Many years ago (more than I care to admit), I went to spend a month at my mother’s house in Florida. She had a nice big back yard but didn’t tend to it very much, so nature had taken over. Part of that included a species common in Florida: fire ants.
They hadn’t just built a nest, they had a complex of nests. In fact they’d formed a “megalopolis,” a group of connected locations with vast numbers of inhabitants. I actually took some measurements and did some minor experiments to estimate the population. I’m no entomologist, and my estimate was rough, but I think it was at least in the ballpark. I came up with a figure of seven million ants.
My mother wanted to be rid of them. She suggested a chemical assault, but I don’t like that idea; I don’t think we know enough about the enviroment to understand the broader consequences of that. I came up with a different plan.
I took a pot of boiling hot water, and poured it on one of the nests. This sent the ants scrambling to repair the damage. They’re efficient, they’re industrious, and they know how to build and rebuild their structures. They got to work.
The next day, I did it again.
In fact I did it every day. One large pot of boiling hot water. The idea wasn’t to kill all the ants, or to eradicate their megalopolis in one crushing blow. The idea was simply to make it too costly, in terms of energy and time, for their complex of ant cities to be sustainable.
After about two weeks, the ants were gone. Completely. I believe they just couldn’t stay there any more, it was just too difficult with such regular demands on repair. I don’t know whether the megalopolis died out, or they moved to a different location. But any way you look at it, I succeeded in destroying their megalopolis, because amid the continual assault of disasters, they simply weren’t able to keep up.
This is what can happen to us. Global warming isn’t going to come in one astounding assault and kill us all with one blow. It’s just going to make survival harder — a lot harder — with regular assaults like floods, droughts, heat waves, killer storms. Each time one happens, we’ll start the recovery process.
Perhaps the greates danger from global warming is that amid the continual assault of disasters, we simply won’t be able to keep up.
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