Along with the current discussion about gun control, assault
rifle bans, and domestic terrorism, Uncle Sam is working on reinvigorating the
nuclear weapons program in New Mexico and South Carolina. Given that a few of
us in Northern New Mexico are affiliated with certain large Federal
installations involved with making things that can create very large holes in
the ground, I see a lot of chatter about both topics. This leaves me uneasy.
Guns and bombs are necessary evils albeit fascinating creations when not employed for their intended purpose. That’s why people enjoy shooting sports, especially with military design rifles, for example, as described here and here. But lethal weapons are solutions of last resort to real problems. Whether someone is kicking down your door or your frontier at o-dark thirty, you need a way to defend yourself. The problem is, when things get to the point of a shooting war, whether in the kitchen or the Ardennes, the less destructive solutions have failed or have been ignored. Cleaning up the blood and lost treasure gets more complicated as weapons become more advanced. During the American Revolution, a few thousand soldiers faced each other and opened fire when they could see the whites of each others eyes. The American Civil War, which bled America white, was the harbinger of WW I with trench warfare and the introduction of modern weapons. Nowadays, advanced heavy weapons and highly lethal infantry weapons (not to mention, nukes) can blow somewhat larger holes in the other side’s strategic interests. High capacity semiauto weapons can drench the neighborhood with a rainsquall of full metal jacket (or jacketed hollow point, I suppose). Or as Bruce Cockburn once sang, “who put that bullet hole in Peggy’s kitchen wall?”. Nowadays, it would be more than one hole. I think Bruce thought up that song when people generally shot at each other with revolvers.
Things won’t get better if we concentrate on more guns and bombs as solutions. There are more of us in the U.S. (and of course on the planet) and here at home, resources are becoming more unequal, leading to rising stress. Our civilization’s reliance on dinosaur juice, methane, and coal to power our cars, homes, and other stuff is on track to double atmospheric CO2 concentrations over Holocene levels by mid-century. This will, by most reputable accounts, lead to global energy retention via the Tyndall effect resulting in heating on the order of 1.5-4 degrees C and the associated climate adjustments that likely are associated with warming (sea level rise, changes in regional precipitation, changes in average temperatures, more extreme weather due to changes in the jet streams, etc). As an aside, note the uncertainties here. We can predict the big picture, but not the details, hence the constant bickering.
If you think forced migration due to climate and political problems is bad now, I suggest a friendly trip in the time machine to see what things will look like in a few decades. For those who are skeptical of forward climate models, we have plenty of historical geochemical records suggesting significant change is likely in the century to come. Even on the regional scale, we see the results on societies of past climate change in the abandoned settlements of the American Southwest and Greenland. I wrote something for the Albuquerque Journal about that here. Far fewer humans lived back then, so there were places to resettle. Where do people resettle in a few years, as their wells run dry and crops wither, now that we live in a No Vacancy world?
Our ability since the Industrial Revolution to change atmospheric chemistry and thus the atmosphere’s ability to retain the sun’s heat, in a nutshell, is why humans can profoundly – at least with respect to our own existence – impact climate.
My guess is we will probably deal with climate change using guns and bombs, since that seems to be the historical tradition. Yes, I am increasingly pessimistic. With the world order drifting towards authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, and ethnic/racial extremism and increasingly, with people showing up unannounced at each other’s national doorsteps, I think the stresses will overcome reason. Plus, its been 74 years since we had a world war. Few living today remember what a world war looks like and frankly, I worry that today’s leaders can only see war as an abstraction. Reagan and Gorbachev knew WW II. Putin and Trump do not. My parent’s generation, now pretty much gone, saw it in its smoke, blood, and destruction filled reality.
The bottom line is if we continue to fixate on using Maslow’s Handgun to stave off change rather than hunkering down to fix what is broken, we will kick the underlying problems down the road until a crisis overcomes us and we solve the problems with…guns and bombs. Its the way Homo sapiens has always done it before. Why change now? Because the guns and bombs are too lethal to use? That’s the underlying idea behind deterrence, but it assumes rational actors acting in their best interest. Hmmm. Does anyone see a potential problem with that assumption? Orwell did:
The passage in the Declaration of Independence that starts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” with its references to equality, liberty, and happiness, is literally impossible to translate into Newspeak. “The nearest one could come to doing so,” Orwell wrote, “would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”
As Kurt Vonnegut, who himself rode out the WW II Dresden firebombing, ironically enough in a slaughterhouse, would say, “So it goes“. Unless we choose otherwise.