Californians, Welcome to the 'Trans-Apocalypse'

Elizabeth Weil explores how constant wildfires have changed what it means to live in the state
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2022 2:05 PM CST
Californians, Welcome to the 'Trans-Apocalypse'
Smoke rises from a wildfire during sunset in Goleta, Calif., in October 2021.   (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Elizabeth Weil bought her home in California in the 1990s, and she writes in the New York Times Magazine about how things have changed now that the state seems to be on fire all the time. Fire is "no longer an episodic hazard, like earthquakes," she writes. To live in the state in 2022 means accepting that wildfire is "a constant, with us everywhere, every day, all year long, like tinnitus or regret." The new normal of the seasons goes something like this: "The dry spring was bad; the dry summer, worse; the dry fall, unbearable. Even a wet winter (if we caught a break from the drought) offered little reprieve." The reality, whether Californians choose to accept it or not, is that things are not going to snap back to normal, or at least to how "normal" has been defined in recent decades. Is this apocalyptic? Not quite.

Weil speaks with a climate futurist who prefers the term "trans-apocalyptic." Meaning, "we’re in the middle of an ongoing crisis, or really a linked series of crises, and we need to learn to be 'native to now,'" writes Weil. "Our lives are going to become—or, really, they already are (the desire to keep talking about the present as the future is intense)—defined by 'constant engagement with ecological realities,' floods, dry wells, fires. And there’s no opting out. What does that even mean?" Weil's lengthy piece explores that question, starting with how California got into this situation in the first place (forest management, exploding population, climate change, the complexities of logging, PG&E greed, etc.) and looking at the short- and long-term solutions that might, at best, mitigate it. Read the full story. (Or check out more longform stories.)

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