Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Bill McKibben Fears Parts Of California Are Now Uninhabitable

As with so many things, Californians are going first where the rest of us will follow.

The San Francisco skyline is shrouded in smoke from wildfires in the north part of the state. (Photograph Credit: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
Three years in a row feels like – well, it starts to feel like the new, and impossible, normal.  That’s what the local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, implied this morning when, in the middle of its account of the inferno, it included the following sentence:  the fires had “intensified fears that parts of California had become almost too dangerous to inhabit”.  Read that again: the local paper is on record stating that part of the state is now so risky that its citizens might have to leave.

On the one hand, this comes as no real surprise.  My most recent book, Falter, centered on the notion that the climate crisis was making large swaths of the world increasingly off-limits to humans.  Cities in Asia and the Middle East where the temperature now reaches the upper 120s – levels so high that the human body can’t really cool itself; island nations (and Florida beaches) where each high tide washes through the living room or the streets; Arctic villages relocating because, with sea ice vanished, the ocean erodes the shore.

But California?  California was always the world’s idea of paradise (until perhaps the city of that name burned last summer).  Hollywood shaped our fantasies of the last century, and many of its movies were set in the Golden state.  It’s where the Okies trudged when their climate turned vicious during the Dust Bowl years – “pastures of plenty”, Woody Guthrie called the green agricultural valleys.  John Muir invented our grammar and rhetoric of wildness in the high Sierra (and modern environmentalism was born with the club he founded).

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