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One Toke Over the Line

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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If you’re as ancient as I am you may remember “One Toke Over the Line,” a popular song released in 1970 by Michael Brewer and Tome Shipley.

“One toke over the line, sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line."

Now, toke was hippie code for marijuana, so of course everyone assumed that’s what the song was talking about. But Brewer and Shipley wouldn’t say that was what they were writing about. In fact, Shipley said that “if you listen to the lyrics of that song, ‘one toke’ was just a metaphor. It’s a song about excess. Too much of anything will kill you.”

I’ve been watching a lot of coverage of the destruction Hurricane Ian caused in Florida. Its almost Cat. 5 windspeeds and subsequent surge of ocean pushed along by those winds resulted in a level of damage I’ve never seen from a hurricane, and I’ve seen a lot of them in my 72 years. The incredible destructive power of these monster storms has increased significantly over the years.

I grew up in Nederland, Tx. We were close enough to the coast that every time a hurricane threatened our area, we were warned to evacuate. The first hurricane I was old enough to remember was Audrey. I was seven years old at the time, in 1957. The storm ultimately unleashed its fury on the Southern Louisiana coast, becoming one of the deadliest tropical cyclones in history, killing at least 416 people. My dad took the family to Cameron to look at the damage after the storm. The beach that had been covered with hundreds of beach cabins before Audrey, was wiped clean. There was no evidence anything had been there. Audrey was a Category 3 hurricane.

We were warned in Nederland to evacuate, and we went where we always did when a hurricane threated the gulf coast, Woodville. My grandparents lived in Woodville, and hurricanes never made it that far north. Until 2005 and Hurricane Rita. Tyler County suffered extensive dame from the storm.

Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and a few years later Ike changed everything. Something was clearly different. Subsequent storms over the last 17 years have become more frequent and deadlier. This is the result of climate change, which is now affecting all of us, all over the world. We’ve stepped one toke over the line, off the precipice. And there doesn’t appear to be any way back.

There are two common reactions from those who find the idea of climate change uninviting. The first is to acknowledge that climate has changed, but humans had nothing to do with it. The second is to deny climate change exists. The first is open to debate, the second is being stubbornly obtuse. In fact, the climate doesn’t care what you or I believe. We see evidence that climate has changed significantly every day. And the future consequences of not planning for a very different tomorrow are catastrophic.

Average temperatures will get higher and higher, more and more coastal areas will be flooded, areas where significant populations live. Choosing to build large cities in the desert have already resulted in huge decreases in water supply to big swaths of the country, with consequences to both people and agriculture. Because it seems likely we are too late to slow down these changes, we must begin planning on how to move millions of people when where they currently live become uninhabitable.

I wish I was optimistic that we will we take those actions before disaster forces our hand, but efforts to deal with climate change over the last 40 years have been met with resistance from business and government and many individuals who want to live on the coast or in the desert, with all three working hard to slow down those trying to make a difference.

It should be obvious that our excesses are going to kill us, just like the song writers warned. Maybe we should put that toke down and make some plans for the future.

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