Experiencing Shocks: Hurricane Edition

To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a [political] position.

Flooding in Mumbai, India, 29 August 2017

As George Monbiot mentions, mainstream media are hesitant or completely silent regarding the link between this week’s extraordinary weather disasters and climate change (read it here, see interview here).

You’ve probably heard it dozens of times – no single weather event can be attributed exclusively to carbon emissions from human action.


Temperatures at the top of Hurricane Harvey on 25 August 2017

Anthropogenic climate change makes extreme weather events more likely.  This is not a political opinion (I do have plenty of those, but this in itself is not one of them). This is the scientific consensus on how our very complex and dynamic climate system works, and how burning fossil fuels is changing it. Hank Green does a good job of explaining the probabilistic link between extreme weather deluge events (like Hurricane Harvey and the massive flooding in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Niger this week) and climate change driven by carbon emissions.

Naomi Klein had actually given us a useful warning about what to expect from this administration in the face of shocks, back in an April keynote address.*  Her statements remind us that in this time of crisis, it will be important to keep your eye on the Veep:

“Mike Pence is the architect… of the opportunistic response to Hurricane Katrina.”

(I’ve started the linked video where just before she talks about Pence and New Orleans, but the entire talk is full of sparklingly brilliant insights. Do watch it all if you have the time and interest. Okay, now some of this is undeniably political opinion.)

So yes, in the face of immediate crisis, it is essential to focus on humanitarian issues. It’s the human thing to do (see links below).  But we must not let the shock of current events force us into making hasty decisions that will harm even more people in the long term. Nor should we allow it to silence us from saying things that are important to say now, before our window of opportunity to prevent climate breakdown is shattered and boarded over.

Immediate relief to weather disaster victims:

In the longer run, lets-work-the-problem-people-failure-is-not-an-optionwe need to consider what to rebuild, and where and how to rebuild it, very carefully. The current crisis can be an opportunity to use what we know now and make things better.

*Klien is the author of The Shock Doctrinein addition to the classic No Logothe climate crisis response This Changes Everything, and her latest book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, plus one of the leaders who put together the very important Leap Manifesto.

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