May we not run out of AMOC

Dear President Biden,

Had you heard of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) system before last week? Or, to be fair to the rest of us mere mortals who aren’t oceanographers or presidents – how about before you elected to be elected to serve as America’s Safeguarder-In-Chief? Well, before I made myself read the WP article last week about the increasing likelihood that this vital planetary regulatory system is going to collapse in the quite foreseeable future due to global warming, I’d certainly never heard of it.

If you’re still foggy on the particulars (at the lay-person level), I recommend reading the article linked above.

And, even though it is super early and there should be an ordinance against it there is currently a ginormous digger directly in front of our house crashing it’s claw down into the street to break up the asphalt. Our house, and probably every other house on our end of the block, is shaking – a lot. It’s extremely unpleasant. And, I’m extremely glad that when we added the second story to our house (as is typical among middle- to upper-middle class people in Seattle’s real estate market), the whole thing was earthquake retro-fitted. I don’t think, though, that the little house next door and the one two doors up are so fortunate. Plus, none of us have windows that hermetically seal against the exhaust from the idling trucks waiting to carry away the torn up asphalt. Ugh.

I get that passage of the “hard” infrastructure bill is going to mean lots more of this activity all over the country and that we need to repair or replace our dangerously decaying streets, sidewalks, bridges, and tunnels, but dang if all this improvement isn’t a hassle and dang if it doesn’t seem like it’s adding to our climate woes. The hassle part is transitory and is definitely a first world problem, but I sure hope somebody has done the math, so to speak, and has concluded that, on balance, making these changes will at least be climate neutral. Does having smoother streets mean cars emit less pollution or last appreciably longer? Do better sidewalks lead people to plant more carbon-capturing plants along them?

Maybe this isn’t a good analogy, but it feels akin to trying to figure out if it would be better to get rid of one’s gas powered (or even hybrid) car that still runs ok and replace it with an all-electric version when chances are good that someone who drives even more than you do will buy the old car AND the manufacture of the new car isn’t climate-neutral (let alone carbon-beneficial).

Fraught choices abound these days, don’t they?

Coming back to the AMOC and other previously invisible-to-most-of-us planetary systems, it increasingly seems like we’re stuck on a runaway train that’s flying past all the stations where most sane people would choose to get off and hurtling towards ones that none of us want. Not only do we not really understand what all is happening, but at this point, the messaging (and I have to assume, the truth) is that even if we did know exactly what to do and there were complete buy-in on whatever that plan might be, there’s not actually a fix that is going to pull us back from the brink. We have fundamentally altered the functioning of the earth and its systems such that it’s going to continue heating up and climate disasters are going to become inexorably more frequent.

I wish to goodness that this would make us all (as in ALL) pull up short and get in ways we’ve never gotten before that we’re truly in this together and that it would motivate us to step up and compassionately make do with and for one another. Right? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this global tragedy could help us stop with the tribalism and get to work together on doing what we can still do?

Maybe it still can – maybe we’ll surprise ourselves.

Let’s hope so because we are our best last chances.

May we all be safe from despair and complacency.
May we all be willing to push beyond our own immediate comforts.
May we surprise ourselves with strength and tenacity we didn’t know we have.
May we accept that things are truly dire.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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