Chicken Little has been on my mind a lot recently.
For most of my life, I have dismissed this hysterical archetype of Dooms Day predictions (“the sky is falling…the sky is falling”) as of no particular significance. Indeed, rather than falling skies, I have been a partisan of glasses half full, clouds with silver linings, calm after storms, faith in the darkest hours, and living happily ever after. I customarily expect everything to work out, often against all odds.
But that’s not so true anymore.
I now also dread the disaster I sense lurking over the horizon, headed humankind’s way. And I find myself identifying with Chicken Little a little bit more each day. I realize, of course, that this feathered Jeremiah is an object of almost universal cultural derision, so I disclose my shift in outlook with a certain amount of embarrassment and disbelief:
Perhaps, I tell myself, this is just a function of getting old. I am about to start Medicare, much of the grist of my life is rapidly being reduced to a $500 question on Jeopardy, and I admit that this change of circumstance might very well infect me with an expectation of loss. It is also possible that the proximity of my own death predisposes me to projections of catastrophe. And I subscribe to the Buddhist notion of karma, holding every being accountable for their behavior, so, having witnessed a load of abominable behavior by my fellow humans over the decades, my anticipation of those karmic deficits coming due no doubt contributes to my foreboding as well. On top of all that, I am economically marginal in an economy rapidly losing all its margins, an experience sufficient to generate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder every time the subject of the future is raised.
So, mindful of my potential for delusion, I decided on the spur of the moment to bounce my embarrassing preoccupation with Chicken Little off long haired Myron, the guy behind the counter at the mini-mart where I buy lottery tickets.
“What’ya writing about this week?” he asked as I approached his counter.
“Chicken Little,” I confessed, shuffling my feet.
“The cartoon bird? The one who hung around with Turkey Lurkey?”
Myron thought about it for a minute. “Dude,” he finally exclaimed, “you are a friggin’ genius. That bird is the patron saint of the new millennium. And this time around he’s got the evidence to prove it.”
Though somewhat off-the-wall, my encounter with Myron managed to frame my growing Chicken Little identification:
It really isn’t about me. It’s all about the evidence:
The concentration of carbon emissions in the earth’s atmosphere is higher than we’ve ever known it and is steadily rising. As a direct consequence of this new atmospheric chemistry, the planet is retaining more heat than at any time since human history began. These unprecedented average temperatures are in turn generating a series of ominous side effects. The most visible of those is the melting of the world’s ice. The Greenland glaciers, the world’s largest, are shrinking at the most rapid pace ever witnessed, as are those in the Himalayas, which supply Asia with most of its water. The polar ice cap is so reduced that it is now possible for ships to navigate across it and the Russians are building seaports to handle the expected traffic. The loss of the ice fields’ reflective white surface is also escalating the earth’s heat absorption. On land, this heat is melting the permafrost that is ubiquitous in northern latitudes, releasing further potentially huge quantities of heat inducing gasses. The warming ocean is killing off coral around the planet, generating the release of defrosted gasses from the seafloor, and impacting the sea’s usual vertical water circulation, potentially threatening the supply of microscopic plankton that form the base of the ocean’s food chain.
Virtually all the scientists who have identified these phenomena project a series of further effects that dwarf anything we have yet seen. If the ice melt continues unchecked, the oceans will rise, perhaps fifty feet or more, inundating much of south Florida, Manhattan, and portions of almost every coastal settlement on the planet. This influx of fresh water will also alter the chemical composition of the oceans, further decreasing their ability to sustain their traditional life cycles. And since temperature is the engine that drives the circulation of air and moisture governing the planet’s climate, the predictable cycles of weather upon which civilization has been predicated will be disrupted. Droughts will multiply, as will floods, hurricanes, and unseasonable freezes. The Gulf Stream could stop running and trade winds reroute themselves. Food production will be reduced and many locations will no longer able to feed themselves, setting off streams of refugees migrating in search of habitability and sustenance. Diseases will escalate, as will instability and civil strife. Entire species of flora and fauna will die off as the climate resets itself, including vast numbers of humans. Some scientists forecast that by the end of the 21st century more than half of humanity will have perished in this emission-fomented collapse.
But you don’t have to be a scientist to see the lead edges of that disaster first hand. During one month last summer, Washington D.C. set a record for most consecutive days over 90 degrees F; New York City was over 100 F for almost a week; the peat bogs outside of Moscow were so dry they caught fire, inundating the Russian capital in smoke; weather related crop failures increased the price of wheat by 50 percent, provoking food riots in Africa; jelly fish, moving north as the sea warms, attacked bathers on the Spanish coast; and an iceberg five times the size of Manhattan Island broke off from Greenland and is now adrift in the North Atlantic. A month later, Los Angeles measured 113 degrees F, the hottest day ever recorded there.
That is evidence, and sufficient for me to think the heretofore unthinkable. I don’t endorse the bird’s panic, but otherwise, Chicken Little looks prescient.
The sky is falling.
And as we set out to deflect the approaching catastrophe, perhaps the first step is to shed our embarrassment and affirm the Chicken Little in us all.