We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now

Sometimes American political junkies such as ourselves can be so singularly focused on the schemes, crimes and palace intrigue in Washington it seems we have room for nothing else. That’s far from the truth, but we understand the impresssion. Trumpworld can be all-consuming if you let it be.

Let’s go outside and explore! The world outside the United States is endlessly fascinating, frustrating and inexplicable. It is the marvelous and the mundane in one messy package.

For all that, though, our world is dying. Not in the sense of the high-concept “dying world” science-fiction subgenre Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe explored to great effect. Nor is it a post apocalyptic wasteland where cannibals put babies on spikes because nothing grows and canned food stores have been depleted.  No, this death is less romantic. Our conception of the world with a relatively stable climate, interlocking ecosystems of abundant flora and fauna both on the surface and the ocean is fading. The survival of the human species as a whole is an open question.

The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating. This is what Stephen Hawking had in mind when he said, this spring, that the species needs to colonize other planets in the next century to survive, and what drove Elon Musk, last month, to unveil his plans to build a Mars habitat in 40 to 100 years. These are nonspecialists, of course, and probably as inclined to irrational panic as you or I. But the many sober-minded scientists I interviewed over the past several months — the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.

Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe. Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.” The high-end IPCC estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.

If that makes you nervous, avoid Googling “Antarctica ice shelf” right now.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Seventy-Four)

The Conversation

Puerto Rico: Hey, are you busy?

United States: What is it, kid? Look, I don’t have much time. I think D.C. and Maryland are about to sue me

PR: Um, well, I know we haven’t got along very well due to your constant abuse…

US: Why do you always bring that up?

PR: …neglect, imperialist occupation and exploitation…

US: Enough.

PR: …the way you allowed your corporate friends to take advantage of me until I was forced to declare bankruptcy

US: Enough! Get to the point. Or do you have one?

PR: I just wanted to tell you I’m a state now.

US: No you’re not. You’re an unincorporated territory.

PR: But I just…

US: Cute, kid, but I tell you when you’re a state. Stop letting D.C. or your weird friend Brussels put these cockamamie ideas in your head.

PR: This isn’t fair.

US: I’m in a generous mood, so I’ll forget this conversation ever happened. Now would you kindly leave me the fuck alone? I think I’m about to deprive millions of my own citizens of access to health insurance.

PR: I hate you.

(Year Zero/Day One-Hundred and Forty-Four)

Europe Has Been Saved Forever, The End

This weekend the Macaroon Man swooped in to save the day and we’ll never have to think about Marine Le Pen or the National Front ever again even though France has parliamentary elections in June and holy shit did a crypto-fascist candidate really earn 34.5 percent of the popular vote and oh good the NF is changing their name to further hide their monstrous nature

You know what? Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. Why are we worrying? Everything’s fine. It’s not like Macron is a empty neoliberal tool and “right-wing populism” continues to gain support among France’s young and discontented. That’s silly! Hahahaha!

Ha.

Ha.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Nine)

For years, more babies were born to Christian women than to women of any other religion, but not for much longer: Islam is expected to take the global lead by 2035, according to a report released on Wednesday documenting the coming ebbs and flows of world religions.

Even as they change rank, Christianity and Islam are projected to expand their hold on the world’s newborn population from a combined 64 percent of all babies born from 2010 to 2015 to 71 percent of those born from 2055 to 2060, according to the report, prepared by the Pew Research Center.

That baby boom will largely be driven by regional trends in age and fertility, according to Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.

“It’s really a geographic story,” he said.

From 2010 to 2015, Christian women gave birth to 223 million babies, about 10 million more than were born to Muslim women. But the authors of the Pew report predict a reversal of that pattern by 2060, when Muslim mothers are projected to give birth to 232 million babies, about six million more than their Christian counterparts.

That turnaround will be driven in part by the fact that the Christian population in some parts of the world, such as Europe, is relatively old, with deaths expected to outnumber births in the years to come. The world’s Muslim population, on the other hand, is relatively young and concentrated in regions with high fertility rates.

Still, the baby boom among Muslims and Christians is projected to help both religions capture a larger share of the global population by 2060, even as all other religions — and the unaffiliated population — lose ground.

Faith, of course, is not hereditary and switching of religions will play a role in the shifting religious composition of the world, albeit a role smaller than that of geography, age and fertility.

From 2015 to 2020, Christianity will suffer the greatest losses because of religious switching, gaining five million adherents while losing 13 million largely to the unaffiliated, Pew found. In the longer term, however, those gains to that unaffiliated population will be erased by other demographic factors.

–Niraj Chokshi, Muslim Babies Likely to Outnumber Others by 2035, Report Says