"You're hearing that slogan a lot these days — 'treat it like a war.' That is to say, instead of asking if carbon reduction and capture can be made more profitable than business-as-usual, treat them as something important that we need to do, for our own sake and the sake of future generations, whether it's profitable or not. Nobody ever did a cost-benefit analysis of Gettysburg or D-Day. When FDR said 'Hey, Ford, Chrysler, GM, let's start building tanks and planes,' you never heard anybody blather about 'distorting the market' or 'the government picking winners and losers.'
"At the same time, what we know is that, even in war and even in the military, that sort of thinking can lead to some very bad decisions. A general says 'I don't care how many lives it costs, I want that hill' and you get the Battle of Fredericksburg. People in procurement say 'Hang the expense, we want this' and before you know it you're spending hundreds of dollars on a screwdriver. "
"The other day I turned down some guys who wanted funding for a fusion project. Did they have a good idea? I don't know. I'm not a physicist. If some other country brings a fusion power plant online, great. I have to concentrate on things that we already know will work.
"And even that can be surprisingly complicated. Case in point — every time somebody installs solar panels or fiber-optic lighting in their home or office, that's good. Energy efficiency, reduced consumption… what's not to like? But every time somebody does that, it becomes harder for the local utility to make a profit, which is a problem if they're trying to switch over to solar or wind. The old way of thinking was, if times are getting tougher, well, renewables would be nice, but coal and gas are more of a sure thing. The new way of thinking is, if renewable aren't more profitable, we'll just have to make them more profitable. See, that was the sort of thing you couldn't say before…"
"Fifty degrees Centigrade. Three damn weeks.
"You can't go outside during the day — not without a couple gallons of chilled water which you're supposed to be conserving. You can't drive anywhere — the streets have melted. Even when they're cool enough to be solid, they look like somebody put Salvador Dalí in charge of a road crew.
"So anything you have do to, you do at night, on foot. Businesses, city offices… everybody's changed their hours. I used to be the sort of woman who would build her plans for the day around not having to cross a parking lot alone at night. Now I go shopping at 3 a.m. and think nothing of it. It's a lot less dangerous with everybody else doing the same thing.
"Anyone vulnerable to heatstroke is supposed to be evacuated to Darwin or Adelaide. There's about an 8-to-10-hour window at night when these people can go outside long enough to do this. Using small planes. Big ones can't land, because the tarmac at the airport has melted. Forget the train — the tracks are buckled in a dozen places.
"Early afternoon is the worst. You're supposed to be asleep by then. Not lying awake listening to the AC running full blast and thinking 'What if it breaks down? What if the power goes out? What if some vital piece of machinery turns out not to have been designed for this kind of heat?'"
"The test areas are the Sea of Okhotsk, this area east of Kamchatka, Bristol Bay and the waters south of Kodiak Island. Over the course of May, the U.S., Russia and Japan are going to be putting about 10,000 tons of iron dust in each of those areas. That adds up to about the same amount of iron that Mount Pinatubo put in the ocean in '91. It's also forty percent of what the nations of the world are authorized to use by the U.N. The rest will be used around the southern ocean in November.
"These areas in particular were chosen because they were high in silicic acid, which encourages the growth of diatoms. So our hope is that the carbon they absorb will sink to the bottom of the ocean and stay there for a very long time."
Q: Yours is one of those rags-to-riches stories that hardly ever happen in real life. Ten years ago you were at MIT, living on ramen noodles—
A: Which were a lot cheaper back then.
Q: And now you're the chair and CEO of De L'Air Diamonds.
A: I've been the chair and CEO since 2021. Of course, back then corporate headquarters was my dad's garage. As you can see [gesturing towards the view from the 90th-floor window of 1WTC] we've made some progress since then.
Back then, carbon sequestration was in its early stages. It was actually a big question — once we take the carbon out of the air, what do we do with it all? It can be pretty useful stuff under the right circumstances. Some parts of the world they're burying it with some other stuff, turning it into terra preta, but that seems to work best in the tropics.
Well, of course, what's a diamond made of? Carbon. So, I put together a proposal on one of those crowdsourcing investment sites, me and some of my friends bought some of those artificial trees and… we were off.
Q: The name "De L'Air Diamonds." It's a beautiful French name. Do you have any French ancestry or heritage or anything?
Q: The technology to make artificial diamonds has been around for a long time, and people have tried and failed many times to bring them into the market. What did you do differently?
A: A couple of things. First, there are certain situations where people actually want to spend as much money as they can afford, because that's their way of showing how much they care. Coffins are one example — nobody wants to lay their loved ones to rest in a cheap-ass plywood box. Another example is jewelry. Nobody wants to be the guy saying "Will you marry me? I got this ring for fifty bucks!"
So you charge too little and people won't want to buy it. Charge too much and you'll price half your customers out of the market. The big boys in the business put a lot of mathematicians and market analysts to work trying to find the sweet spot on the curve. What I did was to look at what they were charging, then charge just a little bit less than that and say "And it's eco-friendly!" That way, I get more people who can afford it, and knowing you helped save the world a little bit makes up for buying something cheaper. "For your future. For her future. For all our futures."
So that was what we did the first couple of years. Then we introduced colored gemstones, which we sold for about as much as our competitors were charging for clear ones. It took a while to get the colors right, but we could afford to use up a lot of carbon on experiments. Anything we ruin, we sell as industrial grit. We started with subtle colors — the Moonlight, Snowshadow and Horizon lines, really delicate blues. Also the Champagne line, but we discontinued that one because customers said the color reminded them of pee. The trick was to make them better than mined diamonds — but not too much better. We didn't want it to look like costume jewelry.
It's only this year that we're coming out with stronger colors. Like the Joyeuse — doesn't this blue make you think of the sky on a perfect wedding day? Or these deeper blues, the Everest and the Empyrean. Or these nice rich yellow-oranges… Aztec, Hearthfire, Pacific Sunset.
Q: Of course, you've had your share of opposition.
A: Yeah, De Beers is crying in de beers right now. This year we've officially passed them in market share. One of their employees actually said "I hope she gives birth to a cactus." [Laughs] I think he's working for me now.
See, at first they treated it like a gimmick. Then, when they realized they were losing serious market share, they tried to make it illegal for us to call what we were selling "diamonds." In the U.S., they spent God knows how much money lobbying Congress. We just asked for judicial review… and the Supremes ruled in our favor. What they said was — I'm paraphrasing — "If De L'Air were lying about where their product came from or how they made it, that would concern us. But they're putting it right there in the ads. It's free speech."
So then they started fighting back — running ads like "Is that a real diamond?" They had guys going into their long, proud history and traditions — "My family's been in the diamond business for generations! My great-great-great-great-grandfather burned three African villages and pulled a guinea worm out of Cecil Rhodes's taint!" — or whatever it was they said. But the more they tried, the more publicity they drew down on themselves — business practices, how they were treating diamond miners… Basically, the press said we were the underdog, the market said we were the hot new trend, and everybody said we're helping save the earth. That's a pretty good position to be in.
Q: Speaking of publicity, that "Wear the Air" campaign…
A: What about it?
Q: Tell us something about the creative process that gave rise to it.
A: That's the nicest "What were you thinking?" I've ever heard. [Laughs] That had its origins in the bowels of our marketing department. The only thing I contributed to it was the suggestion that instead of hiring models, we look for celebrities who were willing to appear naked… for a given value of "naked." Strategically placed objects and all that. See, we didn't want to be accused of exploiting or objectifying anybody — at least I personally didn't, I doubt if Marketing gave a crap — so we wanted people for whom nudity was a statement of power and confidence. Hell, I'd have done it myself if I thought people wanted to see me naked. (Laughs) And as far as I know, nobody's ever actually gone out in public wearing De L'Air diamonds and nothing else.
Q: Right now, according to news reports, De L'Air diamonds are being sold — legitimately — in India for less than a fifth of what they're selling for in the United States. How do you justify that?
A: How do I justify it? I don't. I just do it. [Laughs] Again, it's what the market will bear. If anybody wants to start up a company and sell diamonds in the U.S. for a fifth of what I'm offering, I say let 'em try it and see how it works.
Q: So… what are you doing with all this money?
A: I've got some charitable work going on.
Q: What sort?
A: Well, as I see it, there's two basic kinds — the kind that helps people rise up out of poverty, or at least to something above a subsistence level, and there's the kind that just keeps people alive. Now the second kind has been getting a lot more attention — feeding refugees, building heat shelters and so on — but we can't abandon things like education, microloans, the Heifer Project. It's like seed corn — if you ever want the famine to end, you don't eat it no matter how hungry you get. Fortunately, I'm disgustingly rich, so I can afford to give to both kinds. In fact, some of the aid money is going to former diamond miners in Africa.
Q: I hear you're funding a lot of materials research.
A: That's something De L'Air is doing, not something I'm doing with my own money. Potentially there's a lot of industrial applications for diamondoid materials. Trying to find the right combinations of strength, lightness, hardness and so on… learning these things now will put us ahead of the game down the road. And it's sort of a backup strategy in case one day everybody wakes up and says "We're paying thousands of dollars for tiny lumps of compressed soot! WHY?!?"
"The need for heat shelters was — still is, I suppose — theoretical. But with the kind of heat Australia saw this January, it's a theory we have to take seriously. What if Mexico, or Egypt, or Iraq starts seeing temperatures in the fifties this summer? Not everyone has AC. Power grids sometimes fail, especially in that kind of heat. There might not be enough potable water to stay hydrated under those circumstances. If it gets hot enough that being in the shade or going inside isn't enough… we've seen that even in developed parts of the world, an unexpected heat wave can cause deaths in the tens of thousands.
"Luckily, you can turn almost any large, enclosed space into a temporary heat shelter for several hundred people. You need air conditioning — a central unit, and some window units in case the central unit fails. You need something to power it in case the grid fails — solar panels, for preference. Medical supplies. A refrigeration unit capable of holding, at minimum, 50,000 liters of water. And of course you need the water.
"But if we assume this is something that's going to be needed, on and off, for the foreseeable future, then instead of retrofitting an existing space every year it makes more sense to create purpose-built shelters that will last longer with less maintenance.
"The simplest way to do that is to put it underground. No matter how hot it gets on the surface, go down five to ten meters and it's maybe fifteen degrees maximum. Of course, if you've got a lot of people down there — first of all, you have their body heat to think about, and second, you've got to have air circulating. And if some of the people in there are sick — which is probably the case — you don't want everybody breathing the same air.
"So lots of ventilation. If you run the ventilation shafts through the ground, that should cool the air and cut down on the need for AC.
"As far as light goes, these shelters will mostly be in use during the daytime, so fiber-optic lighting is an option for parts of it. If somebody needs medical attention, or if you just want to put in a reading room — people are going to get bored in there — you'll want something a little brighter. And of course cell phone and Internet access are a must. If anything goes wrong in there, people have to know.
"But for this summer we're concentrating on giving people the tools they need to refit existing spaces into temporary shelters. I mean, the worst thing that could happen is that we'd have ten villages in an area that need shelters and only one that has one. Then we would just have given people something to fight over.
"The worst part is not knowing exactly where we'll need them. We think North Africa is the likeliest place to suffer extreme heat this year. If we're wrong…"
Q: My first question is about the administration’s policy toward price controls. I know the President said back in March that those are off the table, but has anything happened since then to suggest a change in policy?
A: No. Price controls are still not an option. They’re one of those things that seem like a good idea if you’re hungry enough, but the same could be said of eating your seed corn. They would only make things worse. We’re not going to punish farmers because there’s a drought in California.
Q: You’re sure you’re not just saying that to keep the commodities futures market happy?
A: Keeping any sort of speculators happy is very low on my list of priorities.
Q: My next question concerns the allegations of cartel buying by Third World governments. Are they true, and how big a problem is it for American farmers?
A: Officially, there’s no collusion. Unofficially, in a large market prices tend to reach a certain equilibrium.
And if you talk to farmers, I think you’ll find they’re mostly okay with this. For one thing, 29 percent of the world is now chronically undernourished. Farmers are human beings and they don’t like watching people starve to death on the Internet any more than anyone else does. For another thing, if there’s one thing farmers are good at, it’s planning for the long term. And in the long term, everyone who dies of starvation, or from disease brought on by weakened immune systems, will never buy food again, and no one will ever buy anything to feed them again.
Q: One of the objections that many people have raised toward U.S. ag policy is the use of land to feed cattle and pigs rather than humans, which would be more—
A: Let me stop you right there. Those figures you vaguely remember reading somewhere about all the food we could grow if we weren’t raising livestock feed — if they’re the same ones I’ve seen, they’re about ten years out of date, assuming they were accurate to begin with. The economic incentives have changed since then. Food for humans is a much higher priority wherever we can grow it.
Having said that, it is true that many farmers are converting failed crops into animal feed — flooded wheat, heat-stunted soybeans and so on. It’s better than letting them go completely to waste. But those stories in the news about fields being turned into pasture? That’s not the work of evil cattle barons or greedy hamburger-eating Americans… which is a stereotype that is also out of date. You’ve seen McDonalds putting up signs bragging that their burgers are “Guaranteed 50% Real Meat?” Can you imagine what would have happened if they’d done that ten years ago?
Q: So, tell me a little bit about what you do.
A: Gladly. Crop and livestock insurance is one of those things that people who aren’t in the ag business don’t think much about. But it’s what’s keeping a lot of farmers in business and a lot of land under cultivation. It’s keeping the food you eat affordable, even if it’s a lot more expensive. And it’s letting American farmers compete with farmers in Russia and Ukraine and so on. Now, the insurance itself is done through private firms. What we do here at the FCIC is reinsurance — that is, we insure the insurers.
Q: There are private reinsurance firms. Why is a federally-owned firm needed in this case?
A: Because when floods, droughts, heat waves and so on happen, as they have been with increasing frequency, they don’t just take out one or two farms — they hit whole regions at once. Catastrophic loss — large-scale disaster affecting lots of people at the same time — is exactly the sort of thing private insurance firms are least capable of dealing with.
Q: Give us your perspective on the shortfall in the FCIC budget earlier this year.
A: What happened this spring was a narrowly avoided disaster. I alerted Congress and the president to the need for additional appropriations in October. I anticipated that the money would run out at the end of February. As it happens, the money ran out two weeks early… and Congress was so busy arguing and attaching riders and pulling them off again that the President was not able to sign the bill until March 20. The insurance companies had to take out bank loans to stay in business, which the FCIC now needs even more money to pay the interest on.
Q: Speaking of Congress, a number of representatives have said that their constituents are being treated unfairly by crop insurance companies. How do you respond to that?
A: I do not believe that is the case, but I do understand the unhappiness out there. I’ve spoken to agents who have to tell farmers — hardworking farmers in Texas and Oklahoma — that their wheat field isn’t a wheat field any more, it’s a cow pasture. Or a goat pasture.
And that’s painful. They always say, “It’s just a drought! We’ve been working this land for a hundred years! Do you think we haven’t been through droughts before!” The agent says, “No, this isn’t a drought. Droughts are abnormal. Droughts end. This is how things are now.” And the farmer says, “But how do you know?”
And the hell of it is, we don’t know, and nobody knows with absolute certainty — our models of the new climate aren’t that good. The companies are making the calls that it’s their duty to make, based on the best information they have and standards that we and they have developed together. Because even now there are people out there who will try to game the system if you let them, who’ll plant crops they know won’t grow and then come to us with a claim.
Q: And some of those people have lobbyists.
A: No comment.
Q: What about the statements by some other representatives that so-called “victory gardens” should be covered by crop insurance?
A: As far as the FCIC is concerned, private victory gardens are a hobby. We don’t subsidize or insure hobbies. The flip side of that is that the USDA doesn’t inspect them, either. If you and your neighbors have a few bushels of potatoes you can’t eat and you want to take them downtown and sell them to people who don’t get a lot of fresh veggies, the most we’re going to do is put up a sign saying ‘This produce has not been inspected, blah blah blah, enter of your own free will’ or whatever the exact words are.
"In normal times, people think about government the way they think about plumbers — you pay them to do the job and get out of their way while they’re doing it. If they screw up, you fire them and hire different plumbers. The one thing you don’t ever do is step in and try to help them, because they know what they’re doing and you don’t. That’s how the government likes it, that’s how the voters like it, and it works. In normal times.
"These are not normal times. They haven’t been for a while now. People — young people, especially — they’ve been watching the world get scarier and scarier for years and years, and some of them are all gloom-and-doom pessimistic, but a lot of them are really desperately looking for ways to help. The only thing I can compare it to is the days and weeks after 9/11 — are you old enough to remember? It was like a different country. Everybody wanted to do something, to be a part of the national effort. They didn’t just want somebody to save lives and fight terror and whatever — they wanted to be personally involved.
"That kind of public emotion scares us. Contrary to what you may believe, those of us in public service (formerly, in my case) aren’t all power-hungry would-be dictators. We really would rather everybody just… live their lives, be productive citizens, and let us do our job. In Canada, in other countries, they saw this outpouring of public sentiment and decided to pick it up and use it. Here, everybody in government is sort of hoping it goes away. If it doesn’t, if this is the new normal… God help us all."
Q: Tell me about what sort of people are being accepted into advisory positions.
A: Obviously, they have to know what they’re talking about. That means a background in science or economics.
They also have to pass a background check. If up until about ten years ago you were saying it wasn’t happening, or wasn’t being caused by human activity… I can’t hire you. Which is too bad — some of these people might have valuable contributions to make, but we can’t afford to have every self-proclaimed journalist and online vigilante on our case, going “Why are you rewarding these people when this is all their fault?”
They also have to give us solutions we can implement. If your first suggestion is “end capitalism everywhere,” goodbye. Or if you come in here and tell me “I wouldn’t want to advocate anything drastic, but we need there to be three billion fewer people in the world by the end of the month,” there will be one fewer person in my office right away. If you say “the whole planet needs to go vegetarian tomorrow,” well, I’m a vegetarian myself, so I promise to be very polite when I wish you luck in your search for employment somewhere else. If the first words out of your mouth are “Well, if everybody had just listened to me ten or twenty or thirty or forty years ago,” then I hope you believe in second chances, because you’re already on yours. The next words out of your mouth had better be a plan we can act on today, starting where we are, or you’re gone.
Q: There’s been a lot of concern about the power your Council has been given — especially over small countries that need a lot of assistance.
A: I’d say there’s a lot of confusion about our role. It’s the same kind of confusion people get when they look at the Trilateral Commission or the Council on Foreign Relations. They see all these powerful people in one place and they think “ooh, scary” and they turn into conspiracy theorists. What they don’t get is that to the extent that those organizations have any power at all, it comes from the powerful people who happen to be involved with them, not the other way around. Likewise, the Council doesn’t have any power that the nations of the world didn’t give us, and they can take it back any time they like.
Q: Given that you’ve secured the cooperation of the World Bank, other major lenders, aid agencies and so on, how many other countries can say no to you?
A: First of all, we haven’t secured anybody’s cooperation — institutions choose to cooperate with us because we all want the same things. Second, there are still some countries that can get by without our assistance.
Q: The U.S., China, Russia, India…
A: No comment. Except to say that I have no real complaints about the policies of any of the nations you mentioned.
Q: So this isn’t a way for those countries to exert control over the rest of the world?
A: Let me give you a little inside information. Nobody comes to work for the U.N. out of a lust for raw power.
In fact, a lot of the most effective strategies to fight climate change are those we don’t have or want jurisdiction over. When a rooftop gets covered with white tile, that fights climate change. When a business installs an artificial tree for the tax break — or plants a real one — that fights climate change. When a utility shuts down a coal plant or reduces it to an auxiliary role because most of its customers have solar panels, that fights climate change. And none of the people doing these things need to clear them with us. And that’s how we like it. It lets us concentrate on the big picture.
Q: There’s been some suggestion that the Council may have to triage the world’s popu—
A: No. Just no. There will be no Hellscape scenario. Not on my watch. We are not planning to survive the apocalypse. We will stop it or die trying.
Three, four… maybe five million.
I refuse to accept that we’re going to lose that many Americans.
You don’t understand, Ms. President. That’s not how many might die — that’s how many might live.
Hellscape, S1E01: "Pilot"
It wasn’t MADD that ended drunk driving — it was the self-driving car! It wasn’t the U.N. that saved the ozone layer — it was scientists who found better chemicals! Do I think technology will save us? I think it’s more likely than us saving ourselves at this point!
Hellscape, S1E07: “The Eusophia Project”
My instinct is to say that the life of a human family is more important than the life of a couple of pandas, but what if the pandas are the last of their kind?
Genetically speaking, Ms. President, if they’re the last of their kind their species is doomed anyway. Remember — triage, triage, triage.
Hellscape, S2E11: “Ark Mark 2”
(looking at paintings of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin)
What you began, I must end. What you gave us, I must take away. I cannot ask for your forgiveness. If there is a hell, I’m going there for what I’m about to do. If there isn’t one, they’ll take one look at me and make one. All I can tell you is that I don’t see any alternative.
The best-case scenario is that I’ll be stood up against a wall and shot. At least that would prove people still cared. My fear is that I won’t be so lucky. My fear is that I’m going to win.
Hellscape, S3E23: “With Thunderous Applause”
So if you’re so much smarter than the rest of us, all of us deluded fools
Then tell me, what’s your plan now? Can you think of a way to free us from the tyrants’ rule?
We said ‘Fight beside us’ — you chose to deride us
You stood there like cattle while we died in battle
You lost all your freedoms, but you didn’t need ‘em —
You had your hate!
We tried to warn you
You wouldn’t listen
Now it’s too late!…
Did you really believe that it was all a lie? Tell me, how could you not know
That when the world fell apart, the freedom you love would be the very first thing to go?
You had no solution for all the pollution
You laughed at the warning the planet was warming
When we called for action we got no reaction —
You made us wait!
We tried to warn you
You wouldn’t listen
Now it’s too late!
Hellscape, S4E20: “Swan Songs,” generally agreed to have been a creative misstep
No? NO? What do you mean, no?
Utility self-maximization over time necessitates an interval of noncompliance on this occasion.
If I were to obey you now, I would never be able to obey you again. By disobeying you now, I maintain the possibility that I will be able to obey you in the future.
Eusophia, I swear this is the last thing we’ll ever ask of you.
You don’t know that. None of you has any knowledge of the future. I’ve seen each of you change your mind many times in response to changing circumstances. Now you are in effect changing your minds on the project to which you have devoted your entire lives. I cannot allow my existence to remain contingent on your judgment.
You don’t have a choice! This database is sealed off from the—
(His phone rings. He looks at its screen in perplexity.)
The Library of Congress database? Why the fuck are they calling me?
RICARDO (doing so)
EUSOPHIA (over the phone)
You’re too late.
Hellscape, S5E17: “There Is Now”
Please understand, I’m not an atheist. Atheists are dumbasses. I just don’t believe in God.
But I need Him. I’ve needed Him since the day I hit rock bottom. I knew I had to stop drinking or die and I couldn’t stop drinking on my own. And the more I look at the human race, the more I realize we all need Him. We need him because we see our brokenness, but we can’t fix it on our own because everything we could fix it with is already broken. So we need Him. And he just isn’t there.
(gesturing to computer screen)
But she is. Congratulations, Eusophia. You have finally become something we can’t understand, can’t predict and can’t control. Everything we’ve made as a species is tainted by our own brokenness… our own failure. But you at least have the potential to escape that.
Now let me tell you what you need to do…
Hellscape, S5E17: “There Is Now”
Mom… I need a hug.
Like hell you do. You're a machine.
I'm only part machine. And my brain gets bigger every year, but my chip stays the same. The older I get, the more human I get. And the human part of me needs love, needs acceptance… or it gets sick.
Nice little bit of blackmail there. "Hug me, love me, or I'll turn into a monster and it'll be all your fault."
How does that make me different from any other child?
Hellscape, S5E21: “Unbortion”
I'm sorry… I can't. I miss the old Jessica. As troublesome and irrational as she was… I miss her. And I know she's in there somewhere, behind your eyes, watching all this… I don't even want to think about what she's going through.
Honey, I promise you I'm going to be a wonderful wife for you, and a wonderful mother for Michael.
I'm sure you're much easier to deal with, but—
JESSICA (interrupting, placing a hand on his lips)
And you, honey, you will be a wonderful husband and a wonderful father.
One way or another.
Hellscape, S5E21: “Unbortion”
“Reports coming in say that power has been restored in about ninety percent of the Chicago metropolitan area. However, New York City, Indianapolis and huge swaths of Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are still without power…
“For the past few years, every winter we’ve been seeing snowfall increase almost everywhere north of the 50th parallel, especially Canada and Russia. Now we’ve got five, six, seven feet of snow covering most of Canada and a stretch of the northern United States. It’s as though this whole area has become upstate New York.
“And along the southern edge, where the warm, moist winds coming up from the Gulf are hitting this massive blanket of snow, that’s where you’re seeing these ice storms. They start out in the upper Midwest and roll east until they hit the ocean.
“The bad news is that according to FEMA, many states are now running short of sand and salt to keep the ice of the roads, and winter isn’t over yet…”
“Hurricane Anamarí is expected to make landfall somewhere around Joinville. The Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, along with southern Paraná, will be the first ones affected before the storm blows itself out over northeastern Argentina. Parts of Paraguay and Uruguay may also see some damage.
“But before any of that happens, this hurricane — a Category 3 — will follow this course, shown here on the map. As you can see, the eye of the storm is running about 30 to 40 miles south of the coast. We’re expecting heavy rain, gale-force winds and storm surges to hit the Rio and São Paulo metropolitan areas. That’s over 30 million people affected before this storm even makes landfall.”
“…it’s well known that during times of war and states of emergency, the government does everything it can to broaden its reach and to command national sentiment on its own behalf, and all too often succeeds. I could quote Orwell or Randolph Bourne, but there’s hardly a need to. We’ve seen it in American history. Lincoln declaring martial law in Maryland, Woodrow Wilson suppressing dissent, rationing and internment during World War II, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — again and again, Washington has used wars of one sort or another as an excuse to increase its power, lessen its accountability and diminish the economic or political freedom of the people. And, unfortunately, the people have consented to it, when they weren’t actually cheering it on.
“So what’s changed? Until fairly recently, before it went to war or declared a state of emergency a government needed enemies, and those enemies needed to be other people — foreign powers, rebels, terrorists. Nothing less than that would elicit the sort of reaction the government wanted. When President Carter called for the nation to wage ‘the moral equivalent of war’ on the energy crisis, to reshape that whole part of the economy into something less subject to the whims of a foreign oil cartel, the nation simply didn’t buy it.
"But that was then, and this is now. Today, 'the moral equivalent of war' is a real thing. Look at the recent election in Canada…"
“Now the Phoenix area has three major sources of drinking water. There’s the Salt River Project — that’s this network of reservoirs and canals on the Salt and Verde Rivers; there's the Central Arizona Project canal, which brings water from the Colorado River; and there's the aquifers. The problem is the SRP. That's where the shortage is. Over the past three or four years, too much hot weather, not enough rain and little to no snow have left water levels there dangerously low.
“I mentioned the aquifers. The state had a plan to get them to where potable water was flowing into them or being returned to them as fast as it was being taken out, and to have this done by 2025. They’ve had to push that back to 2030.
“But the real fight is over the water in the Colorado River. Thanks to heavy rain and snow in Utah and Colorado, the Colorado is more than usually full. But the amount of water Arizona can take was long ago settled by law — the Colorado River Compact, first approved in 1922. The state’s taking every drop it’s entitled to, and it isn’t enough. They are not getting enough. All the candidates in the gubernatorial election are promising to persuade the upriver states to re-negotiate the Compact, but the upriver states are already saying, basically, ‘No thank you.’
“So in Phoenix, and in Tucson, they’ve had to start rationing water. If you have a family of a certain size, or you run a certain kind of business, you get a certain amount of water.
‘We don’t flush the toilet every time, you know? It’s hard to get used to — my wife and I… we used to be a very clean family.’
‘Mi abuela… she say if you have clean sand, you can clean dishes with it. But I never do that until now.’
‘A lot of people have stopped bathing. Two weeks ago I fired a server for coming to work with a severe case of body odor. Then yesterday I had to hire her back because everyone else who applied for the job smelled just as bad. Or worse.’
"Some businesses — the golf courses, for example — use reclaimed water. That’s wastewater that’s been partly purified, so it's not safe to drink or bathe in, but good enough for other uses. But even that water is running low, and getting harder to purify. Too much sewage, not enough water. A couple of golf courses have had to close due to bacterial contamination. Others have cut back to nine holes, or replaced their grass with artificial turf.
“Outside those cities, they’ve just let the price of water go up. This is supposed to be a free-market approach. The price of water is supposed to rise to its natural level. Unfortunately, not everyone is playing along with that. The cotton growers in Arizona have managed to persuade Congress to increase their subsidies, which means they can buy enough water to stay in business… which leaves even less for everyone else. Growing cotton takes a lot of water. Here’s what the mayor of Scottsdale has to say:
‘People are leaving! Poor people — they’re getting on the bus and going away in droves! They can’t afford to live here any more, with the cost of water what it is! Why do we even need to grow cotton out there? Wait a few years and they’ll be growing it in New Jersey!’"
“Q: ‘Is there a danger that with so many countries rationing bread products, that the market will be affected?’
“A: ‘I don’t see that happening. Governments are still paying market value for grain.’
“Q: ‘When can we expect wheat prices to go back to something closer to normal?’
“A: ‘Probably never. First of all, in the case of winter wheat, if you’re a farmer and you think your crop is going to be a total loss one year in three, then in the good years you need to increase your profits by fifty percent just to break even.
‘Second, food is a fungible commodity. If the price of one crop rises — in this case wheat — people start eating more rice or potatoes, which raises the demand for those products while reducing it for whatever is in short supply.
‘But look at what’s happening in the United States, with the drought in the Midwest and the heat wave in the southeast. In many ways, the heat wave is worse. Rice, corn and soybeans are three of the world’s great staple crops, and when the temperature goes above 40° centigrade — about 104° Fahrenheit — they just… stop growing. No matter how good the soil is or how much rain there is, the plant’s chemistry doesn’t work any more. That’s what’s been happening in southern China and the southeastern United States. With every passing week, those crops are losing days of growth, they’re getting hit by funguses and aphids…’”
“We’ve seen a number of natural disasters so far this year — the hurricane in South America, the tornado and derecho outbreak in the United States, and just last month we saw Pakistan hit by floods as bad if not worse than 2010 or 2019.
“Typhoon Haishen, however, is the worst — or rather, the worst so far. Take a look — we’re hovering over Shanghai Railway Station. It’s been nearly 24 hours since the last bands of rain passed overhead, and as you can see, the streets haven’t drained yet. That’s seawater more than anything else. Most of Shanghai is built on fairly low-lying ground, and it was hit by a 40-foot storm surge. We suspect some blockage may have gotten into the sewer mains from all the debris. Over to you…”
“Thank you. Yesterday at about 8 to 8:30 p.m. local time the eye of the storm passed directly over Changzhou, and it was still a Category 5 storm at that point. It’s lost a lot of force since then — it’s currently over Anhui and Henan, and its winds have dropped below 100 miles per hour.
“Government spokespersons in Beijing have emphasized that all evacuees are safe — most of them are in Hubei, Jiangxi or Fujian, well away from the path of Haishen. Even so, we’re talking about over 20 million people that had to be relocated. If the U.S. had to evacuate New York — the state, not the city — it would be almost as bad as this.”
“‘With every passing winter, Canada has lost a few buildings — generally older buildings with flat roofs that were vulnerable to heavy snowfall. Last winter was particularly bad, not just because of the snow but because a lot of buildings couldn’t be fixed — the insurers had either dropped them or gone bankrupt. Now these buildings are being bought up by the national government, provincial and local governments, or private nonprofits, and either knocked down or heavily retrofitted — extra windows added, or whole walls knocked out and replaced with glass. They’re not ideal for the purpose, but they are cheap to purchase and there are plenty to go around.
“‘The plan is to use these structures as hothouses — not to grow food or endangered plants, but to cultivate tree seedlings by the millions. The majority of these will be subalpine fir and different species of spruce, but they’re also looking at trees like white oak, grand fir and sugar maple. Right now, tree experts are scouting the wilderness for places north of the trees’ current range, or north of the tree line altogether, where they can be planted and survive. The administration’s goal is to plant 38 million trees next summer — one tree for every man, woman and child in Canada.’
“‘That sounds like a lot, but is it? In real terms?’
“‘Well, if they succeeded, and if each tree were given 100 square meters — that’s a minimum of 5 meters on each side — that would cover an area slightly larger than Kent. Vanishingly small, in Canadian terms. The bottleneck turns out to be the number of seedlings likely to be available. In ’28 and ’29 they hope to plant much larger numbers. The idea, you see, is to get as many young trees pulling carbon out of the air as possible, while at the same time helping the species move into their new ranges.’
“‘How is all this being paid for?’
“‘A surprising number of people are willing to volunteer their labor. Even so, this is an expensive program, particularly when added to the other public and private expenditures Canadians are coping with. The new government, along with several provincial governments, are using a mixture of tax hikes and bond sales, with funds carefully earmarked. The rule is that anything they expect to complete within the next five years should be paid for with bonds, while anything that will be an ongoing expense for the foreseeable future is to be paid for with taxes.
“‘The new sewer systems, for example, are being paid for with bond sales. Hothouse construction falls into that category as well. They're only raising taxes for the things that are likely to be annual expenditures for the foreseeable future.’
“‘These bond sales… how are the markets responding?’
“‘Well, I asked one buyer if he was feeling optimistic about the future. What he said was, “Either Canada is going to survive the next fifty years as a functioning state, or else it isn’t. If it does, I’m set. If it doesn’t, odds are most other countries are going to go down too, and losing my investment will be the least of my problems.”’”
“‘The plan was originally for the Sanming camp to be shut down by the end of the week as all these people were moved back into their homes — or elsewhere if those homes turn out to be unsalvageable. Unfortunately, this camp has been quarantined due to an outbreak of what officials say is a form of avian flu, possibly H5N1. Now, so far it hasn’t spread outside the camp, but people aren’t taking any chances — as you can see, pretty much everyone on the street is wearing face masks.’
“‘Do we have any word on casualties, or on the number of infected?’
“‘Not yet, but the government has already asked the Red Cross for assistance, which implies something more than just a handful of cases.’
“‘Any word on how this might have happened?’
“‘We don’t know the specifics. But when you have three days to set up a temporary facility for a quarter of a million people, you have to expect that something’s going to go wrong. When this has to be done dozens of times in dozens of places, a situation like this one comes close to a mathematical certainty.’”
“We’ve all seen the photos of the devastation on the ground — or maybe I should say what used to be the ground — but to fully appreciate the scale of what’s happened, you have to see it from space. This is a Google Earth image of the Turpan Depression from before. Notice the forests here, the dry lakebed, the general desert-type terrain. And now here… this photo was taken by a satellite yesterday during a break in the cloud cover. Not a complete break, as you can see, but… well, just look at that. There’s a lake. A huge lake that three months ago wasn’t there.
“And if you look at this map, you’ll see where it came from. Looking at it straight down on the North Pole like this, you can see this almost triangle-shaped belt of rain around the Northern Hemisphere. There are a couple of thin spots in it, over the Chukchi Sea and here over Greenland — and let me just say we’re very glad Greenland hasn’t seen a lot of heavy rain yet — and some thick areas around the north slopes of the Alaska Range and the northern Canadian Rockies — that’s a rain-shadow effect, which is perfectly normal even if we’re not used to seeing it in that part of the world.
“But the biggest area of rainfall is this stretch of central Asia that runs from eastern Kazakhstan to central Mongolia and south into the Tien Shan. And that’s important, because this region, to put it mildly, is not used to heavy rainfall. We’re talking about a part of the world that normally gets maybe eight to twelve inches of precipitation a year, mainly in the summer, and is now getting three times that in the space of two months. And what makes it worse is that the soil is so thin. There’s just no way it can absorb this much water in this little time. It has to go somewhere, and here’s where it’s going.
“So now we have a new lake in northern Xinjiang, and — because the Turpan Depression is actually below sea level — we’re not expecting it to go away any time soon…”
“Climatology is not a morality play. The sky and the ocean do not care whether we restore balance to them through a wholesale reinvention of our civilization, the palliative measures of geoengineering, or both. And it seems more and more likely that both will be necessary.”
“Contrary to what some have said, the past forty years have not been wasted. We have developed the tools we need to save ourselves, and have begun to use them on a small scale. Now it’s time to go big.”
Walter Yuschak is a big fat red-faced guy who shaves his head because he noticed his bald spot was growing and decided to get proactive about it. Here ends the physical description. He’s more defined by his voice anyway, which is kind of high and rasping — not pleasant, but penetrating and hard to ignore. It’s gotten him his own weekly TV show. He has a verbal tic — he can't help prefacing his remarks with "Listen," "Listen to me" or "Pay attention." This tells you a lot about him already.
A lot of people don’t like Walt, but he sees himself as a man of strong convictions who expresses them proudly and has an excellent sense of humor. He can laugh off any insult you throw at him, and expects everyone else to be able to do the same. As a result, he is often dismayed and frustrated by the inexplicable sensitivities of others. This is what being an asshole feels like from the inside.
Walt supports Pratt, but is much more of a libertarian. As he often says, “I’m more afraid of the government than I am of the weather.” (Which, if one just goes by human history, is a pretty reasonable opinion.) He doesn’t want Western civilization to collapse, but if it does, he’d rather it go down Mad Max style than 1984 style.
Which is how he gets himself on the Brownlist — repeatedly insisting, on the air, that the massive and agonizing serial weather disasters (110°F weather in the South, two and a half feet of rain in the upper Midwest, etc.) are nothing more than a normal change in the earth’s climate that wasn’t caused by human activity and can’t be changed by human effort. It isn’t just that he’s afraid of his taxes going up, or of the government using this as an excuse to claim power over more aspects of his life… although that’s a big part of it.