Friday, September 09, 2005

wide awake in america

As was to be expected, despite similar events elsewhere in the world and uncannily accurate warnings it would happen to them some time soon, it takes a major event on home ground to awaken the American popular consciousness.

Hurricane Katrina seems to have really opened up debate on climate change in America. Or, more accurately, ended the 'is it?' debate and moved it on to 'what do we do about it?'

Climate change is not on the way, it is already here. Mark Lynas' superbly researched book High Tide gives all the evidence you need to be frankly terrified.

Of course, climate change can't be said to have specifically caused Katrina, but the analogy that's commonly cropping up is of 'loaded dice'. If you load dice so that sixes come up twice as often, you never know whether one particular six-throw was a 'natural' one or due to your loading the dice. But you can be sure that you'll be seeing a lot more sixes in future.

My thanks to Gyrus for the nudge to this article from America about Katrina, climate change and its inter-relatedness with poverty and security.

The Debate Is Over

That's Katrina's most important lesson: the time to debate whether or not to act is over. That debate's history, like the Berlin Wall. Katrina flattened it. In the aftermath of Katrina, we can no longer scruple self-interest masked as caution, short-sightedness masked as responsibility, and lies masked as patriotism. To see the pictures and hear the stories coming out of New Orleans is to know one thing: whatever moral credibility professional environmental "skeptics" once claimed is as shredded as the Superdome roof.

We aren't trying to build a bright green future because we have nothing else to do. We aren't scrambling to reinvent our industrial civilization because we're bored. We aren't working for a more just global economy for kicks. We aren't fighting for democracy and human rights and good global governance in order to have something to talk about at parties. We aren't ringing the alarm sirens over global warming because we like the way they sound.

We're doing all these things because the future of our planet is at stake. People's lives are at stake, millions of them.

We're doing them because we knew Katrina, or something like it, was coming, just as we know now that more Katrinas are on their way. The world is unsustainable. That which is not sustainable does not continue. Katrina just showed us precisely what that means.

The article is followed by some excellent discussion in the comments section, including;

All of this was true in 1991, when floods killed over 130,000 people in Bangladesh. It was true last May, when over 2,000 died in floods in the Caribbean, earlier this month when floods killed over 220 in Maharashtra State in India, and yesterday when floods from Typhoon Talim killed at least 84 people in China.

It's also true that climate disruption can't be shown to "cause" any one storm. There's a difference between "climate" and "weather". We can't ask what event "causes" the water cycle, and we can't assert that greenhouse gasses "caused" Katrina. We need to think differently, to learn to see past linear "cause-and-effect", billiard-ball filters. As my brother, a climate scientist, says, "The weather is still a crap shoot - but we're loading the dice."

We also "load the dice" when we strip land of forests, wreck mangroves and reefs, pave over land in relentless sprawl, and fill wetlands for quick profit. We load the dice when we ignore abject poverty and its ensuing desperation. We load the dice when we pretend that "growth" will solve our problems, when all it's doing is making them worse.

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