Bill McKibben: Hurricane Ida and the Political Fight on Climate Change

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    • #443511
      • Total Posts: 9,978

      Amid the torrent of news reports and Webcam photos and anguished GoFundMe appeals, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this calamity is the predictable result of simple physics. Hurricanes, as Emanuel pointed out, draw their power from heat in the ocean. If there’s more heat, the hurricane can get stronger. Physics. Warm air can hold more water than cold air can. So in warm, arid areas you get more evaporation, and hence more drought, and hence more fire. Physics. The water that’s been evaporated into the atmosphere comes down: more flooding rainfall. Physics. The earth runs on energy. We’re trapping more of it near the planet’s surface because of the carbon dioxide that comes from burning coal and gas and oil. That energy expresses itself in melting ice sheets, in rising seas, in the incomprehensible roar of the wind as a giant storm crashes into a city of steel and glass. It’s not, in the end, all that complicated.

      You can’t beat physics. That’s the core fact of the twenty-first century. But you can fight it in two ways, both of which involve politics. The first is to make ready. Ida hit land sixteen years to the day after Katrina did, devastating the region, and since 2005 we have worked together as a nation by, among other things, allocating funds to the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the levee system in the metropolitan New Orleans area. So far, the levees have done their job, and the city also has more and better pumps. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is now run professionally—by Deanne Criswell, who used to direct the New York City Emergency Management Department—rather than by somebody who used to run an Arabian horse association.) We have at least a lip-service understanding of who is most vulnerable: poor people and people of color. All of that helps, at least temporarily. (We’ve also obviously got much worse at some things: instead of working together to defeat COVID, we have let ideologues derail too much of the vaccination effort, and so the hospitals of New Orleans were already crammed with people on ventilators as the hurricane crashed ashore.) This is not to say that New Orleans is safe: Ida seems to have spared it the worst, but, even so, a major transmission tower that provides some of the city’s power collapsed into the Mississippi. It’s just to say that we can, working together, improve the odds of surviving the inevitable catastrophes.

      Job one—the making-ready part—might be summed up as: adapt to that which we can no longer prevent. It requires solidarity, which, as Rebecca Solnit has documented, is usually available in the immediate wake of a great disaster: faced with true trauma, we reliably work together to rebuild. But, in this case, we will have to work together across many years (and many elections) to create a more resilient and sufficient society. It’s doable: the new levees around New Orleans are proof of it. President Biden’s infrastructure bill is the next step. The federal government, traditionally, is pretty good at building stuff—or it used to be, before the grasping individualism that now poisons our politics came into fashion. That hyper-individualism was gross forty years ago, when Ronald Reagan was elected on his “government is the problem” platform—and the atmosphere was three hundred and forty parts per million carbon dioxide. Today, with the atmosphere at four hundred and twenty parts per million, it’s suicidal.

      Job two—shutting down the fossil-fuel industry, or preventing that to which you simply can’t adapt—is harder. Because this requires stopping something: the production of fossil fuels, and the wealth that the industry provides, and that task has become steadily harder to accomplish as industries have learned to game the political system. It’s easier for, say, the governor of Mississippi to insist, as he did last week, that “when you believe in eternal life—when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don’t have to be so scared of things.”

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

    • #443668
      • Total Posts: 1,285

      to encounter such a calm, well-reasoned and well-written piece.

      Destruction is easy; creation is hard, but more interesting.

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