Tag: climate change acceptance

When “Progress” is insanity!

 

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?!

Seasons of Fire & Water

 

Had an heartrending FB conversation this morning with a young friend in Portland Oregon who is mourning the destruction of her beloved Eagle Creek forest by a wild fire set by a group of careless stupid kids. Wild fires, she tells me, are not unexpected at this time of year (the end of the dry season), but this arson is presently burning 20,000 acres and is still out of control!

At the same time, on the other coast of this large country, a category 5 hurricane, Irma, is heading to the Eastern seaboard. The population of Florida is evacuating and has been told that they have until Friday to finish their emergency preparations. Hurricane Irma follows closely after Hurricane Harvey, which caused billions of dollars of damage and created a vast ongoing ecological disaster. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/02/houston-hurricane-harvey-pollution-petrochemical-plants

What I find unsettling about our reactions to these catastrophes is that they are seen as anomalies within expected seasonal occurrences. The extreme weather is being disguised, in a manner of speaking, by appearing where we expect it to appear. As it has been twelve years since a hurricane struck in the Gulf of Mexico, the thinking is that Hurricane Harvey may just be a fluke (and Hurricane Irma? and the hurricane after that?).

Strict no burn rules are in place in Oregon for wilderness that are prone to wild fires. The thinking is that the fire that is consuming Eagle Creek should not have happened; it was simply the result of unsupervised teens throwing firecrackers into the woods…a wood that was as dry as kindling! But what about the lands burning in British Colombia, Portugal, Greenland?!

What is not being understood in both these scenarios is the fundamental role that climate change is playing in both places. Yes, this is hurricane season in the southern Atlantic; but no, the water in that ocean has never been as warm as it is now and never so warm to such a depth which means that the hurricanes forming are going to be of a size and a ferocity never seen before! There may not be a larger number of storms, but they will drop much more water and last much longer.

Equally, in those parts of the world seeing the dry season, the heat is higher and, incrementally, it will be lasting longer and longer which will dry out not only the trees but the soil as well. http://www.ucsusa.org/…/global-warming-and-wildfire.html 

So what I am suggesting is that this is just the tip of the iceberg (a metaphor that may be obsolete in the not too distant future!), and it is important that we do two things: the first is to control our feelings of shock. Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth, available from the library, is a good way to get used to the idea that our environment all over the planet is beginning, and will continue, to get harsher. Just how unsupportive and dangerous it will become will depend on whether we can get out act together to stop using fossil fuels and wasting the earth’s resources.

But as there is no guarantee that we will succeed at this, the second important thing for us to do- and this is the main focus of my blog- is to start to put in place the life style changes that will make us safe in both the short-term and long term. The US Federal government should be a help in this endeavour, but our government is, in fact, an impediment, cutting funding to such vital services as FEMA and the EPA! The state governments are very uneven: some, such as Texas being openly hostile to their people’s needs, and others, like California, being a good resource.

So, regardless, we will want to do what we can as householders to weather the extreme conditions that are beginning to be felt. I am suggesting that we become more proactive. If we know that hurricane season is approaching, emergency supplies should be put in early rather that scrambling to gather them at the last moment. Or, if you are a freelancer or your employer allows it, plan on living somewhere else for hurricane season!

Fire season will be more problematic as it is predicted to finally extend for most of the year. However California has a good emergency program in place for earthquakes: houses are built to be earthquake proof; earthquake drills are an accepted part of life, and evacuation plans are in place. Now substitute wildfires for earthquakes and you get a clear idea of how this would look.

Next post is on what to do to protect yourself from floods; the one after that on what to do in case of fire.

Please comment, especially if you have important information that I have missed. Thanks!