The Curve that is NOT Flattening

Leonard P Matthews
4 min readApr 15, 2020

There are two curves currently developing that represent imminent threats to humanity, but as we cloister ourselves in our homes, only one of them has permeated all conversations and news coverage. One curve has shown signs of lessening, and some countries appear to be emerging through to the other side. The other curve is largely ignored: a taboo subject unmentionable except in the most flaccid superficialities. One curve’s death toll may eventually surpass the number of annual automobile fatalities; the other curve’s death toll may be unimaginable. We take this opportunity of thoughtful isolation to discuss the curve that is NOT flattening out: the unchecked rise of greenhouse gases into our planet’s atmosphere.

If you care to squint at high-level details of what is coming, you can peruse the outline of a recent scientific paper that attempts to put milestones of our planet’s ecological collapse onto a timeline. If the abstract of such a paper isn’t enough to cause alarm, feel free to read the entire text. For unbridled terror on the subject, however, William T. Vollman’s Carbon Ideologies offers perhaps the most nightmarish look at the world at the end of this other curve. Horror movies do not scare me. I have read books on alien abduction while secluded in a mountain cabin without neighbors or phones, but Carbon Ideologies remains the single most disturbing text I have ever encountered because it contemplates the unspeakable and uncomfortably plausible things that that other curve portends.

Our mass house arrest has forced us to meditate on our supply chains, the inanity of constant travel, the frivolity of non-essential services, and the importance of having a well-educated and unified response for dealing with crisis. It is impossible to ignore the interdependence of our society while locked in our homes like this: you either live off the land or depend on someone who does. Yet even the most well-stocked and thoroughly prepared among us knows that no man is an island: you may grow your own food, but there are things obtained only by trade. It was as true before the pandemic as it is during: we are all interconnected, we are all on this planet together and its ability to sustain life is the common denominator for our species, just as it has been for every species that has come before.

Leonard P Matthews

Progressive political wonk, always engineer, sometimes scientist.