One of the benefits of being a radio DJ is that I get to routinely expose my young kids to music, great and otherwise. Our house is, organically, a hotbed of music, everything from old Louis Armstrong records to 90s grunge to Enya. It’s all good, and it’s all beautiful and part of the harmony of life.
And one of the cool things is watching your kids hook up with certain songs, bands, movements, ideas, sounds. My oldest boy went through a hardcore Beatles phase a few years ago, and there was nothing better. My daughter gets equal doses of Taylor Swift and Josh Ritter, and she is the better for it. My youngest can belt out “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” and Andrew W.K.’s “It’s Time to Party” in equal measure. It is all good.
Recently, my youngest son has fixated on the song “The Final Countdown,” by the 80s hair metal band Europe. I don’t know what the specific appeal is, anymore than I know what the appeal was for me when I heard the song the first time back in high school – it is a very catchy synth riff, it’s a fun song to sing along with, and there’s a vague notion hovering in the background that it’s a Very. Serious. Song. About real things that grown-ups care about.
But listening to it again in 2013, there is an undercurrent of sadness that wasn’t there when I was screaming along with it in my Mercury Zephyr in the parking lot of Bullitt Central in 1987; an undercurrent that is underscored by the fact that my little boy is sitting on my lap and watching the video, and I am watching the world and wondering what things will be like for him when he is my age. And it is hardly optimistic.
I am a lyrics person. I always fixate on lyrics more so than music. (This is probably one of the main reasons I am a die-hard Rush fan.) Every now and then, a lyric jumps out at me, and pokes me in the ribs really hard and goddammit, that hurt. That really hurt.
This really hurt, while watching “The Final Countdown” with my boy tonight:
“I’m sure that we’ll all miss her so.”
Maybe it was obvious at the time the song came out, but the Her in this lyric appears to be our sweet Mother Earth, not some girl you were hoping to feel up in your Mercury Zephyr in the school parking lot in 1987. It was not obvious to me at the time.
We have bigger concerns now, as adults. Things have more scope.
I am beginning the transition from What Am I Going to Do With My Life to What Am I Going To Help My Kids Do With Their Lives. Let me tell you something, this is the biggest transition that any human being ever goes through. It is beautiful and a privilege and I love nothing more, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the goddamned scariest thing ever. And it is scarier still because I don’t know what kind of world these kids of mine are going to be handed.
We will all miss her so.
Here’s where we make the transition in the story from wishing I had a girlfriend in high school, to fearing for the safety of my great-grandchildren. Please pay careful attention. This part is crucial. It is real, and if you really thought it through, you wouldn’t sleep at night. I am sorry.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide recently crossed the 400 parts per million line. This was the first time this line has been crossed in all of human history. The temperature of our earthly home is slowly rising, and on the surface it seems trivial – a degree? Two degrees? As I’ve said before, these seem like meaningless events, but they are not. Consider this possible scenario, trigged by 2-3 degrees of increased global temperature:
To find anything comparable we have to go back to the Pliocene – last epoch of the Tertiary period, 3m years ago. There were no continental glaciers in the northern hemisphere (trees grew in the Arctic), and sea levels were 25 metres higher than today’s. In this kind of heat, the death of the Amazon is as inevitable as the melting of Greenland. The paper spelling it out is the very one whose apocalyptic message so shocked in 2000. Scientists at the Hadley centre feared that earlier climate models, which showed global warming as a straightforward linear progression, were too simplistic in their assumption that land and the oceans would remain inert as their temperatures rose. Correctly as it would turn out, they predicted positive feedback.
Warmer seas absorb less carbon dioxide, leaving more to accumulate in the atmosphere and intensify global warming. On land, matters would be even worse. Huge amounts of carbon are stored in the soil, the half-rotted remains of dead vegetation. The generally accepted estimate is that the soil carbon reservoir contains some 1600 gigatonnes, more than double the entire carbon content of the atmosphere. As soil warms, bacteria accelerate the breakdown of this stored carbon, releasing it into the atmosphere.
The end of the world is nigh. A three-degree increase in global temperature – possible as early as 2050 – would throw the carbon cycle into reverse. Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, vegetation and soils start to release it. So much carbon pours into the atmosphere that it pumps up atmospheric concentrations by 250 parts per million by 2100, boosting global warming by another 1.5C. In other words, the Hadley team had discovered that carbon-cycle feedbacks could tip the planet into runaway global warming by the middle of this century – much earlier than anyone had expected.
“Possible as early as 2050.” That’s not that far from now. I hope to be alive then. I hope to have walked my daughter down the aisle by then and have handed her off to the next chapter of her life. I hope to have eased all three of my babies into adulthood by then, and I hope in that year to spend nights holding Nancy’s hand as tightly as I do today. But I am scared. I think any smart, honest person is scared.
Now, this is one possible scenario spelled out by one theorist, but don’t kid yourself into thinking nothing is happening. I don’t care which news channel you trust or which party line you buy into. I don’t care whether your nighttime reading is Ayn Rand or Bill Maher or Milton Friedman or Stephen Colbert. Something is happening, and we are causing it, and things are going to get very bad in large parts of our world in the next few years, and nobody seems to care.
I care. Goddammit, I care, because my kids have to live here. And their kids. And I hope to meet most of them. Your kids too. How do you feel about all of this? We are leaving together, but still, it’s farewell.