It’s Dark and Earth is Hot
Yes, this is a post on Climate Change, known less euphemistically as “Global Warming.” In case you’re wondering at this juncture why a post on climate change would show up within this blog’s (loose) nebula of topics, don’t worry: the hook is coming. But first I need to clear the air about the issue at the heart of this piece.
To start: climate change is real, at least partially attributable to carbon emissions, and as such is at least partially attributable to human activity. That’s about as close to fact as we can get without the Earth (or God, or whatever) opening up and telling us Herself. Sure, there remains a tiny sliver of scientific doubt as to if emissions cause climate change, but there also exist tiny slivers of doubt as to whether gravity exists or if you’ll phase through your walls next time you switch the lights on. Whatever real “doubt” there is as to our role is mostly manufactured by politicians and businesses that have a financial interest in maintaining the status quo. Deal with it. If you don’t believe in our role in climate change, perhaps it’s time to find an old wooden wardrobe and go off cavorting with Mr. Tummus. Please do so now before you waste your life reading anymore of my words.
Now, to really begin. Climate change and its effects are important to me from a personal perspective, as you may be able to tell from the above paragraph. Many in my family still farm, and for decades many have depended directly on the weather to survive. I grew up knowing intimately the consequences of drought or too much rain and I still nod my head and smile when I “smell rain” after a long dry spell. Hurricanes regularly ravage my state, and my home town was completely flooded and much of it destroyed when Hurricane Floyd passed through in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Dennis in 1999. Fifteen years later there are people that I know still living in crumbling FEMA-rented trailers in the ruins of small towns destroyed by the flooding and drinking well water contaminated by those floods.
It is this personal perspective that informs both my social and political perspectives. In the wake of the Obama administration and the EPA’s series of proposed rules limiting emissions from power plants in what would sadly amount to our largest salvo against climate change to date, the American public still has a perspective that is stubbornly disconnected from the potential realities of a hotter planet. While most do favor certain laws like these, the true threats of climate change are seen by most individuals and businesses as diffuse risks without ascertainable or “real” effects beyond a few turns on the thermostat. By and large, the populations of the developed world have not had the perspective to grasp that climate change represents perhaps the most striking threat to social justice and equality of our time. It represents a looming apocalypse of sorts, complete with the cavalier tetrad of Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death, and for many on the margins of society, the apocalypse has already come.
Enter New Orleans, where Katrina caused nearly 2,000 (recorded) deaths in 2005 and caused further waves of disease, violence, displacement, family trauma, and property damage that reverberated across the entire American South as thousands were driven away from their homes. Since then, the areas with the most bounce back have obviously been mostly White, wealthier areas that weren’t hit as hard to begin with and where people had greater agency to escape when conditions got out of hand. Look at New York and New Jersey, where Hurricane Sandy killed 300 people and caused almost $70 billion in destruction. While at first glance it would seem like the region has been resilient and has bounced back well, it’s clear upon closer inspection that the effects were much more severe for poor folks and minorities, with many facing permanent displacement. Even worse, many poor folks and minorities were discriminated against in receiving recovery aid, because we all know that racism is best served as a side dish to catastrophe.
While it’s important to note that Katrina and Sandy were not definitively caused or made worse by rising global temperatures (Aslan is just over there by the mothballs, by the way), we do know that they serve as definite examples of what WILL happen if we blow past the two-degree Celsius “speed limit” under which we can avoid most catastrophic global changes. In addition to hurricanes and coastal plain flooding, we can expect massive droughts, desertification and accompanying famines; desalination and acidification of marine waters and accompanying seafood-related famines; river expansion and delta flooding; groundwater contamination; forest fires; increase in insect-borne and tropical diseases (like sleeping sickness and malaria); and mass extinctions, possibly including our own. That’s the abridged version.
These issues all would mostly affect the global poor and those on the literal and figurative margins of society first. Famine will obviously impact the poor first, as most will be priced out of food markets and left to starve. Many poor small farmers that live and die at the whims of the rains will also either be displaced or will starve. Destruction of freshwater sources will affect the poor most as well, as they already face structural water shortages and won’t be able to pay to import clean water. Death and disease will follow, as disease often follows populations resorting to unclean water. Insect borne-diseases always affect the poor more than anyone else (although there are some genetic saving graces to malaria). Those without the means, knowledge, or agency to escape approaching waters, winds, fires, or deserts will become dispossessed or killed, and bands of starved climate change-related refugees dealing with death and disease will encounter lawlessness and violence as they struggle with people living in fairer lands for remaining resources. What we have is a perfect recipe for those Four Horsemen to rear their ugly heads among the marginalized populations of the world.
Just in case I haven’t quite driven home the points I sought out to address on a global level, the below map courtesy of Vox shows the global risks of climate change by country.
The world’s largest historical contributors to our state of fucked-ness (mostly North America and Europe) are also those least vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Many countries that have just begun the process of industrialization are at the highest risk of famine, rising sea levels, acute disasters, and desertification. And they have already begun seeing the harbingers-the pioneer disasters. The Philippines and Coastal India suffered two of the most powerful storms in recorded history in 2013, displacing millions. After the worst drought in human history in the late 20th century, the Sahel region in North-Central Africa has recently alternated between periods of inhabitable downpours and droughts, and may have been permanently altered into an emerging desert. It’s worth noting that most of the “unrated sovereigns” without a proper estimate of vulnerability on this list are in largely inhospitable deserts or are at their peripheries. These broad country-level effects of climate change interact with regional and local effects of zoning and population/wealth clustering to form a brand new axis of privilege. Instead of socioeconomic status, I posit a new way of thinking about this: socio-climatic status.
It is abundantly clear that vulnerable populations will suffer most from the wanton environmental destruction of the least vulnerable. But the takeaway from this is not the typical response of the belief that this is some unhappy geopolitical accident by which the Western and the rich and the White power structures (and local dominant ethnic groups in some areas) unwittingly screwed everyone else. This is a long, purposeful and ongoing effort at saddling marginalized folks with the costs of bad business. We’ve known about climate change for two decades now, and while it’s charming to believe that we’ve just been lovably slow learners to an inconvenient truth, the fact is that many ideologues and businesses that they protected from the start crafted messages to defend current business practices with the full knowledge of the effects. Even God got involved. The three religions of our power structure, Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Christianity all acted in concert to pull off one of the greatest swindles in history and have placed us in a spot where it may be too late to actually do anything. Belief in anything other than willful and purposeful denial of climate change for decades is either naivete or complicity. The social injustice of our time has already been perpetrated and now we get a couple of Teslas and emissions caps. We should be marching.
Know that this is an endgame. Geographic disparities, area planning and disaster management/planning have long placed vulnerable populations in vulnerable areas. Attempts at colonization and war have long cordoned vulnerable populations into vulnerable areas and have eroded natural defenses against disasters. Overdevelopment, pollution, and overutilization of vulnerable areas have made them more vulnerable. This has been done with knowledge of what’s to come. “Climate change doesn’t exist” is just a dangerous phrase as “Racism doesn’t exist.” And if you still don’t believe me check the maps out below.