Burnt vehicles seen in Greenville, California, Thursday as the Dixie Wildfire, the...

Burnt vehicles seen in Greenville, California, Thursday as the Dixie Wildfire, the largest in the state's history, runs through forestlands. Credit: AP/Eugen Garcia

Humans can be silly.

When faced with the inevitable, some of us bluster and fulminate and rail. Confronted by the inexorable, they don't go gracefully into that good fight and waste precious time better devoted to figuring out how to adapt to what's coming. And almost always, we all suffer the consequences.

Reminders arrived again this past week, when the UN released its report on climate change and the delta variant continued its assault on unvaccinated America.

Both were inevitable, both have been contested, both have had high costs that continue to mount.

To be fair, there is an art to knowing what's inevitable and what's not. Sometimes, it's known only in hindsight. And it is human nature to love underdogs and romanticize lost causes.

Fighting inevitability makes for great fiction and sometimes wondrous reality when the inevitable turns out not to be that. This happens most prominently in sports — the 1969 Mets, Giants vs. Patriots in the Super Bowl, the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" when the U.S. beat Russia at the Olympics.

But the stakes are much higher and the losses more consequential in real life, where facts can overwhelm fantasy.

The report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear that human-caused warming is wreaking havoc around the world, with the worst yet to come. The American West is ablaze with fires consuming huge swaths of land, and that's dwarfed by the infernos burning across Siberia. The tourist town of Mendocino, California is pretty much out of water; it's being trucked in now, a warning for much of the Southwest now gripped by epic drought. Hundreds died in the extreme heat wave in late June in the Pacific Northwest. Germany and neighboring parts of Europe are still recovering from record floods last month that killed more than 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. Those are just snapshots in a bulging album, yet too many in and out of government are still too resistant to the changes that must be made to avert worse disasters.

The delta variant, meanwhile, continues to do what viruses do — spread in hosts not armored against them. Four teachers in Broward County, Florida schools — three unvaccinated, the fourth of unknown status — died within hours of each other, 440 students are in quarantine in Palm Beach since school opened Tuesday, COVID-19 cases in children are rising and now are 15% of all new cases nationally, emergency beds are running out in hospitals in several Southern states with low vaccination rates, and countries like Iran with few fully vaccinated people are grappling with huge surges and health care system breakdowns. And yet, too many in and out of government are too resistant to simple adaptations — vaccines and masks — that would protect people and stymie the advance of the virus.

Beyond those, the Census offered a renewed glimpse at a different kind of inevitability, its data confirming the increasing diversity in this country. It's a many-many-decades-long trend, and ought to be accepted and celebrated as one of the sources of this nation's strength. But it reminds us instead of our painful legacy of pushing back against it in both our institutional and individual behavior.

In each of these cases, continued obstinance will cost everyone, whether measured by the economic costs of rebuilding, refortifying and displacing; the human costs of lingering illness, interrupted education and death; or the multitude of costs associated with alienating groups of people instead of embracing them.

Inevitability is one thing. We make it better or worse by how we react to it.

Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.


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