"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Polar Vortex, Global Warming, And The End Of The World

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him [was] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes [were] as a flame of fire, and on his head [were] many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he [was] clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.And the armies [which were] in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on [his] vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelations 19.11-16)

The weather map of the US shows a big funnel of purple and blue from the Canadian border through the Great Plains and then only gradually turning blue as its tip touches the Deep South.  Another Polar Vortex and this time early in the year.  Montanan steers were grazing in Paradise Valley in warm 70-degree weather only last week, and suddenly they like everyone else in Livingston and Bozeman didn’t know what hit them.  Temperatures are slowly moderating, the ice on the water troughs and irrigation canals is melting, and things are getting back to normal for mid-November; but everyone wonders what the real winter will be like.

“It’s a bitch, ain’t it?”, said  Ben Hopper as he gunned the forklift in the barn, hoisted a bale of hay, and swung the Cat around to dump it into his pickup. “Fuck it. I’m moving to Florida.”

“Haven’t you heard”, said Hank Peters, a neighboring rancher who had moved his milk cows inside three days ago and was running out of feed. “Global warming is here.”

The two ranchers spat tobacco juice in a high arc and watched it splatter on an icy rut, a ritual they always performed when the Government was talked about or even suggested.  Global warming was a pile of horseshit dumped on the American people by Obama and his Washington lackeys.  Montanans had frozen their asses off for five winters straight, and not even a Chinook to melt the snow.

A strong Chinook can make snow one foot deep almost vanish in one day in the dry wind. Chinook winds can raise winter temperature from below -4°F to as high as 50-68°F, and when they come, women rush to open their houses, air their sheets on the line, and even sit outside in the late afternoon sun, because they don’t last.  It had been years since Montanans had felt the warm winds of a Chinook, and year after year they and their cattle froze in an Artic chill which came earlier and earlier and stayed until April.

Both Ben Hopper and Art Figgins wanted to move to Florida, but these days Art didn’t don’t know if that was far enough south.  Last year he packed up the van and headed to coastal South Carolina for the winter – not the tropics for sure, but the promise of the moderate winter temperatures enjoyed in Beaufort and Bluffton thanks to the Gulf Stream was reason enough to leave the North for a few months.

He and his wife left in a snow storm and arrived in a buckling deep freeze the South had not experienced in decades.  The salt marshes on Carter’s Creek were frozen solid.  Schools were closed for a week.  Cities unused to snow and ice waited for shipments of salt from the North and deployed the few snowplows in the county to plow the emergency entrances of local hospitals and the driveways of clinic and nursing homes. 

The temperatures never moderated.  Many families in the Low Country used only space heaters in the winters, and even heat pumps installed in new trailers barely took the chill off.  Cars were abandoned in the parking lots of Bi-Lo and Walmart, their batteries stone dead.  A coastal community like Beaufort is a pleasant retreat when the sun shines and the weather is warm; but it is small, dull, and dreary when the temperatures are below freezing for weeks and the skies always overcast and spitting with snow.

The aborted trip to Beaufort and the tales of his Montana friends did not make Art Figgins into an out-and-out climate change denier or into a salivating government-hater; but it did give him pause. “It’s all going according to plan”, said one of Art’s Washington friends, a committed environmentalist. “The polar ice caps are melting, the waters of the Atlantic are rising with colder water, the Gulf Stream has been forced off shore, and harsher winters are the result.  Eventually when all the ice melts in the Arctic, then you will see temperatures rise so high that corn stalks will go up in flame.”

It was as though environmentalists actually wanted the planet to heat up.  This was understandable enough given the time, effort, and money they had invested in the cause. Environmentalism had become a secular religion no different than the Bible Belt evangelism Figgins had witnessed as a child.  In fact when he heard speeches given at the National Conference on Climate Change and replayed at length by NPR, he was reminded of the sermons that Pastor Fredericks gave every day in the hot, airless church his family attended in the Mississippi Delta. In those days Pastor Fredericks was speaking of carnal lust, abandonment of God, and the fiery breath of the Devil, but he sounded very much like the wild-eyed evangelical Climate Changers of today.

“Faithful in Christ”, he began slowly and so quietly that those congregants in the back row of the old wooden church could barely hear him. “The end of the world is nigh. The fiery breath of the Demon is upon us.  Can you smell it?  Can you smell that sulfurous wind that scorches and burns everything it touches?  The Devil has risen out of his fiery pit and come among us.”

Here the Pastor paused waiting for the congregants to reflexively turn their heads, look at their neighbors, and crane their necks to look up at the dusty rafters. “Everywhere you can see his evil works – sin, debauchery, buggery, and wantonness. Reservoirs are running low, and rivers are overflowing their banks. Scurrilous gossip is on women’s lips, men lie and steal, children wander in thickets of lust, and buildings shake on their foundations. Neighbors lie, cheat, and steal.  Birds fly out to sea. Mothers abandon their babies. The Antichrist is among us.  Behold and beware.”

Of course Pastor Fredericks went on to give Christ’s message of mercy, conditioned as it was by prayer and tithing; but the message was the same – the end of the world was upon us unless we acted according to God’s plan.

The Church of The Enlightened Masters was a millennial cult which flourished in the Cold War and predicted the end of the world in nuclear holocaust.  The head of the Church, a former housewife from Nebraska who realized her transformative powers only late in life, even went to far as to predict the date and time the first Soviet missiles would land on American soil.  At first this seemed to some rather foolish; for if Armageddon did not in fact occur, then she would be discredited and would have to go back to Nebraska.

The week before the announced date was one of frenetic activity – making final alterations and repairs to the underground bomb shelters; assuring that they were well provisioned and would last until the radioactive dust cleared and the Church faithful could begin to repopulate the world; and harvesting the last fruits and vegetables from their orchards and gardens.

Rather than being frightened, the Church faithful were as happy as they had ever been.  The day they had anticipated for years; the day which they had been promised by Mother Alving was finally at hand.

The missiles were of course not launched, there was no fiery Holocaust and cleansing of an evil world, and no incineration of humanity.  Mother Alving never missed a beat and spoke loudly and confidently from the pulpit the next day.  “We have been saved by prayer”, she said.

Who could argue with that? More importantly, Mother Alving and the Church of The Enlightened Masters were able to move on to the next Armageddon.

All of which was why Art Figgins came to dismiss Global Warmers as addled zealots no different from Pastor Fredericks or Mother Alving. They had become caricatures, Chicken Littles, unhinged prophets on Union Square.

Everything Global Warmers said and did made sense if looked at through the lens of evangelical religion and millennialist cultism.  The reductio ad absurdum of their warnings – i.e. without nuance or complexity – were no different from the railings of Pastor Fredericks.  “The end is near” both said.  The demands for absolute fidelity to the cause and the perils of apostasy were the same for both Southern Baptists and liberal Eastern climate warriors.  The cloture of debate, the dismissal of dissent, and the sanctimony of righteousness were identical.

Of course one cannot dismiss either possibility.  There may indeed be a vengeful, Old Testament God who has become intolerably unhappy with the mess Man has made of His kingdom and will send another Flood or fiery holocaust, or a decimating plague to destroy us all.  Global Warming may in fact be a real threat to mankind, and humanity will soon be crisped and fried. More than likely, however, Evolution will be the winner and will engineer a fatal mutation in a monkey virus far more deadly, airborne, and always fatal than Ebola that will take off humanity far quicker than either God or Global Warming.

Religions, whether secular or spiritual, have a field day with such existential uncertainty. Church coffers are replenished every Sunday, and the cash registers of Climate Change International ring like music on a merry-go-round with every fiery sermon about the end of the world.  This is America after all, and money talks.

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