Poem Available in New Maps

My poem “Last Aspirations from the Fortress World” is available in the recently released issue of New Maps.

This anthology is for “deindustrial fiction” that imagines the world after the climate crisis. They usually don’t publish poetry, but I thought this poem fit perfectly (and they agreed!). I wrote it flying home over the desert a few months back, thinking about the drought and what it will take to preserve my home city in the future. It put me in mind of something we studied in Academic Decathlon years ago: the projections for the future from a United Nations hyper-forum on sustainability. One of the scenarios was called “fortress world,” where ecological crises isolated civilization into enclaves, not unlike the fortresses of medieval Europe. From that thinking, this poem was born.

Unfortunately, there is no online access for this one. If you want to read it, then you’ll have to order the magazine. I haven’t seen the rest of the issue yet, but it sounds interesting and I’m looking forward to getting my copy.

What to make of Afghanistan?

What were we supposed to do? Stay there forever?

Yes, maybe.

You broke it…you bought it.

I don’t pretend this is a rational policy philosophy. I know that, obviously, we failed to foster a stable nation state–that maybe nothing could have succeeded there in the graveyard of empires. But I also know that millions of people are about to be plunged back into darkness and that cannot be right.

This is another geopolitical situation with no good solutions, but I can’t help but feel like we might have chosen the worst from a list of bad options.

“I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

She gets it.

I’ve been concerned about climate change for years. I think everyone should be. We have, as a species, liberated something like 10% of the carbon stored as fossil fuels in the Earth back into the atmosphere, changing the concentration of carbon dioxide to over 400ppm. It’s a level that Earth hasn’t seen in nearly a million years and the planet has never seen a change in its concentration this rapid. We’re modifying the planet at breakneck speed. We’ve known this, so, yeah, I’ve been concerned.

As the signs of impending catastrophe have worsened, I’ve became more and more worried.

But now, I’m panic-stricken.

God help us, but it’s worse than I’d realized.

I’ve been reading Andri Snær Magnason’s On Time and Water. It has not been easy. His chronicle of the decline of glaciers and what it portends for the lives of millions upon millions of people, especially in Asia, has left me deeply anxious. He flipped the switch of my fight-flight mechanism and then just snapped the thing off.

The statistic that truly horrified me is this: the average pH of the ocean has dropped by 0.1 in the last thirty years.

That may not sound like much, but pH is a logarithmic scale.

If your blood pH drops by 0.1, then you will suffer acidemia and you could go into a coma. As the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide, it is acidifying. As we pump more and more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, we will also acidify the ocean–by another 0.3 on the pH scale.

Again, this is a logarithmic scale. 0.1 is actually a ten fold increase in ion concentration. Ten times more acidic. Climate change deniers always try to argue that temperature and climate have changed over time and that what we’re seeing now–in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history–is just part of the normal up and down. But there is no precedent in our studies of the ocean for a dramatic spike in pH in only a matter of years.

If you can’t imagine the numbers, then just imagine a dead ocean. Imagine most sea life failing to adapt to a change that–measurable in decades whereas most climate change in geologic time has taken millennia if not longer–is too rapid for evolution to act. Imagine the food chain in the ocean completely collapsing. Then imagine the dominoes striking every living system on land.

Imagine massive global famine. Imagine the collapse of civilization.

This is not hyperbole. This is inevitable if we allow these trends to continue.

We’re not doing enough.

History will judge us for not doing enough–if there is a history to judge.

Statistically, I think I’ve done better than the average American in lowering my carbon footprint, but that’s not saying much.

Our last two cars were a compact and a hybrid. Not enough.

I got solar panels. Not enough.

I cut meat from my diet. Not enough.

Another statistic from Magnason is haunting me. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, offsetting our carbon emissions would require investing 2.5% of global GDP over the next few decades.

GDP is not a logarithmic scale. Only 2.5%. It’s what the U.S. invested to beat the Russians to the moon. It’s less than what the U.S. spends on “defense.”

Only 2.5%.

This is what oil companies bribe our politicians not to do. This is the meager cost of saving the future for our children that we refuse to pay. This is what we must sacrifice to at least have a chance to turn the tide.

And yet we don’t.

It’s no longer a question of whether or not this will lead to disaster. Siberia is burning. Drought is destroying agriculture in the western U.S. The disaster is already unfolding. We have to do something to keep it from getting exponentially worse.

And yet we don’t.

As a start, I’m pledging to do what the governments of the world should do. On top of my usual annual donations to EDF and the Sierra Club, I’m going to commit 2.5% of my income to causes and investments that fight climate change.

I’m offsetting carbon emissions with Climeworks.

And supporting green policies with donations to Clean Air Task Force.

And investing into funds committed to sustainability.

I urge everyone to do the same. This is not the least we can do. This is the least we must do.

Raise the subject. Watch our consumption. Vote for candidates who get it, who will prioritize the fight for the planet. Be loud. Be angry. Our posterity depends on us all doing more.

We have to behave as if the house is on fire because the house is on fire.