The Year After Next

In 1996, German film-maker Roland Emmerich released the movie “Independence Day.” To his delight, and the surprise of some, the American public turned out to have a huge appetite for seeing aliens blow up the White House. Despite the passage of time—including 12 years of Republican administration—the White House is still more or less intact. 

Eight years later Emmerich released “The Day After Tomorrow.” This disaster flick’s big gimmick was a new global ice age triggered by the collapse of the formerly obscure Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current [AMOC]. Overnight, temperatures drop past 100° below, and a storm surge drowns New York. Then things get truly ridiculous: a Cheney-esque Vice President, evacuated to Mexico, apologizes on the Weather Channel for his blind obstinacy.

That was nearly twenty years ago. Now, apparently, “Tomorrow” has finally arrived. On Tuesday, the scientific journal Nature Communications published a paper with the rather ominous title, “Warning of a forthcoming collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.”

Its authors write: “We predict with high confidence the tipping to happen as soon as mid-century (2025–2095 is a 95 percent confidence range).” Checking the old office calendar, we see that 2025 is only the year after next. And if we’ve learned anything from these studies over the past several decades, it’s that the smart money bets on the worst-case scenario.

Stefan Rahmstorf, an expert on global ocean currents and their effect on the climate, said at the Berlin premiere of “Tomorrow,” in 2004:

“Clearly this is a disaster movie and not a scientific documentary, [and] the film makers have taken a lot of artistic license. But… the basic background is right: humans are indeed increasingly changing the climate and this is quite a dangerous experiment, including some risk of abrupt and unforeseen changes…. Luckily it is extremely unlikely that we will see major ocean circulation changes in the next couple of decades… ; at least most scientists think this will only become a more serious risk towards the end of the century. And the consequences would certainly not be as dramatic as the ‘superstorm’ depicted in the movie. Nevertheless, a major change in ocean circulation is a risk with serious and partly unpredictable consequences, which we should avoid.

Rahmstorf returned to the subject last September, at a three-day global conference on University of Exeter in the UK. Citing evidence such as the excessive warming of waters along the American coast, i.e., the Gulf of Maine, and a persistent “cold blob” of water south of Greenland’s melting ice cap, he said it is well documented that the AMOC is now 15 percent weaker than it was in 1950. Indeed, it is weaker now than at any time in the past 1,500 years—and probably the weakest it’s been since the last Ice Age. The big uncertainty, he said, is how far away is tipping point. “Recent studies have, unfortunately, shown that it may be too close for comfort.”

That was ten months ago, which is getting to be a long time in climate science. Hell, this summer has been long—which, in New Hampshire, is saying something. We’ve been stuck in a dank, and depressing weather pattern since May, thanks to a malfunctioning jet stream. If it wasn’t too damned hot, the humidity has reduced the comfort range to some elusive middling point which the thermometer never seems to hit.

It’s almost enough to make one despair. Fortunately Michael Mann—leader of the team that created the famous “hockey stick” graph of global warming—is still hanging in there. Seemingly imperturbable, he appeared on “CBS This Morning” on Monday.

“There’s the urgency,” Mann said,  “we all see the urgency. It’s playing out in real time now. But there’s agency. We can still act in time to avert the worst impacts. And there’s a little bit of good news in the science.

“Over the last decade or so we’ve learned that if we bring our carbon emissions to zero, the planet actually stops warming up very quickly. So there’s an immediate and direct impact of our efforts to decarbonize our civilization.”

Terrific. Let’s act! Let’s act now!! Let’s assemble a bipartisan coalition and scramble to reduce carbon emissions. Let’s shift gears and build an economy that runs on renewable energy. 

Sadly, it ain’t that simple. Certain factions have other plans. Any progress toward a sustainable future will be made wearing shackles put on us by long-dead slaveholders. 

The oil-soaked moneybags behind the GOP will make sure of that. Biden’s been in the White House for two and a half years. In their view, his time is up. They’d hand the job over to the Three Stooges, first. 

Seriously—just look at the contenders. Their front-runner is deranged, has been indicted, and may end up running his election campaign from a jail cell. It’s a real dilemma. 

Unusually for a right wing brain trust, the Heritage Foundation has actually come up with a plan that shows signs of real genius. Evil genius, to be sure, but genius all the same. 

Having seen the carnage wrought by Trump the first time around, Heritage crafted an off-the-shelf plan suitable for use by any candidate, no matter their level of psychosis. Think Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, but instead of making dinner, it’s for running a presidential administration. 

Kevin Roberts, the president of Heritage, told the New York Times in April, “In 2016, the conservative movement was not prepared to flood the zone with conservative personnel.” If they depose Biden in 2024, though, things are going to be different. 

Heritage has built what the Times called a $22 million “right wing LinkedIn.” “Our goal,” says Project 2025, “is to assemble an army of aligned, vetted, trained, and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One to deconstruct the administrative state.” 

Decarbonizing will not be on their agenda.


A reader has alerted us to an error in last fortnight’s paper. In a footnote to the Rant, we wrote that Col. Laurence M. Keitt—who aided and abetted Rep. Preston Brooks’ 1856 assault on Sen. Charles Sumner—died while leading a Confederate regiment at Cold Harbor. In fact he was leading a brigade. At the Richmond National Battlefield Park, a marker commemorates “Keitt’s Attack.” It reads, in part, “Though inexperienced in handling troops in the field, Keitt outranked [Col. John W.] Henagan and assumed command of the brigade. … ‘The whole thing was over in less than five minutes.’ The attack failed miserably, with Keitt mortally wounded. The marker goes on to quote Capt. D. Augustus Dickert, of the 3rd South Carolina Infantry: “Every man in ranks knew that he was being led by one of the most gifted and gallant men in the South, but every old soldier felt and saw at a glance his inexperience and want of self-control.”

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