I have been glued to my screen, watching the juggernaut that was Hurricane Irma as it overwhelmed Florida. I have a personal interest in this: since I was a baby, Florida was my home for a couple of weeks every winter.
I have memories, from more than sixty years ago, of a lush tropical landscape, with orange juice stands on the corner of the quiet streets that made up Palm Beach and Lake Worth. Palm Beach was, of course, very chic, but Lake Worth was still a sleepy coastal town with motels and small beach homes.
There was a very large and elegant hotel in the center of Palm Beach. It was the only place in town that had a color television set, and therefore the only place where my sister and I could watch Disney’s Christmas broadcast of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. If we missed it, there would be no way to see it again for a couple of years as DVD’s & CD’s had not yet been invented! The point being that life that long ago had a slower rhythm; and instant gratification was barely a blip on the horizon.
Fifteen years later my parents bought a condo in a high-rise overlooking the beach. The beach was still beautiful, and our high-rise was one of the few on the ocean. But the tropical lushness was beginning to be replaced by suburban lawns, malls, and golf courses.
When, thirty five years later, I went down to put my mother in a nursing home (my father having died), she lived in a gated community overlooking (what else?) a golf course. The beach was almost impossible to see or get to, barricaded in as it was by condos. The only bit of the natural world was a nearby small bird sanctuary! The hospitals were getting overwhelmed by the huge numbers of old people who had chosen to retire there; and the roads were bloated six lane highways filled with cars.
And now I see that the coast towns are in the midst of a major building boom (sic!). And Floridians proudly boast that their houses can withstand the winds of a category 4 hurricane (but Irma was category 5 with storm surges that would inundate the homes and wipe out the the bottom floors of the high-rises!).
So before Irma blew in with 180 mph winds and 12 foot storm surges, everybody was told to evacuate. And there everyone was in their cars, with their bottled water, praying that there would be enough gasoline to get them out of harm’s way! It was a bit like watching a fireman trying to put out a fire with a hose full of gasoline! The very things that they depended on were the causes of the disaster they were experiencing.
What I found most interesting in the news casts was not the never ending shots of the young reporters (each of whom must have decided that the risk of standing in the 100 mph winds dodging coconuts and flying construction cranes would make his or her career); nor that there was almost no mention of global climate change as the cause of the ferocity and immenseness of Irma (of course on mainstream news channels that information would not be permitted); but that there was also nothing said about the low-lying coasts of Florida being a very poor choice for commercial or residential or industrial development!
So my question is: why would anyone build, buy a home, or live in a place that will be underwater in fifteen years?! (Miami.) Why would anyone buy a ranch house on a flood plain near the storage centre of petrochemicals that is also due to be permanently flooded?! (Houston) Why would anyone live on an earthquake fault that is due to rupture at some point in the foreseeable future?! Los Angeles?
And it is not just that people are choosing to live in these places, but they are choosing to live there with millions of other people: people who would be evacuating at the same time as you; using the same resources as you; needing the same help as you. Why would you do that?!!
At this writing, 5.6 million people are without electricity in Florida, because no one could imagine that a hurricane the size of Ohio would hit them. And that is the point of this blog: what choices about where and how to live will you need to make as the future is turning out to be unimaginable?!