Several times in the last ten years, young people have asked my advice about what they should go into—what profession will allow them to serve the people and see the world? I suggest disaster management. It’s a growth field.
Last week we had an earthquake, this weekend a hurricane. In the normal run of things, New York doesn’t get either. The city shut down public transit for the first time in history and the mayor told people to evacuate low lying areas, but of course most of them didn’t. New Yorkers think they can handle anything.
Americans are like that. It’s the kind of arrogance that comes from not having had a war on our own soil for a hundred and fifty years, a confusion of luck and privilege with natural capacity. It breeds the kind of stupidity that allows you to deny climate change.
We’re going to have a lot of opportunities to show what we can handle in the years to come. Extreme weather is starting to seem normal. New York has already lost spring and autumn; now we move directly from winter to summer and back again, with maybe a week in between instead of three months. How I miss the cold snap of fall, when all of a sudden the air would turn crisp and red leaves would carpet the ground. These days, it just rains all the time and the leaves hang on the trees forever.
They’re calling Hurricane Irene a tropical storm. New York didn’t use to be in the tropics.
The climate is changing. It has probably already changed irrevocably. Last week hundreds of people from the Tar Sands Action project were arrested in front of the White House. They were sitting in to encourage Obama to deny a permit to a 1700 mile pipeline the oil industry wants to run from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline will run right through our best farmland, with endless possibilities for spills and other disasters, not to mention encouraging the continued suicidal use of oil. The anti-pipeline demonstrators got driven out of the news by the very climate change they are warning against, but they’ll be back.
I’d like to believe protests could stop this thing. I feel like we’re in a truck with no driver, going top speed down a catastrophic hill. We have already damaged the planet so much we’d have a tough time saving it even if we changed our ways tomorrow. Since the fossil fuel industry seems to be in charge of most governments, and they and their shills lie shamelessly, and profit is the only motive that makes sense to any of them, where is such a big change going to come from?
It’s going to take a hell of a lot of Tahrir Squares to turn this around, mass occupations of the public squares of Europe and North America, not to mention China and Nigeria and Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, just to make a dent in the way oil greases the wheels of politics.
Is such a thing possible?
Hurricane Irene turned out to be small potatoes as hurricanes go. If it had killed a lot of people, the bible-punchers in Texas would have said God was punishing New York for gay marriage.
Since it didn’t kill anyone here, will they conclude God was rewarding us?
More likely they’ll conclude that climate change isn’t real. And as the driverless truck we’re in barrels downhill, they’ll try to find a way to step on the gas.