It wasn’t very long ago that people would talk about the weather in order to avoid discussing contentious topics like politics and religion. But, like the Black Rhino, those days are long gone. Daily dumping and pumping tons of pollutants into the world, our political economy is now known to significantly influence meteorological phenomena; and the once anodyne subject of the weather has become a highly charged, political one.
In spite of this, mainstream political thought continues to treat environmental disasters, such as the “historic” flooding inundating North America this summer (in Wisconsin, Maryland, West Virginia, and, most recently, in Louisiana and Mississippi), as natural, or inevitable, as opposed to political and economic, events. Indeed, while climate change is one of the most pressing social concerns of all, aside from what Jill Stein has been saying about climate change, serious discussion of the issue is practically absent from the ongoing presidential race. And though recent events, such as the one-in-10,000 year rain storm that inundated Houston, Texas this past April, are widely reported, journalists typically neglect the basic question of why when reporting on what, when, and where the latest ecological calamity struck.
In addressing why one-hundred year storms and floods have been increasing over the past decade, we should consider the biological fact that, aside from trace amounts of ice that ride into the earth’s atmosphere each so often on the backs of meteorites, the amount of H2O in the hydrosphere (i.e., all of the water, ice, and vapor in the world) has been stable for millions of centuries. Yet, while the hydrosphere remains virtually stable, the hydrological cycle (the cycling of H2O from ice to vapor to water, etc.) isn’t stable by any means. As catastrophic hurricanes and floods have been illustrating for years, the water cycle is highly volatile. Rising along with levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (generated by economic production – fossil fuel and meat production and consumption mostly), global temperatures are causing water to evaporate at alarming rates (exacerbating droughts, and desertification, leading to famine and war), as well as causing gigatons of ice to melt (creating floods, among other potentially apocalyptic problems – such as the reanimation of ancient viruses, and the exposure of hazardous waste, that’s accompanying the thawing of arctic permafrost).
In addition to rising sea levels and coastal flooding caused by the expansion of warming oceans (increasing water volume), and the fact that warmer air can hold greater amounts of moisture than cooler air, which leads to greater numbers of powerful rainstorms, melting glaciers and ice sheets are adding vast amounts of water (in terms of mass) to the hydrosphere. According to a recent study, between January 2011 and the end of 2014 one trillion tons of ice melted from the Greenland ice sheet alone. Excluding the glaciers disappearing from the Himalayas and other mountain ranges, and the ice melting in Antarctica, and elsewhere, over one four year period Greenland contributed hundreds of trillions of gallons of water and vapor to the hydrosphere. And where does all of this water go? Among other places, it’s flooding through the streets of Louisiana.
As sub-critical (i.e., hypo-critical) environmentalists like Al Gore and Bill McKibben tell us, the cataclysmic effects of climate change can be ameliorated to some degree by the adoption of solar, wind, and other renewable forms of energy. However, our current problems don’t result from fossil fuels, or even meat consumption, alone. Although it amplifies ecocide exponentially, and needs to be dismantled in order to combat climate change and other harms adequately, by itself even dismantling capitalism is insufficient. Effects rather than causes, capitalism, climate change, and the cannibalization of the planet are all merely symptoms of a still deeper cause – a type of panophobia that leads away from a critical aesthetic toward uncritical anesthetics (such as religion, and the ideology of security), as well as to the tendency to dominate the world, and one another – a tendency that technology does much to intensify, but little to correct. Without addressing these problems, or symptoms, at their root (the Latin radix, from which the word radical derives), new clean, green types of energy will merely fuel the militarism, poverty, xenophobia, and exploitation that characterize the present, biophagous arrangement of the world – an arrangement that’s daily consuming us all.