In one brief episode, I cover nearly as much time as did the previous 74 episodes. To do it effectively, I had to step back from the first-person narrative just this once. I suddenly developed a few qualms about it late last week, after it had been patiently waiting its turn since mid-December, but couldn’t think of any better way to handle the span of time. So we’ll be back to the blog of the moment, when the episode number and my age are both 76…
Interlude: Pattern Shift
From the cosmic to the sub-microscopic, there are patterns to be seen everywhere. The galaxy dances with its partners in the Local Group; the sun orbits the galactic center and the earth orbits the sun. In its orbit, the earth turns on its axis: the universal tarantella. On the other end of the scale, electrons whiz about their nuclei, while sub-atomic particles dance in patterns that science has only partially mapped.
But patterns leave room for free will and chaos. In the vast middle area, weather patterns spin, some clockwise and some counter-clockwise. Biological and geological patterns respond to the weather… and vice versa. Humans continue to pump, mine, and burn fossil fuels, but less than they once did. In some places, people abandon the land and nature begins the dance of succession, reclaiming what has always been hers. The new wild nature differs from the old in some respects: some plants and animals reclaim their old niches; other niches are left empty, until another native species or an adaptable invasive claims it. Sometimes, humans attempt to help nature rebuild what they had destroyed, with varying degrees of success. In other places, they try to build a landscape that suits their needs while using the old nature as a template.
Little by little, the patterns of human civilization begin to shift, adapting to a growing understanding of what’s at stake: the species must either clean its nest or suffocate in its own waste. In the west, a new ethos is born with the speed that only a well-wired populace can comprehend.
The east becomes a laboratory for other ways to cope. Nations with high birth rates attempt to export their excess people, triggering wars and horrors that give the survivors lifetime nightmares. Large cargo ships are outfitted with sails, crammed with people, and cast off to find harbor where they may… or sink. Uncounted numbers of people die on these journeys, and many ships never reach a port. Japan’s elderly become its coast guard, proud to die defending their nation from invading immigrants — for a nation that cannot feed itself is beholden to others. India and Pakistan balkanize along ethnic and sectarian lines, but somehow manage to avoid nuclear war. Dark whispers of cannibalism are heard in both the east and west. Much of Africa returns to its past, thriving and dangerous coastal cities and a mysterious and deadly interior. But not all the news from Africa is bad: changing weather patterns create a new monsoon cycle in the west, and the desert begins to retreat in Mali and Niger.
In many places, human birth rates fall below the replacement level: those people cherish their few children, plant trees, and live as much as possible within the means of the energy nature gives them. Others live in cultures that are essentially incompatible with the new reality; the Four Horsemen ride them down until they learn a new culture. Human population spends a few years on a plateau, then begins to fall. Not quickly, nor uniformly, but one day the media reports that there are half a billion fewer people alive than 30 years ago. It’s a start.
The CO2 level reaches a plateau, but warming continues… thanks to soot from wood fires, a little slower than previously. The poles sweat, while climatologists keep a nervous eye on ocean levels and far-flung weather stations.
The patterns continue, from the cosmic to the sub-atomic. At either extreme, patterns are either static or change so slowly that humans have not detected the changes. In the middle, patterns change — usually gracefully.
But one late August night, a crack and a roar that goes on for days signals a more abrupt pattern shift.