In the ring, Hector “Macho” Camacho was a champion – a dazzling, fast-footed showman in cheetah-print trunks. Out of it, he was a coke-fueled, womanizing wild man, until the appetites that consumed him cost him his life.
In the 1970s, a new breed of American man emerged from the weight rooms of Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach. Led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a clique of world-class bodybuilders — muscle-bound, steroid-fueled, bronzed like suntanned gods — pumped iron, chased girls, and changed the world’s exercise culture forever.
The sharpest rebuke to the junk-science shills is the disaster now unfolding in the American West. States from the Dakotas on down to Nevada weathered devastating jumps of almost 2 degrees, or roughly double the rate of the planet’s rise. The northern Rocky winters got radically milder, the summers started sooner and were drier and longer, and wildfires burned through vast tracts of timber weeks after the usual fire year ended. The damage to natural resources has outstripped the worst predictions of climate scientists everywhere: Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the largest reservoirs in the States and the lifeblood of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, respectively, stand half- empty and notching record lows, thanks to shrinking snowmelt. The country’s greatest trout streams have been closed to anglers during parts of eight of the past 10 years, and the keystone trees of the interior West — the aspen, whitebark, and lodgepole pines — are dropping dead in holocaust numbers, felled directly by the surge of heat or by insect infestations spawned by it. And this is a mere prelude to the hellfire that’s coming: a regional warming of as much as seven to 10 degrees by the end of this century, bringing permanent drought plains, coastal tsunamis, and widespread human dispersal. “Without a countershift the equal of the Industrial Revolution, we’ll see mass migrations in our grandkids’ lifetimes,” says Steve Running, a renowned ecologist at the University of Montana and a lead author of the United Nations report on global warming in 2007. “Major cities in the West, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, may have to be abandoned as badlands.”
Running is scarcely an outlier voice. “What we’ve seen out here is like nothing on record, and our tree-ring studies go back a thousand years,” says Jonathan Overpeck, the co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona and one of the go-to climate scientists in the country. “The winters are shorter, the snowpacks melt early, and the drying seasons are longer and hotter, which leads to terrible wildfires and tree death. One of the many things that worry me, as the heat increases, is that this region becomes a second Outback. Already, our water supply is severely strained, and with decade-long droughts like the one we’re in now, it’s hard to see how we’ll avoid it.”