As I read a recent headline in The Atlantic “The US is on the Path to Destruction” I realized once again that climate change is truly an existential threat.
“Climate change is killing Americans and destroying the country’s physical infrastructure. The federal government spends roughly $700 billion a year on the military. It spends perhaps $15 billion a year trying to understand and stop climate change. I thought about those numbers a lot last week, as I tried to stop my toddler from playing in ash, tried to calm down my dogs as they paced and panted in mid-morning dusk light, tried to figure out whether my air purifier was actually protecting my lungs, tried to understand why the sky was pumpkin-colored, and tried not to think about the carcinogen risk of breathing in wildfire smoke, week after week. The government has committed to defending us and our allies against foreign enemies. Yet when it comes to the single biggest existential threat we collectively face—the one that threatens to make much of the planet uninhabitable, starve millions, and incite violent conflicts around the world—it has chosen to do near-nothing. Worse than that, the federal government continues to subsidize and promote fossil fuels, and with them the destruction of our planetary home. Climate hell is here. We cannot stand it. And we cannot afford it either.”
Most people tend to associate climate change with weather disasters but it also impacts infectious diseases, thus even the pandemic is related to climate change. Droughts affect not only wildfires they also impact food and water supply. If we don’t do something to address human induced climate change (fossil fuel usage and land management) we will face worsening feed back loops which will (if haven’t already) make it impossible to slow the increased rate of climate change. When I recently read in the news that China announced it would eliminate fossil fuel usage by 2060 and California will sell only electric new cars by 2035 I wondered, “Do we still have 15 or 40 years to do what we should have done 30 years ago”?
Earth’s climate has already changed and sadly the ramifications have become a reality of “hell” for many. During the next decade we are going to experience a faster pace, more severe disruptions and worsening impacts. We must address climate change now and it can’t matter which political party is in power or which form of government a nation chooses. Governments around the world will be severely constrained by increasing rates and severity of climate related disasters. There will be far too many people who must migrate, communities who desperately need food, water, and resources just to live let alone to rebuild. Weather disasters will continue to strike everywhere and we are all in danger.
It may seem to some that the cost of recovery is small compared to our country’s GDP, but “economic growth is not a proxy for well-being, and natural disasters like hurricanes destroy lives and wealth even if they don’t make a huge dent in the nation’s economic output.” Money spent on stocking up for a storm or property repairs afterwards may boost gross domestic product in the short-term, but it comes at the expense of discretionary spending households would have chosen instead. And there are the long term consequences of living in uncertainty, feelings of panic when the alerts or warnings go out, worrying that you will have no place to go when danger approaches, or have the finances to once again recover. And there is the stress of having to deal with insurance claims or government programs that are supposed to make you whole again but rarely do. The true cost of living during this time of weather disasters and climate change cannot be measured in dollars alone. Disasters not only have physical consequences they also impact mental health.
Wall Street investors may not see a problem from weather disasters, as long as the US economy keeps chugging along why should we change anything? This helps to explain why US politicians and corporations aren’t in a hurry to address climate change, to work harder to move people and assets away from high risk areas, and why we continue to rebuild in the same areas. The damage to our social fabric is less obvious but it’s there if you look carefully. The impact of hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and heat waves are obviously much more devastating for people who have no savings, who may be undocumented, or who are already living on the edge of poverty. They are also devastating for those who have the financial ability to move temporarily and to pay for insurance and repairs. The pandemic, even more than than the Great Recession, has pushed many Americans over into financial collapse.
Government bailouts add many trillion dollars to the US debt, a bill that will paid by our grandchildren and even great grandchildren. How much debt can we ever hope to repay and at what cost of ignoring other needs of society? Racial discrimination is at a boiling point in our country with protests and riots in major cities. Black people are being killed during routine police stops and police officers are being shot sitting in their car. We are living in dangerous times and with the election barely more than a month away one can only hope that afterwards some semblance of leadership will replace the vacuum that currently exists today.
We must understand that after the election our problems will not go away. If Biden wins his administration will face deep and intractable issues that have been allowed to become open festering wounds. There isn’t a single problem there are dozens and each of them impact and intertwine with others. Unless the Democrats overturn the Republican majority in the Senate the Biden administration will face obstructionism in Congress. And worse, if Trump wins we can expect more of the same divisive leadership, more attacks on long held American institutions. President Trump blames Democratic leaders for the pandemic and civil unrest. He blames forest mismanagement for wildfires (suggesting we should rake up the dead leaves) and questions science rather than his own ignorance.
The current problem with our political discourse is the rise of extreme partisanship, where ideologies have become ascendant and we have stopped listening to each other. Too many people get their news from social media platforms that have become echo chambers where people are feed by design only what confirms their ideology. This places us in a position where we have become susceptible to propaganda that is by design dividing us.
The only way to get past our differences is to agree to disagree, and before we can do that we must once again talk and listen to each other. We must create more space for civil debate, an essential to a healthy democracy. Everyone should question declarative statements because rarely do absolutes exist. All of our ideas need to be viewed as part of a larger picture. America is a melting pot of many cultures, ideologies, and lifestyles. No one solution, no one ideology can be applied in every situation to solve every problem we face.
This is the reality. Climate change is causing weather disasters to become more frequent and damaging. People who are already income insecure are falling into poverty and despair. The transition to a renewable energy economy is taking far too long and fossil energy remains too large a source of pollution in our country. Income inequality threatens our Democracy from within and Communist leaders from without. Democracy is the only way our voice can be heard, the only way our votes for change matter. When oligarchs and autocrats control government, they also control our ability to address our problems. As long as our problems don’t rise to a sufficient amount to challenge the global economy, the financial interests of the wealthy, our problems don’t matter.
We have too many problems that need to be addressed at the same time, too many decisions to be made that require we come together and stop defending political party affiliation. A community that suffers flooding, hurricanes, power outages, wildfires, electricity black outs has more immediate issues with which to deal. In an emergency our personal political beliefs are not important. We can’t control weather disasters, all we can do is prepare for them. We face a future where they will become more frequent and severe. We face a future of epidemics and pandemics, of resource shortages and international conflict. We’ve ignored or denied the ramifications of climate change for too long and done too little to address the risks. If we don’t build resiliency in our families and communities, in our nations…the collapse of our civilization is inevitable.
When the hurricane season approaches coastal US states people prepare. They assemble supplies needed in the event of a hurricane. A national stockpile of supplies may seem redundant to some but it is going to become increasingly necessary to prepare for emergencies. When a weather disaster strikes we need to have supplies and a place of safety to ride out the storm. We need our community leaders to think about long term preparation and our ability to recover from whatever happens. We need to retreat and physically move entire communities to higher ground. Most importantly, we need to help families reduce debt and increase savings in order to deal with economic disruptions caused by disasters and job loss.
My hope is that come November 4th we remember we are ALL in this together, we live in the ‘United’ States of America. We are a democracy first; liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans second. We need to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. “Climate hell is here and we cannot stand it.” Neither can we afford to ignore it.
6 Replies to “Climate hell is here. We cannot afford to ignore it.”
Yes, we have big problems to grapple with, and the temptation is very strong to find someone else to blame for a situation too frightening to bear.
If there is one silver lining to this disastrous year, it is that no one can say that the economy is booming therefore nothing is wrong, everything is fine and let’s continue on our merry way plundering, exploiting and extracting.
We will all have to work harder for a livable world – and not just for us humans. And part of that work will be learning to speak, calmly and yet truthfully, to those humans whose views and mental architecture we find hard to understand.
Ten years ago I gave many presentations on sustainable living, talking about what changes we needed to make in our lifestyle. Someone would ask me “How long do you think we have before collapse?” and I would answer “five to ten years”. And here we are…. I really think we are well on the path to collapse. If, next year, we look back and think 2020 wasn’t as bad as 2021 (or 2022) you can be assured we are fully on the path of collapse. I doubt it will take the 400 or so years it took for the Roman Empire to collapse.
The obituary will be short, the time came, they died to the old ways of being; good riddance. It was time, a terminal disease where humans put themselves at the center of the universe and in doing so have been dead to the world that is alive. To the power of burning illuminated western lands who have shaped our character, inspired our souls and restored our belief in what is beautiful and enduring. I will never write your obituary because even as you burn you are throwing down seeds that will sprout and grow and flower, trees will grow and forests will rise again as living testament to how things survive change. Let this be a humble tribute, an homage, an open hearted eulogy to all we are losing to fire , floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and to the invisible virus that has called us all home brought us to our knees. We are not the only species who lives, loves and breaths on this planet called earth. As we raise a fist full of ash to all the lives that are lost that it holds grief is love how can we hold this grief without holding each other? I will mark my heart with an X of ash, that says The power to restore life resides here. The future of the species will be decided here not by facts but by love and loss. Let us cry everyday like rain on the desert; penned on my heart I pledge allegiance to the only home I have ever known.
Terri Tempest Williams
I hear you, feel you Jody! Humanity is facing some serious ecological debt that is going to have to be paid for by Humanity. This Dog and Pony show is just getting underway! Please let us begin to walk softly on Mother Earth and extend our hands out to our brothers and sisters in compassion. Since everything is a reflection of our minds, everything can be changed by our minds.
Your poetry is exquisite, John. Thank you for a very a beautiful obituary.
Aloha and Namaste
Hi Jody, FYI, as much as I felt that poem in m heart and Na`au, I did not write it. It was written by Terri Tempest Williams. I first heard it on NY Times Daily podcast and transcribed it for you.
Thank you Jody for another great effort at finding the words to capture the import of our current
seemingly intractable division. I keep believing that the Jungian figure ground model will deliver
a comprehensive resolution. But that has yet to come. Said another way that by describing and defining
the situation precisely the solution will become self evident. But that just ain’t necessarily
By way of introduction i have lived through some powerful times, here particularly thinking about
the ten years of horrifying strife starting with the Cuban missile crisis, the killing of the Vietnamese
President Diem, the murder of Jack Kennedy, the killing of Malcolm X, massive street marches and protests,
remarkable legislation to address color discrimination delayed since Reconstruction, five more years of
war in Vietnam with body counts each night on the evening TV news, great swaths of the cities of Watts, Newark,
Detroit and the Bronx burned and destroyed,
then in quick succession the killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the ugly insanity of the
street fighting at the Democratic Convention, the mass lockup of 7,000 in DC stadium without charges, and
the 49 state landslide election of Nixon and his crooked cronies. These events did not begin to slack off until
the publication of the ‘Pentagon Papers’ and public proceedings of the Congressional ‘Watergate’ investigations.
By way of comparison these last 45 years have been relatively peaceful. But we have been sleeping.
Forty years ago when starting out on a two week voyage i realized that i had not brought any books to
get through the time off watch. Reading was a passion when time allowed. The wheelhouse, engineroom,
and galley were manned by competent individuals that did not need my help, or me looking over their
shoulders. So i set out to go through all the lockers on the vessel looking for reading material. The vessel
was 120 feet long, had many staterooms and a large galley
each having many lockers. I found quite a few titles but discovered that most all had been read or were
of little interest, finally coming upon an historical novel named ‘Annapolis’ by William Martin. Although
i was not much of a reader of historical fiction I had grown up through high school and a year at the University
in the great border state of Maryland so i could bring something to it and might learn something too. Little did i know.
This 1975 book described the lives of individuals in two families through the span of time from the original
land grants to the various Calverts and Lords Baltimore in the 1630s through the generations over 300 plus years
down through the Vietnam War. Far from a page turner reading bits and pieces of chapters as time allowed gave the
material time to percolate and clarify.
Like many of the initial European settlements along the eastern coast of the continent the pursuit of
religious freedom was a powerful incentive balancing the hardships to be endured. Initial chapters delved
into the politics of the Catholics and Protestants as personified by members of two families and
ran through the generations for 140 years until the Revolutionary War. Characters from each family were
presented in fair depth as representing the thoughts and feelings of those on each side of the decision to
remain a colony of Great Britain or to secede from the empire and form a new nation.
The narrative continued down through time and focused on specific critical and contentious times in US history:
the War of 1812, the War between the States, the First World War, World War II, and Vietnam. At each of these
inflection points the opposing points of view were given voice by characters from each of the two
families revealing the powerful underlying emotions and beliefs of each side at the time.
I finished the volume unexpectedly unsettled, the protagonists did not win the day, all conflicts were closely
fought, the winning side did not heal the deep rifts, there was no neatly packaged resolution. What slowly became
clear was that we have been a people with deeply divisive and deadly issues since before we were a nation. In this
book history was not just written by the winners, matching childhood stories where the branches of my step-mother’s
family fought against each other during the brutal years of our Civil War.
Over the years some of my passions for justice have tempered, softening some of the hard edged us vs them points
of view. “The humans are at it again” was one way of dealing with it. “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do”.
Neither seem to work all that well. The simple fact is that by framing the issues as only having two sides we all
slide into the situation where even a miniscule majority may “win” but never convince the losing side of the “righteousness”
of their winning cause. The process itself does not work toward a solution or moving forward. It divides. I have an 90
year old uncle who firmly believes that FDR forever changed the nature of our country for the worse, and who has been
biding his time ever since. At the same time the integral roots of American slavery were never rectified by the half
million dead, many so convinced by others of their cause that they marched in ranks into cannons filled with grapeshot.
Although obscured by layers of language I believe that deep wound is central to much of what we are dealing with today.
Similarly the long standing wrongs here in Hawaii have never been addressed.
From what i can see i do not believe that either side has the will, the backbone or the resolve to address the large
issues we are facing: population, climate change, water and food availability, corporate domination
of the government, discrimination and equality issues, and perhaps most of all, education. The central breakdown is
the difference between the founding concepts of equality and democracy (as in one citizen one vote), and the underlying
basis of capitalism where the mantra buy low and sell high rules, and votes are just another commodity. Marginal education coupled with mass media and modern methods of
marketing with widespread use of what can only be called propaganda have led us into a dark corner. I am not without hope,
i have been a fisherman in a vast bountiful sea for a half a century. But am not confident that all of us will begin to work
together anytime soon, or that if we did we could and would really address any substantive portion of these issues, and
even if we did, that we could change the direction of the flow. That said we have no real choice but to try. We can at
the very least begin, the alternative of having our valuable time dissipated by blathering reactionary demagogues and
his mute sycophants and just watching is savage amusement. With that i believe it must be time to get back to work. Keep typing Jody
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