CHAPTER 9: I'm Not Afraid

I've said it before: I'm not afraid to die. And now that the clock is ticking, more and more I just want to get it over with. Day by day, things worth living for have dwindled. And life gets increasingly crappier. Let's see, on top of advanced congestive heart failure, I've got—

  • Sarcoidosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
  • Degenerative Disc Disease, with four nearly-collapsed discs and chronic nerve pain
  • Deteriorating Meniscus—my knees are nearly bone-on-bone
  • Tinnitus
  • Insomnia
  • and a bunch of other shit

Yes, I know a great many people have it far worse than I do. Hell, there are millions who don't have enough to eat, and I'm gaining weight. But most folks will have just a few things to deal with. I make up for that in sheer quantity. My point is, my quality of life is in the crapper. And that's just the physiological stuff.

Then there's the psychological shit. Aside from chronic depression, I've got a really piss-poor outlook on life, particularly with respect to what my fellow humans are doing to the planet. I've been 'round the barn with some friends on this one, and it's been made abundantly clear that no one appreciates hearing my point of view. I can understand, because it's really rotten.

And this is from someone who once described himself as an optimist. In my college days, I used to write essays on how things can only get better. We had a great many very smart people who would help guide us out of the darkness and show us how to thrive. Puh.

Since I retired seven years ago, I've had time to research stuff—in particular, the environment. Yes, I'm a tree-hugger, but to no avail: my trees are dying. We've royally fucked the planet. We've fucked it so badly, in fact, that it may not even be habitable a few hundred years from now.

But wait, we've got all this solar energy stuff going on, wind generators, electric cars, recycling, all of that. Sorry, combined they're all so insignificant right now that the planet doesn't even feel their effects. Ever since we figured out that carbon dioxide was our number one environmental enemy, output has been steadily increasing, and shows no signs of slowing down, let alone reversing, even with all of our "renewable energy" sources. Worse, there's this thing called latency: that's the period of time between when an action is taken and a response is seen. That's why your car doesn't stop the instant you hit the brake pedal (and just as well, because you'd be meatloaf if it did).

Now here's the real killer: if we stopped—not slowed, but stopped—all CO2 production right now, instantly, everywhere, the Earth would continue warming for decades due to latency. And that would put us over the so-called "tipping point," when warming becomes an uncontrollable, runaway catastrophe. The effects have already started: weather events are becoming more severe. More hurricanes. More heat waves. More drought. And, under some circumstances, more snow! People see snow and shout, "Global warming is a hoax!" Sorry, they're morons. There's no more polite way to put it.

"But it has to be a hoax! Predictions are all over the map! It's just natural variation." True, predictions have varied, but as our understanding of what's happening improves, predictions are beginning to converge. Unfortunately, some events, such as polar ice melt rates, are exceeding scientists' worst-case scenarios. Plus, natural variations take place over millennia, not centuries. What we're seeing is unprecedented.

Global warming isn't a simple matter of everything getting hotter. It's only a few degree increase on average, which is barely perceptible. It's the impact those few degrees have on global weather patterns. A small change here results in an enormous change over there. Then feedback loops form, where changes accelerate and intensify.

There's precious little mankind can do to stop it now. There are no effective short-term fixes; indeed, given our track record, we could make matters worse if we tried some hair-brained scheme, such as putting huge "window shades" in orbit to block sunlight and cool the earth (a real proposal). Very likely it would trigger even more destructive changes, or even send us in the opposite direction and start an ice age. The problem has been many centuries in the making, and will likely take many more centuries to right itself—if it ever does.

But our problems don't end with global warming, not by a long shot. We're polluting this planet to death—literally. Microplastic particles have been found inside every living sea creature, most birds, and many land animals. We've found pollutants everywhere on the planet, from the Mariana Trench to Mount Everest. We're still decimating the rainforests, despite all evidence that it's slow suicide for humans. The extinction rate is now so high that many scientists consider us to be in the midst of the Holocene Extinction, the sixth major extinction event, an event unlike any other—because its manmade.

We've also yet to fully grasp the interdependency of life forms on Earth. Up until recently, our focus has been on the extinction of higher forms—whales, pandas, and so forth. But now there's alarming evidence that we're doing far greater harm to insects: global populations of many species have fallen by as much as three-quarters. We cannot survive without insects. But it goes still further: we're just beginning to realize the negative impact we're having on microbes, which constitute the bottom rung of the food chain. Losing insects may be the least of our problems if we lose microbes.

Meanwhile, humans are squabbling over cultural appropriation, demanding the return of football, or wringing their wrists because Keeping Up With the Kardashians is ending. Go ahead an laugh, but now we have a rap singer vying for the Presidency with a reality TV star. You can't make this shit up. Coronavirus is awful, no question, but it's nothing compared to what we're doing to our home planet. We're soiling the nest. And now there's talk of colonizing Mars. Seriously? For one, the cost is prohibitive. Two, no one knows if it's even feasible. And three, it's almost certain we'd trash Mars, too.

Why do we have so many doubters? Aside from not understanding grade-school physics and believing the crap they read it on the Internet (the number of flat-earthers is growing), most people don't have the attention span of a tick. As long as they're breathing and have access to Facebook, all is right with the world. No cause for alarm. Tell them we've got a couple of decades left before the shit really hits the fan, and they'll ignore you. Why be proactive when it's so much easier to be reactive? So what if California is being burned to the ground? We can fix that, right? There simply has to be a quick fix—but heaven forbid you interrupt their cell phone service while you do it! People want instant gratification. People want. And want and want. And far, far too few give.

Well, to be fair, a lot of people give... to the entertainment, sports and gaming industries. Now, I'll concede that distraction from the shit we're in may be emotionally helpful. But these industries rake in more money per year than the Gross National Product of several small countries combined; think of all the good that could be done with all of those billions (with a B) of dollars spent watching superheroes bash each others' heads in, or so-called professional athletes bash each others' heads in. Football players make millions. Why don't nurses, for fuck's sake? Do football players help save lives?

Why am I painting such a gloomy picture? Because reality is a gloomy picture. 99.99% of people don't know it, choose to ignore it, refuse to believe it, or just don't give a fuck. I'll be blunt: 99.99% of people aren't worth the oxygen they breathe.

Many of the devout contend that every human life is precious and special. Bullshit. Humans outnumber every other higher mammal on the planet combined. There are nearly eight billion (with a B) "precious and special" life forms here, while some species of ape number only in the hundreds. We're about as "precious and special" as rats, and we breed like them, too. Yes, I really think that. Go ahead, ask me if I'm afraid of hurting anyone's feelings. Nope, I'm not afraid of that, either. I rest comfortably knowing there are a few readers out there—just a few—secretly nodding in agreement. You know who you are.

Is it any wonder why I'm OK with dying? Even isolated in my little sanctuary as I am, I can easily see what's going on. Since I've moved here, bird and insect populations have plummeted, hardwoods are dying off, and storms are getting worse. It's difficult to turn a blind eye when something is visiting you at your doorstep. Well, now death will soon be knocking at my door. I welcome the visit.

Chapter 8 < TOC > Afterword

Copyright © 2020 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved