will hurt America, it will destabilize other parts of the globe, which will in turn threaten American interests and strain current humanitarian aid, and possibly draw us into more armed conflicts. The point of this writing though isn’t to argue how misguided withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement is, it is to ask the question: What if we are too late in in acting to mitigate the direst effects of climate change?

               If we are too late, it doesn’t mean we should cease efforts to further mitigate climate change. If the sea level rises only ten feet, it is better than twenty feet. If sea levels dramatically rise, the coastlines of all the continents will be altered, some greater than others. Asia will suffer the worse, with tens of millions in low-lying areas, especially in Bangladesh. More islands, some have already disappeared, will be claimed by the sea. There is no telling how many humans may lose their lives – and what kind of economic impact it will have on their nations and the world. Highly populated areas tend to have a higher means of production, and the loss of these areas would be devastating. A lot of clothes Americans wear are manufactured in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Taiwan, which would be greatly devastated by rising sea levels.

               Millions may die and tens of millions being relocated, especially in a short timeframe, would be devastating to areas not directly impacted by rising sea levels. The infrastructure like accommodations, food, drinking water, electricity demands, healthcare, etc. are something that takes a lot of planning to pull off successfully, and on a short notice there will be dire consequences. The mass relocation of people, without proper planning, will cause further strain on systems which are already under strain, and potentially a catastrophe of epic proportions. There is no guarantee that even a disaster of this scale, caused by climate change, will make the numerous deniers change their thinking or ways. Change is not easy but in terms of grappling with climate change, it will be necessary.

               But what if nothing is done, and we cross the threshold, the point of no return. What will need to be done to save our species? What changes will we have to make to ensure Earth remains the primary home of the human species? What about animals, insects, etc.?

               This is something I’ve thought a lot about, because I wrote close to fifty pages of a backstory exploring the world which led up to my novel’s premise 200 years in the future. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary (the book), the events of the backstory are referenced several times to its main character, David Ross, and the actions he took as In the Night They Came. It is best to describe the events as:

               The many nations of the world have strived to meet their greenhouse gas reductions goals, reduction in pollutants, and renewable energy targets, the polar ice caps, and Greenland ice sheet continue to melt, and sea levels rise. Businessman David Ross, a billionaire (really a secret trillionaire), along with a group of like-minded partners have come up with a plan to save the human species from itself. In remote facilities they begin fabrications of humanities new homes, and the implementation of the world’s biggest migration project. After working their way into the halls of power in the world’s most industrious and mighty nations, David Ross and his group launch the world-wide coup.

Slowly reports begin to air on major television news of the murders of prominent climate change deniers. Then an entire broadcast is dedicated to the construction of massive new structures, reaching a mile or higher into the air, called “Sky Cities”. Most of the parts of these structures have been pre-fabricated and then are erected within three months, and have areas dedicated to businesses, schools, hospitals, homes, gardens, etc. These structures, on top of being durable, are constructed with material which acts like a solar panel and has wind turbines. At first, people voluntarily move into these new Sky Cities which are constructed in metropolitan areas.

Soon though, people from smaller cities, towns, and villages are forcibly relocated into the expanding number of skyscrapers. A second revolution begins, as the smaller population areas are relocated, the old places of human habitation are demolished. In some cases, Mother Nature is allowed to reclaim the land. In other cases, the massive hydroponic farms are created to feed the population with fresh produce. In labs, genetically-modified animal fats have been used to create “meat” which tastes, smells, and cooks like meat from an animal. Our dependence on massive number of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc., which only help exacerbate our greenhouse gases problems (mostly by methane emissions), is eliminated.

The third step in David Ross’s plan is the final relocation of the world’s big cities. Over a twenty-year period, billions of people are relocated from millions of villages, towns, cities, into 200 metropolitans consisting entirely of Sky Cities. There is space between each structure, the ground level serving as areas for recreation, open space, etc. The need for cars has been eliminated with public transportation available from structure to structure and from one metropolitan area to the next. A drastic change in the way humanity lives has occurred, and it wouldn’t be our first. Initially we were all hunter-gathers, slowly coalescing into villages with the development of agriculture. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we have formed denser and highly populated cities, most of the world’s population now lives in areas urban areas. David Ross’s vision is fiction but one which while science fiction, may someday become science fact.

The plan I imagined is fictional and I am aware of the very high cost it asks of people, uprooting their lives, often at gun point. Several characters in the story, Within the Grasp of Ordinary, and the in the works sequel, reference the enormous costs and tragic consequences. In this fictional universe, the defenders of Ross’s actions argue the end (humanity saving itself from climate change) justifies the means (brutal relocation, planetary exiles, etc.). In the real world, the result rarely justifies the means and I think we need to act now to prevent the worst possibilities of climate change. The Green New Deal, and Paris Climate Accord may not be enough, but it is better to aim for the stars than not to even try at all.

Guns: The Past and the Future

There are over 300 million guns in America or roughly one gun per person. The world average for guns per 100 people is 10.2, the United States average is 101 per 100 people. A large majority of American citizens do not own guns. Rather a small minority of the citizenry own multiple guns. This is not a blog about taking away a person’s Second Amendment rights, rather it is about the absurdity of owning a gun in defending yourself against a “tyrannical government”.

The average citizen is not well trained in firearms, I highly doubt they can hit 23 of 40 targets which range from 5 to 300 meters (8 to 327 yards) away. There are 3 positions in which to shoot from, supported prone, unsupported prone, and foxhole. Twenty-three shots is the bare minimum in order to receive a passing grade, which is 57.5% of rounds fired hitting target. NYPD is reported to have around a 30% chance of a round being fired, hitting the intended target. If the people who are trained to specifically handle guns have an abysmal hit rate, the average citizen is bound to have far worse percentage.

A common claim in owning a gun or an arsenal of guns is to defend oneself against a tyrannical government. The concept of everybody having the right to bear arms (a musket) worked in the days when the army carried a musket. Yes, the army had a few cannons but cannons can be easily captured and learning how to fire a cannon is not a difficult skill to master. Even with their own weapons, the American Revolutionaries were unable to defeat the British Army without the massive financial backing of France, along with the military support provided.

Weapons have significantly advanced since the Revolutionary War, muskets gave way to repeating rifles, the semi-automatic, full-automatic rifles and machine guns capable of firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition a minute. Let’s not forget armored fighting vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, and nuclear and non-nuclear missiles. None of the weaponry of war are easily mastered by citizens, it takes dozens of weeks of training be labeled minimally proficient at the task of controlling one of these weapons.

But wait, insurgent movements have defeated (Vietnam, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or caused significant headaches in occupations (US in Iraq and Afghanistan). Yes, but the issue of average citizens dealing blows to powerful militaries is way more complex. In Vietnam there was a vested interest by China and Soviet Russia to weaken the United States, thus both countries provided weapons and training on said weapons. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US returned the favor it received during Vietnam. In the US occupations of Afghanistan, the Taliban government had been hardened by war and along with Al Qaeda had a strong cadre of fighters which to train new recruits to fight the US. In Iraq, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army left well-trained people willing to be mercenaries and fight against the US forces.

It is capable to defeat or significantly harm government forces but owning a single gun or multiple guns will not even make the fight remotely fair.

In the Ordinary series, guns are present but they are not commonplace amongst the civilian population. There are a few criminals who have guns, there are terrorist organizations which can compete against the military. Law enforcement is well trained in non-lethal maneuvers and uses guns as a last resort. A civilian can own a weapon but there are stringent requirements to own one. There is nothing wrong with owning a weapon, it is your Constitutional right, but there needs to be an equal responsibility by the gun-owner to make sure they are proficiently trained in handling their weapon(s).

Reform, Centralize, (un)Militarize the Police

            I recently tweeted:

            “Watching Flint Town and I cannot help but think of respect. Respect towards the citizens that law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve. Then respect of citizens toward law enforcement. But respect is not automatic, it has to be earned by both sides.”

            Growing up in today’s age, it is not hard to see civility between public organizations and the private citizens they serve is at or close to an all-time low. The citizens, especially people of color, are rightfully concerned about if their actions will get them killed. The police are rightfully concerned about when going out on patrol if this will be their last patrol. Citizens and police get into heated verbal clashes. There are neighborhoods out there that when the police show up, the first words out of the citizenries’ mouths is “Fuck the police,”.

            There is a systemic problem in how citizens and law enforcement act towards each other, while the first amendment protects free speech like saying “fuck the police,” it will not earn you accolades or respect when dealing with law enforcement. When it appears that people with white pigmentation get treated more fairly by law enforcement, it easy to see why people of different pigmentation act apprehensively when police are around. The culture between law enforcement and citizenry needs to change. I don’t know all the answers and won’t pretend to but here are some ideas.

            The first simple one fairly simple, the amount of training the average US police department receives is 13-16 weeks of “basic” training then the rookie gets partnered with a veteran cop for an average of 21 weeks. Overall, a cop receives less than 1 year of training. This varies by department (local town, city, state). I believe the US police departments need to borrow from a few western European countries which require lengthy training times of the police and offer them specialized training in how to deal with all citizens. I personally believe all police should receive a degree in psychology so they can understand how people react.

            Riding off the coattails of the first idea, I think the number of police departments needs to be drastically trimmed, remove small town and county police departments. I grew up around Fort Calhoun, Nebraska (about 800 people at the time). We did not have a local police department, county sheriff department provided the town’s needs. Where I live now, there is a nearby town about the size of Fort Calhoun, which has 3 full-time officers and 2 part-time officers, on top of county sheriff and state troopers.

            My adolescent years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city and largest law enforcement department (bigger than the State Patrol also). Omaha covers most of Douglas County, which still maintains a sheriff’s department that covers what the OPD does not. The state trooper’s still assist. Either way, there is still 3 police departments which operate in Omaha.

            I would suggest a consolidation of departments, closer to the Canadian model where the RCMP is “leased” out by a lot of the provinces to act as the law enforcement – but large cities maintain their own police departments which assist the RCMP in that area. In America, this would be the State Patrol / Troopers as the “primary” police force and large cities maintaining their own police departments. The state and city police would have to maintain equally rigorous training regimen and standards, including how to deal with mental health issues.

            In fiction, the police in my universe of Within the Grasp of Ordinary are a completely federalized service. There are no local or regional police forces, everybody is part of the same organization which is obviously broken down into sub-sections etc. This crafted world is far more ideal, the ordinary law enforcement officer does not carry a gun, rather is well trained in non-lethal means in how to perform crowd control and take down a suspect. The guns are left to a specially trained sub-section, basically SWAT.

            The civilian side of the imagined universe is a lot more respectful towards police, everybody is treated equally but there are instances where the system may be abused – (not spoiling that, must read the book to find out).

            One of the core problems America faces right now, which I think is glossed over in most science fiction environments, is the lack of respect between law enforcement officers and the civilian population they are sworn to protect and serve. There needs to be a bigger discussion about reforming the system, one which will not be changed overnight but through gradual change into how policing is performed. I look forward to a time when all people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, their skin pigmentation, and all other differences, are treated equally before the law and our encounters with the police. No matter our differences, we are all human and deserve to be treated as such.