If we don’t work together right now, things are going to fall apart.

That’s the verdict I take from the calamitous acquittal of the ‘Bundy Seven’ last week in a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon. Unless quickly corralled, the Dogs of Anarchy will shortly let loose in the wide open spaces of the American West to tear apart the delicate fabric of urban-rural, federal-private, and wild-domestic relationships that have been carefully built, acre-by-acre, over the last twenty years. And once Humpty Dumpty is pulled off his wall by these fierce canine teeth, he will never be put back together again.

The verdict doesn’t just apply to the West, of course – it applies to America as a whole. We’re at a tipping point. Either we figure out a way to work together and stay united as a nation, or everything will come undone. It’s not just about economic or cultural divides in America, the forces of dissolution are also being fanned by a deteriorating climate in the shape of ever more frequent fire, flood, and drought. Think income inequality is bad and worth fighting over? Wait until water shortages hit.

Scientists often point to the rapidly warming Arctic as an early warning signal of what’s ahead for the planet physically if we don’t act quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s an equal urgency to what’s happening in the rural West. The breakdown of social norms symbolized in the Bundy acquittal – and likely to be catalyzed by it – must be seen as an early warning signal of what’s going to happen socially and politically to this great nation if we don’t act with equal haste.