Restless people in a wagon train; D
Forty-niners out to stake a claim; D A
Hungry farmers on the dust bowl plain; D G
It’s the sound of people bound D A
to California. D
Over the mountains you can smell the sea. D
Milk and honey, like you dreamed it would be. D A
Golden valleys feed your family. D G
Horn of plenty, piece of heaven D A
But golden dreams melt away A
And nothing gold will stay
Times are changing now, they parch the soil.
Too much heat and all that beauty spoils.
Dry as powder now, all around,
Burning Paradise to the ground,
Take for granted things’ll stay the same,
But too much fire now, and too much rain.
Don’t know how I’m gonna start again.
Soon be leaving, east of Eden,
©Doug Hendren 2020
What’s it about? For generations of Americans, California has been a land of milk and honey, productive farmland and extraordinary natural beauty. Global warming, however, now brings one crisis on the heels of the last. The American West has always had dry periods, and has always had a “fire season.” With the added impact of climate change, California’s wildfire risk is now all year ’round. At this writing, there are 90 wildfires burning in California. Fire has destroyed 2.5 million acres this summer, and the peak fire season is still ahead of us. The effects of global warming are uneven, but mainly involve the physics of heat and moisture. Hot, dry winds can remove all humidity from the soil and the plants attached to it, so a tiny spark may be enough to start a wildfire. Elsewhere, hot air over the Atlantic generates wetter, more powerful hurricanes and flooding. These extreme events have become much more costly, as the insurance industry has documented. And rising seas are beginning to threaten some of our coastal cities with staggering potential costs.
This is what climate crisis looks like. The main driver is humans burning coal, gas and oil for energy: electricity, heating, industry and transportation. Many people think fossil fuels are cheap. That is only because many of their costs are not being counted. A true accounting must include the costs of pollution, of extreme weather, rising seas and climate disruption.
We have the ability right now to transition completely to clean, renewable sources of energy. We are limited by politics, not by our technology. Our lawmakers continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry which is burning down our homes and our world. Many of our energy regulators have been “captured” by fossil fuel interests.
Our average global temperature is now 1°C above the pre-industrial average. Scientific experts agree that over 1.5°C, the consequences for our environment, food security, and social stability become “outright terrifying.” Climate change represents a major risk to our entire financial system as well.
It is clear that market forces alone will not stop the climate juggernaut. A Green New Deal, with decisive federal support for a clean energy transition, may be able to keep us to the 1.5° target. Political leaders who believe we cannot afford some sort of green new deal need to start tallying the cost of doing nothing. Watching the land of milk and honey, whole cities going up in smoke, one has to ask: What are they thinking?