Man, those long walks I took with my girl down at Ocean Beach a couple weeks ago? Right smack in the middle of San Francisco’s normally dreary, rainy, bitterly refrigerated February? At sunset? Barefoot and laughing, gasping at the color of the sky and the balmy softness of the air and the grandly ridiculous, all-encompassing beauty? Astonishing.
And of course, very, very disturbing.
See, February is, historically, the wettest month around here, and the least friendly to any kind of outdoor excursion. Instead, for what amounted to nearly the entire month, SF was sort of stupefyingly gorgeous. And romantic. And kind of perfect. And deeply unsettling.
It’s not supposed to be like this, you see. It’s supposed to be the way it’s been for the past, oh, 10,000 years or so, since around the dawn of the geologic record, those broad, deep sets of planetary data that tell us that things like rainless Februaries, ice ages and major species explosions or die-offs usually happen over vast stretches of time, such as millennia and epochs.
In other words, nothing, really, to worry about. Sort of like an astronomer telling you that the sun is absolutely going to annihilate all life on Earth in a hot, unimaginably violent explosion. When? Oh, in about two billion years.
That was cute. That was then.
Things are different now. Geological time has accelerated, leapt forward, contracted into a seething fireball of We Are So F-cked. Remember when “moving at a glacial pace” meant “really, really slow?” Now it means “wholly goddamn terrifying.” Someone call the OED.
This February, in case I failed to mention it, was officially the hottest February ever recorded by man, worldwide. It handily “obliterated the all-time global temperature record set just last month,” sayeth Slate’s in-house meteorologist Eric Holthaus over in his always-exceptional climate column. “Global warming is going into overdrive,” he added, going on to list out all manner of insane weather data that makes you cringe and feel exasperatingly helpless and pour more bourbon.
(Query: What’s the causal relationship matrix between bleak climate change news and overall alcohol consumption? Someone should investigate. #climatechangecocktails)
In other words, it’s not just San Francisco. Everywhere on earth, temperatures and weather patterns are doing really horrible, unseemly things to the common definition of “normal,” to the degree that scientists, animals and plant life alike are all caught in a perpetual, deeply anxious state of WTF.
“The old assumptions about what was normal are being tossed out the window … The old normal is gone,” Holthaus quotes the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick, another noted climate scientist, as sighing heavily into his coffee.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s tougher than ever to read these articles, to scan through all the distressing data – barely a hint of which bodes well for humanity as a whole – to notice the fire-red charts, the downward-pointing arrows, the horrible rainfall totals, the insane snowmelt speeds, the starving polar bears, the sea life decimations and the imminent extinction of that one class of insect we need more than any other: the pollinators, and still know how to respond with anything other than abject fatalism.
All we can point to are hints that global CO2 levels might be leveling off for the first time in decades. All we have is this odd notion that, while humans are lousy at 10,000 things, we’re shockingly good at adapting, at making do, at scrambling for survival by inventing technologies that, if not capable of completely solving the most urgent problems (too late for that), they can at least maybe stave off the inevitable for another handful of years.
And isn’t that about all we can ask for, really? Isn’t that essentially what we’ve been doing since we arrived, grunting and dumb and hairy, on this pale blue dot in the first place? What else have we done except invent all manner of ingenious, self-aggrandizing tools – war, God, chainsaws, the internal combustion engine, Bluetooth frying pans, $7 coffee drinks – to whistle past the planet’s graveyard and postpone our own increasingly self-imposed annihilation?
We’ve always been blissfully, unequivocally doomed. We’ve just become more skillful at ignoring it.
Read more here:: The horrible no good very bad February weather everyone loved