Kaiser Permanente, a major healthcare organization in which I proudly served as an internist and rheumatologist for three decades, has made me proud all over again. Its CEO, Bernard Tyson, has just announced that Kaiser Permanente, which has 39 hospitals and 12 million members nationwide, will become carbon-neutral in 2020, thereby removing 600,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year from our atmosphere. Doing so will mean new energy storage systems and switching its sources of electricity to wind and solar power. Tyson is among the speakers at the Global Climate Action Summit taking place in San Francisco on Wednesday through Friday of this week (you can view it live at https://globalclimateactionsummit.org).
Speaking at the same summit will be House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who will no doubt draw attention to the ongoing efforts by the Trump Administration to undo measures designed to combat global warming, initiated under President Obama. For example, President Trump, who withdrew from the Paris Accord and continues to deny climate change despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, is now trying to make it easier for the energy industry to leak heat-trapping methane into the air.
A key organizer of the summit is Governor Jerry Brown, who is setting ever more ambitious climate goals for California, such as reducing overall emissions to zero by 2045. But why stop there? By 2046, he wants California to pull more CO2 and other greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere than it puts in! At a time when Trump wants to revive the obsolete coal industry, Brown wants 100% of electricity in California to come from carbon-free sources by 2045. (We’ve always been contrary: see the Jan. 4, 2018 post on this blog, Most Likely to Secede).
My third novel, Child of the Fourth World, is now complete, along with the Fourth World trilogy– but while doing the final editing, I wanted to share with you the first half of the Prologue as a preview:
The winter of 2204 had been cruel, indeed: that was the jaundiced impression Arno Descombes had formed by early February. An unusually heavy monsoon had swept down from the South China Sea, casting its warm, soggy blanket over the morass of lowland rice beds. Fat globules of water splashed in king-sized sheets, usually for days at a time, onto the lugubrious padis and surrounding dense jungle where he was now confined in exile. And as it had rained in January, so would it continue to rain in March. Quite the local meteorologic expert after seven endless years in the Malaysian District, he had accepted by this point that there were no true winters to be found here— or springs, summers and autumns, for that matter!
But still, he could not help feeling a keen disappointment. In many ways, Arno yearned for his childhood in Paris, which had been rudely truncated at the age of eight. Having run helter-skelter through the Jardin du Luxembourg as a young boy, breathlessly excited amid the blooms of April or the snow flurries of December— a halcyon time followed by nearly two decades in the achingly monotonous, hermetically sealed environment of a metrosphere on Mars— Arno preferred (he was desperate, really) to think of the Northeast and Southwest Monsoons as two distinct seasons. True, the oppressive heat and humidity never varied from one “season” to the next. Nor, on any given day in the entire year, would Arno be shocked to discover a muddy torrent flowing down the road in front of Building 822, his six-story Kenny Hill apartment complex. “So much for seasons,” the self-styled expert had muttered more than once to himself. And yet there was definitely a northerly wind at the moment… Ah, winter in Kuala Lumpur, he sighed, hugging himself about the shoulders: this was definitely his favorite of the two monsoons!
But all sarcasm aside, the orange-brown river of mud had been flowing rather copiously that afternoon, Arno noted with increasing concern. He inhaled its aroma sharply, like a sommelier detecting earthiness in a claret. There it was as usual, that pungent metallic tang of iodine and warm, sea-salty rain mixed with so many tons of liquefied clay, all pouring straight down the hill. How was that possible, day after day? Wasn’t there a finite supply of soil uphill, and when that ran out, would the gentle slopes surrounding Kuala Lumpur end up flatter than a roti canai?
At least for now, the corrugated-tin canopy hanging over the entrance provided adequate shelter— but barely so. From time to time, frenzied raindrops managed to find their way to Arno, who began to wonder if he might be slightly overdressed in his clean singlet, white long-sleeved shirt (buttoned at the cuffs) and pressed, full-length khaki trousers. Soaked from the knees down, he sat perched precariously on a squat red plastic stool on the leeward side of the building. Splayed palm fronds and the broad leaves of a banana tree flapped frantically in the wind, obscuring an ancient, rusted street sign just up the road. Intermittently he could make out the faded lettering: Jalan Kenny Utara.
He knew that “jalan” referred to the road, and it also meant “walk”; jalan-jalan meant “run.” Otherwise, these words were gibberish to him, and he found himself unwilling to learn Malay and Nonya expressions, straightforward though they may seem. He also refused to absorb more than minimal Cantonese, or Hokkien, or that strange Singapore-style English known as Singlish! The lack of motivation to adapt, Arno liked to think, resulted from a stout denial of his current predicament. It was almost a matter of principle (likewise, he had previously rejected the patois of the younger generation in Highland City, even though he was one of them— at least in a demographic sense). If his first decade as a stranger on Mars had felt like an unfair banishment, his actual banishment to the Southeast Asia Quarantine Zone— his imprisonment, to call it what it was— felt vastly more unfair.
It had been a difficult, and still woefully incomplete, adjustment for him. Most obviously, on Earth he had lost his professional status, and his living conditions had shrunken in dramatic fashion; belatedly, Arno Descombes had discovered the importance of those two factors to his sense of worth and well-being. On top of that, global warming, although slowing in recent decades, had created an environment even more alien to Arno than the desiccated surface of Mars— almost its exact opposite, in fact.
“It was not always like this, lah!” Ah Wing, the oldest person in his building at age 109, had recounted nostalgically over dinner the previous evening, assuring Arno that monsoonal rainfall was not nearly as torrential a century ago. In those days, nighttime temperatures sometimes dipped below 37 degrees Celsius, making a good night’s sleep possible. Malacca, Ah Wing’s childhood home, and Penang, the city where he had taught as a professor at George Town University— both historic seaports on the West Coast— had not yet been rendered uninhabitable by constant flooding. Also, when the PWE arrested Ah Wing in Shanghai (he had been spying for the Resistance while attending an academic conference) and exiled him to the Quarantine Zone fifty years ago, the jungle was not nearly so overgrown, so densely populated with deadly reptiles, amphibians, spiders and insects.
As if on cue, in the corner of his eye, Arno caught sight of a pair of shiny black antennae slowly emerging from a gap in the wall nearby. Not an unusual sight at all, so close to the jungle— except that these antennae, waving inquisitively from side to side as if sniffing for prey, continued to emerge for quite some time. Their visible length was proportional to the height of Arno’s anxiety; what’s coming out of that gap, he wondered: a lobster? Could the local cockroaches (known to survive extreme radiation) have mutated to such a monstrous size after the North Korean nuclear strike in the twenty-first century? That had been one of the key triggers for the Great War of Unification, he recalled, but there were many unintended consequences: among them, launching those missiles may also have launched a whole new branch of the animal kingdom.
“But no, lah— it wasn’t radiation-induced mutation. Already big before the war,” his elderly cohabitant had once reassured him with the singularly discomfiting observation that cockroaches in Kuala Lumpur (KL, he called it) had always been gigantic.