Sunday August 8, 2021
Seventy-six years ago yesterday, the world’s first atomic bomb seared the city of Hiroshima in Japan. A blast of heat erased buildings, much like the forest fire that burned the village of Lytton to its foundations earlier this summer.
The atomic bomb turned concrete into powder. It carbonized a child’s lunchbox. It reduced living humans to permanently imprinted shadows on walls.
There is no accurate count of the deaths caused by the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Wikipedia estimates between 129,000 and 226,000.
I have no trouble remembering Hiroshima because of my son’s death, 38 years later, on August 6, 1983. A single death makes the statistics personal.
Writer Tom Englehart makes Hiroshima personal in a different way.
In a column in TomDispatch, he described a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which, he says, “can obviously offer a visitor only a hint of what it was actually like to experience the end of the world, thanks to a single bomb. And yet I found the experience so deeply unsettling that, when I returned home to New York City, I could barely talk about it.
“While it’s seldom thought of that way, climate change should really be reimagined as the equivalent of a slow-motion nuclear holocaust. Hiroshima took place in seconds, a single blinding flash of heat. Global warming will prove to be a matter of years, decades, even centuries of heat.”
“Slow-motion” in human terms, perhaps. I certainly won’t live long enough to see world temperatures rise two degrees Celsius, let alone four or more.
But not slow in planetary terms.
The Earth has gone through huge temperature variations in the past, from ice ages the covered much of the planet in glaciers to heat waves that had tropical ferns growing in the high Arctic.
Those changes took thousands, even millions, of years. The present charges are like moving from a baby carriage to a Lamborghini.
Englehart calls it an “apocalyptic phenomenon, set off in the nineteenth century via the coal-burning that accompanied the industrial revolution, first in Great Britain and then elsewhere across the planet.”
No room for doubt
I can no longer be skeptical about climate change.
In June, before Lytton was wiped out by fire, it recorded the highest temperature ever in Canada -- 49.6 C. That’s just a fraction lower than the temperature at which biological and medical researchers say human life becomes untenable.
Similar temperature records were set all across western Canada.
B.C. currently has 300 active fires. Over 1200 so far this year. Smoke from our fires, added to those from the western U.S. states, has drifted as far as Europe, which has its own fires to contend with.
Over the last two weeks, I vacationed in Vancouver Island.
For years, I thought of Vancouver Island as paradise here on earth. Vast sandy beaches. Clear rivers rushing down from mountains. A perfectly blended climate of sunshine and rain.
Along the island highways, deciduous trees are drying out. Their leaves are turning color. Their leaves are falling. Autumn arrived during August.
I asked if the trees would survive the drought.
“All deciduous trees go through a period of dormancy,” I was assured. “They’ll come back again next spring.”
My informant paused. “If we get enough rain,” he added.
Along the coast, tiny crabs still scuttle in tidal pools, and starfish still cling to rocks. But biologists now estimate that a billion or more of these sea creatures died during the heat wave. The rocks, the tidal pools, became too warm for them to survive.
Like Lytton again, but in a marine mode.
Accelerating rate of change
During my time away, I took four hikes in old-growth forests. Superficially, at least, those ancient trees look fine. The mighty pillars of their trunks soar to the vault of interlaced branches so far above me that I get a crick in my neck staring upwards.
In the shadowy silence of one of those old growth forests, I sat on a moss-covered rock. Moss is supposed to be moist and cool. Not a single drop of moisture penetrated the seat of my pants. When I stood up, the dried moss had been crushed to powder.
That’s how dry the forests are this summer.
According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth's temperature has risen by a little under a tenth of a degree per decade since the start of the Industrial Revolution. And the rate of warming over the past 40 years twice that high.
It may be a slow-motion apocalypse. But it’s speeding up.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)