Democratic climate-action mobilisation or martial law
That what should have been one of the most influential books of all time ranks 302 209 places behind Nevil Shute Norway’s On the Beach of Amazon’s best sellers, speaks volumes.
Comparing Shute’s fiction with Dr James Hansen’s non-fiction Storms of My Grandchildren, of course, is odious. But the thrall in which possible nuclear annihilation so readily held the world in 1957, contrasts with the complacency regarding the guaranteed slow-motion annihilations of anthropogenic global heating.
It is to be hoped that Dr Hansen’s second popular book, Sophie’s Planet, which presumably will be published this year, during the 11th anniversary year of his first, will positively race up the best-seller rankings to a position closer to Nevil Shute’s novel, or at least to Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, at 115 155, on Amazon’s ranking. The epically successful nine-film, two-television-series media franchise sparked by Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, provided the name for Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans latest, renewablist-maligned, blockbusting iconoclasm.
In Storms of My Grandchildren, Dr Hansen ends with a 3000-word science-fiction scenario to illustrate the message that burning the entirety of its fossil-fuel inventory could render the planet lifeless, by 2525. The draft of Sophie’s Planet carries an only minimally comforting correction:
Regardless, Dr James Hansen certainly cannot be accused of scientific reticence and addresses existential-threat runaway greenhouse, or as he styles it, et runaway greenhouse—existential threat, equating with impacts so great that that humanity is rendered ungovernable. But as bumptious as it might be to split hairs with the world’s preeminent climate scientist, the state that is more likely to materialise is martial law, for millennia. The instincts of demagogues are all too readily on display in the United States with Donald Trump’s goading of governors with the threat to use military force against those exercising their First Amendment rights, or in Winston Peters’ pallid New Zealand echo, when asked whether he wanted physical distancing rules to be relaxed or the George Floyd-protestors flouting them prosecuted, responded:
Putting aside the egregious incarceration rate of Māori, as just one measure of systemic racism in Aotearoa, and ample cause for solidarity for events “12 000 kilometres away”, the administration, whether in China or the United States, so long as it is in control of its military, will promptly crack down on that part of its populace as becomes dissident, with as much force as necessary, and then some. Even before the excuse of a pandemic, Donald Trump threatened to retain power by force—actually, before being elected, with a minority of the popular vote. It has to be imagined that the degree to which he is prepared to disregard an adverse election result in November would depend entirely upon the military he derides as:
There is absolutely no guarantee the current military disquiet will solidify sufficiently for it to defy the commander-in-chief, should the electoral illegitimacy of Donald John Trump’s remaining in office post 20 January 2021 be manifestly apparent. And between now and then, the opportunity to tangle militarily with China, to create the mother of all diversions will be terribly tempting. But with even George w Bush—who was all too happy to whip up the u s a-chanting thirst for vengeance that primed public support for the 2003 invasion of unconnected Iraq—braking ranks with his president, it could be that Trump is cowered by his generals and prevented from pursuing military misadventure on a Blair–Bush scale.
It is instructive that climate-fiction has not submerged science-fiction. Perhaps too many readers see life remaining altogether too terrestrial and pedestrian, in the near, sub-warp-speed, future. For whatever reason, the year 2121 has yet to acquire the dystopian potency of 2525, much less 1984, which is ironic, given that 2020 will probably mark the cusp of when humanity averted, or failed to avert, a covid-19-plus-climate precipitated, terminal descent into authoritarianism.
Before Derek Chauvin nonchalantly killed George Floyd on camera, covid-19 was five months into demonstrating the depths of global intergovernmental dysfunctionality. Having raised the stakes so recklessly by attempting to incite nation-wide riots, Trump must be emphatically informed by the international community that attempts to consolidate his power domestically by waring offshore will be universally exposed, and not supported. This clear and present danger makes the, now covid-19-delayed United Nations reform and redemption imperative, notwithstanding the long-running asinine conspiracism within the United States painting the organisation as an evil New World Order-in-waiting. Peter Fraser and his colleagues would surely never have envisioned the further lengths that the malevolent would have sunk to, within 75 years, to thwart an organisation devised to prevent the interactions between countries descending straight back into dysfunctionality.
In Sophie’s Planet, Dr Hansen details the work that led to unravelling the previously mysterious atmosphere of Planet Venus. His phd thesis proposition, for Professor Carl Sagan, was to model light scattering to ascertain whether it better matched for atmospheric dust or ice. Ironically, given the existential implications of Earth’s recent increase of ~137 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide, to 0.042%, the concentration on Venus was found to be a crushingly, superheating 96.5% co2. That Planet Earth could, like Venus, also boil off its oceans, should hugely exercise any human with an ounce of curiosity, or concern for species survival. But the 2525 timeframe of the Storms of My Grandchildren runaway-greenhouse scenario, Dr Hansen has since determined, is climatically implausible. Putting aside that science fiction blithely accommodates warp-speed space travel and teleportation, scientifically grounded future fiction, potentially, could greatly help alert the curious as to the shape of the struggle to salvage a survivable climate.
Dr Hansen is emphatic that, technically, existential-threat runaway greenhouse can be averted. However, the intergovernmental response of the last 32 years, and of the last 5 months, suggests that the odds for humanity and its fellow species are vanishingly small. And, the evidence is also that, as the global crises plays out, states, rather than become ungovernable, will be tightly governed, by martial law with scant value for the welfare of folk finding themselves in the wrong place and the wrong time, even if that happens to be their own castle.
As a country that has committed its share of sins at home and abroad, Aotearoa, humbly, can still be a beacon by reforming its democracy—particularly its corrupted campaign finance practices—and picking up where Peter Fraser left off with the United Nations.
But most critically, Aotearoa needs to demonstrate democratic climate-action mobilisation, as an imminently achievable alternative to existential-threat runaway greenhouse, and to martial law.
Achilles’ Heel of current strategies The following are the two concluding paragraphs of Asymptomatic Transmission, the Achilles’ Heel of Current Strategies to Control Covid-19, published 28 May 2020:
Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.
Ultimately, the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the United States and the globe, the clear evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic personsArons MM, Hatfield KM, Reddy SC, et al. Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and transmission in a skilled nursing facility. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2008457, and the eventual need to relax current social distancing practices argue for broadened SARS-CoV-2 testing to include asymptomatic persons in prioritized settings. These factors also support the case for the general public to use face masks when in crowded outdoor or indoor spaces. This unprecedented pandemic calls for unprecedented measures to achieve its ultimate defeat.