Climate Change and Hurricanes

Photograph Source: Roosevelt Skerrit – CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you remember last summer’s gang-of-five? Known individually as Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria, a strangely mellifluous invocation of the deluge (or a diluvian mantra), the climatological spawn of cyclogenesis (the spin cycle in the South Atlantic) they collectively represented the most powerful group of hurricanes in over a hundred years. They were part of a train of such events in 2017, which totaled, at the time of writing, eight Atlantic hurricanes – the-hateful-eight - an unprecedented cyclogenetic sequence. Their combined death toll is conservatively estimated at over five hundred people with property and infrastructure damage low-balled at 200 billion dollars.

Bruno Latour, the French sociologist and anthropologist writes, in Facing Gaia – Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime, 2017, “In the Anthropocene, how can the state maintain that it has a monopoly on legitimate physical violence in the face of the geo-historical violence of the climate?” These weather events now terrorize the state and as we become increasingly subject to anthropogenic phenomena – those characteristics of climate that we believe are acting out of humankind’s historic and present burning of fossil fuels –we anthropomorphize their impact. Wild fires rage, threaten and ravage; hurricanes bear down, hit and devastate. Their actions deriving, we understand from the frantic reporting of them, not from a set of climatological beginnings but devoted to the terrorizing of the human beings in their path – fire, flood and wind marked by a teleological stripe as wide as the swathe they purposefully cut through civilization. Either way, it’s all about us. We have created these vaporous monsters, these flowers of evil - their whirling florescence stunningly captured in satellite imagery - that can only survive in the hot-house of an anthropocentric world. Their evil is the evil that men do, their monstrousness mirrors ours. It is we who have turned the page of geologic epochs to the one named the Anthropocene.

The fight to reduce CO2 levels to diminish global warming remains the central field of operations in the global climate war that was enjoined some decades ago. Capitalism and its enabling political environment of neoliberalism are locked in battle with a growing army of opinion (scarcely yet reified as action) that suggests that planetary health would be better served by a dramatic re-visioning of our hegemonic anthropocentrism towards an enlightened co-existence with other life-forms. As the world warms, this new Cold War is fated to get increasingly hot. It is a war between the Moderns - those living out the scientific rationalities of the seventeenth century and who still formally exist within the Holocene, a geological epoch characterized by the geomorphic changes signaled by the end of the last ice age and the subsequent advent of agriculture - and those whom Latour calls the “Earthbound of the Anthropocene”, populations alive to the geologic epoch which takes account of humankind’s impact on geo-history and which embrace a world suffused with animism.

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John Davis is an architect living in southern California. Read more of his writing at urbanwildland.org  

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