The Last Worst-Case Scenario


Historic Hurricane Dorian unleashing ‘catastrophic’ blow in northern Bahamas, hurricane warnings posted for Florida’s east coast (Washington Post)
UN Climate Panel: Emissions Must Fall Rapidly by 2030 to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change (

A little over a year ago, when I woke up to an email telling me that I’d been offered this full-time teaching position here in Wisconsin, I had to read it through three times to make sure that I was understanding it correctly. To say that I’d cast a wide net in my job search was putting things mildly; I literally applied for positions everywhere from Hawaii to the Yukon. The summer was rapidly coming to a close, and I’d accepted part-time positions at two community colleges in Colorado for the coming semester, but the offer from Wisconsin came at just the right time for me to be able to withdraw from that part-time work while they had enough time to give my classes to other adjuncts, and still get up here to Wisconsin in time to get settled in before the start of the new term here.

Once the initial shock of the job offer wore off, though, I couldn’t help feeling very skeptical about the possibility of everything working out. I wasn’t exactly flush with cash at that point, and on top of the sheer transportation issues involved with getting from Colorado to Wisconsin when I didn’t have my car with me, I didn’t know how I was going to manage those first six weeks in Wisconsin before I got paid. Even before I was able to tell anyone else about the job offer, I’d managed to convince myself that it wouldn’t work out, and I might be better off just turning it down and going with the positions I had in Colorado, even though I’d be getting paid about a third the salary for just as much work (and I wouldn’t have to deal with a hellish commute from Colorado Springs to suburban Denver twice a week).

That didn’t happen, of course. With help from both friends I already had, and friends I was about to make here in Wisconsin, I got up here eleven days before the start of the semester. I struggled in those first few weeks after the move (I don’t even want to think about how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I ate just to economize), and I still had to pinch pennies after my first couple of pay periods because I wanted to make sure I paid back all the loans I got during that time, but it’s worked out, and tomorrow I will start my second year of teaching here, having already made more money this year than I’ve made in any other year of my life so far.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into my life story here, but it should suffice to say that my upbringing kind of conditioned me to become a very pessimistic person by nature, especially when it comes to matters of personal success and happiness. When I look back at what it took for me to get from Colorado to Wisconsin in order to accept that job, it was certainly a lot by the standards of my life to that point, but it really wasn’t all that difficult. The only reason I thought it was so unlikely to happen was because I figured that I wouldn’t be able to get the help I needed, and while that was always a possibility, it wasn’t the likelihood that I thought it was at first.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I don’t like that the new interface of is forcing me to look at top trends every time I tab over to check my timeline. One of the results of this is me becoming more aware of the phenomenon of seeing a celebrity trending on Twitter and immediately assuming that the person has died a sudden and tragic death. Just this past week, I’ve caught myself assuming the worst about everyone from Chevy Chase to Arn Anderson, all thanks to Twitter. Even as I draft these words on Sunday evening, I find myself continuing to check on the news of Kevin Hart’s car crash, and even though I didn’t assume that Hart had died when he first started trending on Twitter earlier, I was concerned enough that I clicked over to see why he was trending. (In this regard, the redesign is probably achieving its goals.)

All of these things are fairly unremarkable in and of themselves, but as this election cycle has churned along like the bowels of someone with a bad case of IBS being force-fed Taco Bell, I can’t help noticing parallels between the “OMG I saw this person trending on Twitter and I thought they were dead” memes I see on a regular basis now, and the ability of people to believe that things are going to get better here, especially when it comes to environmental issues. There will be a time for me to discuss the dangers of settling for far-from-optimal political candidates (and oh, will I have a lot to say about that, especially if Uncle Joe keeps his lead in the primaries), but especially given the havoc that Hurricane Dorian is currently wreaking, focusing on the pessimism surrounding the environment is probably for the best right now.

To say that the current long-term forecasts for the planet’s health are disastrous would be putting it mildly. Trying to deal with these issues would be difficult enough with anyone as president right now, but given how the current occupant of that position has a long history of doing things just to hurt those he perceives as his rivals (and his era of power in Washington has made this kind of abhorrent behaviour increasing acceptable), it’s difficult to look at the eleven-year window we have right now to get things right and think that it’s probably going to shrink before our eyes as more and more planetary destruction is perpetrated in the name of making a few rich people even richer. To be blunt, the future looks increasingly bleak.

Just like there are still several “political lifetimes” between right now and the Iowa Caucuses, though, we still have eleven years (or somewhat less) to implement the changes we need to make in order to give this planet a fighting chance of remaining a sustainable habitat for all its life forms. The task is not, at least on a technical level, impossible. It will be incredibly difficult, and require a lot of sacrifices, but we have a good idea of what we need to do, and the people who best understand the crises we currently face have been working their asses off to help us develop the strategies we need to, quite literally, save this planet.

Unfortunately, they are not the ones who have the say-so in what will be done, and I strongly suspect that this is where so much of the current hopelessness is coming from. Whether it’s the billionaires who only care about how they can make even more money for themselves, or the venal politicians who do their bidding (and what a time for someone who is both at once to be in the White House), it seems all but unlikely that these people will take the steps necessary to stop further climate catastrophe from happening. At this point, it feels even more likely that they’ll start hurting the planet even more, just to entertain their sycophants by pointing out the increasing protests against their actions and making fun of them.

John F. Kennedy wasn’t alive to see his “put a man on the moon by the end of the decade” pledge fulfilled in the sixties, but the spirit of aiming for the seemingly-impossible has to live on if this planet is to keep living as well. I don’t pretend to have the solutions to these crises, except to listen to the people who actually know what they’re talking about (and cultivate the idea that, you know, we should be doing more of that and not just listening to people who make us feel good by appealing to our basest instincts), but that doesn’t change the fact that we need to work together to avert the coming climate catastrophe, or literally nothing else we do is going to matter. As helpless as the current situation may feel, we can’t afford to assume the worst-case scenario when it comes to saving the planet.

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