North Carolina has been hit with a storm of biblical ferocity.
Florence has left at least 17 dead there, 500,000 without power, with flash flooding across the state from the coast to the western mountains. Landslides and infectious diseases are predicted to follow. North Carolina is not alone, of course.
We’ve witnessed the devastation wrought by Katrina in New Orleans, Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Maria is now estimated to have taken 2,975 lives, nearly as many as died on Sept. 11, 2001.
As economics historian J. Bradford DeLong summarizes, the four storms — all in the past 15 years — are among the most damaging in U.S. history. No one storm can be attributed to any one cause. But repeated storms of greater force are the “predictable result” of catastrophic climate change, and they are a mild augury of what is likely to follow.
President Donald Trump has enforced climate denial in Washington. He has systematically sought to repeal even the inadequate steps the U.S. had taken to begin to address the problem. Last year he announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.
He’s geared up to repeal President Barack Obama’s executive orders on energy, climate and gas mileage. He’s opening up more public lands to mining and drilling and weakening environmental restrictions on coal, oil and natural gas, including most alarmingly, restrictions on the release of methane gas from natural gas pipes.
Web pages with climate change information have been removed or buried at the EPA and the Interior and Energy departments. The rest of the world vows to continue to deal with climate change, but with the wealthiest nation in the world scorning the effort, it is certain to be more inadequate than it already is.
Catastrophic climate change is a clear and present threat to our national security. The Pentagon realizes this. It is developing contingency plans for bases around the globe that will be threatened by rising waters and raging storms. Its intelligence agencies warn that climate change will be more destabilizing than terrorism across the developing world.
DeLong offers one snapshot of the threat. Two billion poor farmers toil in the six great river valleys of Asia. Their existence is dependent on the snow melt from the region’s high plateaus arriving at the right moment and in the right volume to support the crops on which the billions rely. Another billion depend on the monsoon arriving at the right time each year.
Now as the planet heats up, the sea levels rise, the polar ice caps melt, so too the snow melt will change dramatically, as will the monsoons and cyclones. The disruption will wreak havoc on billions, forcing dramatic migrations to who knows where. The same is predicted as Africa gets hotter and drier, and desertification continues to uproot long settled peoples.
The effects are already here, visible in the scorching heat experienced across the country, the fires in the West, the drought in the South and the storms in the East. We are seeing climate change with our own eyes. Yes, no one storm or heat wave can be directly attributed to global warming. But global warming guarantees that catastrophic weather events will get more frequent and more ferocious.
Some suggest it is too late. The carbon already in the atmosphere will take us beyond the warming levels that the international community suggested were manageable. We are headed into the unmanageable.
But denial is no answer. Continuing to do more of the same is simple madness. It is not too late to make the wholesale cuts need in greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Michael Mann of Penn State University notes: “It is not going off a cliff; it is like walking out into a minefield. So the argument that it is too late to do something would be like saying: ‘I’m just going to keep walking.’ That would be absurd.”
Trump’s chaos presidency is corrosive and divisive. His impulsive and uninformed decision-making is terrifying. Now on what surely is becoming the greatest threat to our security — indeed human existence, if not addressed — he and the Republican Congress that aids and abets him, are adding fuel to the fire.
Without vision, the Bible says, the people perish. Trump’s blind denial of the reality around us seems intent on demonstrating how true that is.