Harvey, Irma and The Panic that Never Happened

ON SILENCING THE VICTIMS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Rush Limbaugh continues to be the quintessential walking metaphor for right-wing blather. It’s pretty impressive that the foul wind spewing from his mouth made news even before Irma’s impressive winds kissed our shores. Specifically, Limbaugh has been a global warming denier for his entire career. As Irma approached Florida as a Category 5 hurricane, Limbaugh admonished the left for sowing panic in order to further its nefarious global warming agenda. As evidence, he pointed out how difficult it was to get water when Irma was still days away from landfall. Regardless of his skepticism and cynicism, when the time came, and the projections showed Irma driving up I-95 through the radio host’s backyard, he hightailed it out.

And make no mistake, he was right to do so. Irma was pretty scary. Turns out that the storm track moved west. My family and I, having decided to stay home when it appeared that Irma was going to Limbaugh’s house, found it difficult to leave when it was clear that the Cat 5 menace had shifted its track to Southwest Florida. Marco Island/Naples absorbed the brunt of Irma’s full force. My home, further north, suffered through Category 3 winds, though we avoided the more dangerous surge. We got hammered pretty good.

What didn’t happen, however, was the panic that Rush Limbaugh insisted was being whipped into a froth by the agenda¹ driven Left. If it was the Left’s goal to create panic, the scheme was a dismal failure. Yes, people bought a lot of water, and maybe they could have just filled a bunch of bottles from their tap. Whatever. This hardly constitutes a panic. Instead, what we saw was individuals and communities taking responsibility to prepare for a major storm as best as they could. The day before Irma was to make landfall my wife and I walked around our neighborhood and were pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly our community prepared, even as many people evacuated for fear of a surge. Windows were boarded, loose items were sheltered or strapped down. When Irma struck, there was very little debris flying around my neighborhood other than the usual shorn tree limbs and roofing tiles. Because of this preparedness, property damage was kept to a minimum, and nobody in my community was hurt.

Like Limbaugh, people took the information provided by scientists to help them plan and prepare for the possibility of disaster. Like many families, mine tuned in to the local meteorologists and online sources and paid careful attention to what they told us. By doing so we maximised our potential to weather the storm with the least harm and destruction. A week later, our life is largely back to normal for us. Many nearby communities are still struggling and cleaning up, but things could have been much, much worse had we not heeded the warnings of our scientifically trained experts sharing with us their scientifically gleaned information.

So, the larger story is more metaphorical. One can be skeptical of and deny reality as described by science for only so long. Reality, however, eventually asserts itself in such a way that it can no longer be denied. Rush Limbaugh could deride the left for panic mongering all he wanted while he was safe and sound, days away from disaster and selling airtime to his advertisers. At some point, though, even Limbaugh had to accept the scientific reality that he was in danger. Even Limbaugh had to make decisions to secure his property and his family. The same can and must be said for global climate change. We are no longer living in a world where it is reasonable to deny the reality of Global Warming.

The same can and must be said for Global Warming. We are no longer living in a world where it is reasonable to deny the reality of Global Warming and consequent climate change. It is also no longer reasonable to deny humanity’s role in causing climate change by using our atmosphere as a cesspool for carbon waste.

But The Right and their corporate allies will insist that we continue to bury our heads in the sand and continue on a course that is destructive fall all in the long run, but lucrative for some in the short term. It is true that environmentalists use natural disasters like Irma and Harvey to highlight the importance of addressing climate change. Doing so is, unfortunately, necessary in order to speak over the incessant howling of the Rush Limbaugh’s screaming “left-wing agenda!” “Panic instigators!” They and their corporatist cronies who would have us close our eyes to the obvious.

IrmaKatiaJose2
Three major hurricanes in a line. Is this the new normal? If not now, we can predict that it will be. What is our responsibility for keeping the world from becoming this? 

In response to using hurricanes as a backdrop for talking about climate change, the corporate right will point out that no one climate event is evidence of Global Warming. That is a valid point. Climate scientists themselves point this out. However, we are no longer in a global environment in which we have only isolated climate events to stand as evidence of future catastrophe. Irma, a Category 5 hurricane struck the U.S. on the tails of Harvey, a Category 4, striking Southeastern Texas. This is the first time two Category 4 hurricanes have made landfall in the U.S. in the same season. At the same time as Irma, Jose was building to a Category 5 and drifting into the mid-Atlantic. This is the first time in recorded history that we have seen two hurricanes with sustained 150 mph winds in the Atlantic at the same time. This is also the first time we have seen three major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin threatening landfall at the same time. Irma is reported to have released more cyclone energy than twelve normal hurricane seasons combined. Why all of this hurricane activity? Unusually warm waters, as predicted by global warming models, is one certain variable.

 

But this is just hurricanes, and many climate scientists point out that cyclonic activity, by itself, is a poor test of global warming. Have you noticed, however, that it seems that California bursts into flame every year? The Union of Concerned Scientists points out that wildfires have been increasing in number and intensity for the last thirty years as a result of global warming. These fires are encompassing over 16,000 square miles more than should be expected without the influence of global climate change caused by global warming.

If fire isn’t convincing enough for you, how about water. Rising sea levels and increased precipitation are causing more and more communities to be inundated by water. This isn’t just a problem for coastal cities. Research shows that the Midwest, certainly no stranger to floods, is more likely to experience catastrophic floods as a result of Global Warming.

And if the fires and floods don’t get you, there is the increased the risk of dying from otherwise tropical diseases. Just ten days ago the New York Times reported on the increased spread of infectious mosquitos into areas that they have never been seen before. This is consistent with predictions made from global climate scientists based on global warming models.

Icon Map
Source: NCDC.NOAA

Look, it would take too long to recount the litany of evidence that is right before our eyes validating Global Warming as an impending nightmare. Dying coral reefs. Melting permafrost. Big chunks of ice falling off of Antarctica. The opening of the Northwest Passage. Oceanic acidification. Increasing heat waves. 2017 was already on track with a record high number of billion-dollar catastrophes (see image) before hurricane season even started. Now we have another tropical storm that will certainly develop into a hurricane on a possible track for Florida, with a developing tropical depression after that.

 

The evidence is clear and becoming clearer. Global Warming is happening and the prognosis is becoming increasingly dire. Yet the American Right would have us do nothing, condemns those who suggest that maybe we should address this looming catastrophe as sowing panic and conspiring toward some socialist agenda. In the meantime, we can see for ourselves that individuals and communities are devastated by these weather events. Societies are already being torn and we are seeing the first vanguard of climate refugees building at northern borders.

The available science, with the evidence right before our eyes, was enough to make even the skeptical Rush Limbaugh leave his home for higher ground. His response was perfectly reasonable, and it is not my intention to fault him or to insult him for doing so. His actions, however, are an indication of his mindset.

The same logic applied to responding to impending hurricanes, however, must be applied to the even bigger long-term threat of global warming. As with Hurricane Irma, or Harvey or with the possibility of Maria, global scientists and activists are not trying to sow panic or to politicize natural disasters. We are trying to get people to use the same discernment used in the face of Irma and Harvey to deal with our changing climate.

However, there are those who have an agenda and are willing to politicize natural disasters to promote their nefarious goals. They are folks like Rush Limbaugh and the corporate lapdogs of the right. It’s clear that such people are not ignorant of the science. After all, they know when it is time to get out of Dodge based on scientific data. They just don’t care when the impacts are longer term and not necessarily in their own back yard. The best example of this is the oil giant Exxon. As early as 1977 Exxon’s climate scientists had determined that burning fossil fuels would lead to global warming and climate change. Instead of acting on this science, however, Exxon sat on the report and even funded groups like the Global Climate Coalition to shed doubt on the growing scientific consensus of the 1980’s.

So let’s extend the metaphor. Let’s say that meteorologists learned that Irma was on its way, but instead of reporting this they decided to keep the information to themselves. If any other organization tried to warn people about the impending hurricane, this insidious group of meteorologists did everything they could to silence this movement. They accused the hurricane warners of alarmism, trying to sow panic to further their environnazifeminist socialist agenda.

Of course, regardless of politics and rhetoric, Hurricane Irma would have struck, and we would not have been prepared. Potentially thousands would have died, suffered injury and the property losses would be exponentially worse.

If such a situation happened, would it not be fair to characterize those who were negatively impacted by the hurricane as victims of the meteorologists’ deception? This is true despite the fact that even after being warned there were casualties and losses, so it is impossible to discern which losses would have been caused by the meteorologists and which losses would have happened regardless. No. We would blame the meteorologists for ALL losses under these circumstances.

It may be impossible to know for certain if a particular storm was the result of or made worse by global warming. However, we are at the point with regard to climate change where it is certain that severe climate events overall are becoming more common and destructive. At this point, those who suffer from catastrophic climate events must be considered victims of the pro-corporate propaganda machine designed to deny reality in the face of science. It is clear that central figures in global warming denial, for the most part, know better, but are willingly and knowingly perpetuating a deadly scam.

And if we are to recognize the victimhood of those harmed by climate change, then it is also time that we hold the victimizers, namely the carbon-based industries and their public relations structures, lobbyists, pundits and political lap-dogs, accountable for the crimes that they are committing. These are criminals acting on a scale never before seen in the history of the world. The costs of their criminality may be civilization itself.

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  1. I’ve never been clear on what this agenda is. It must be pretty big, as the global warming conspiracy as inferred by the right incorporates almost every single climate scientist in the world. What is the end game?

 

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