We have a major storm going through the Carolinas. The pattern of far more dangerous storms is getting harder to ignore so it is time that we once again speak of climate change. Many consider this a slightly disgusting practice. Like after mass shootings we are repeatedly told, this is not the time.
People have died. So far we have fourteen confirmed fatalities. Likely we are going to have more. Rescues are underway as I type, and the waters are still rising. Some rivers are not expected to crest until next week. So be it. Call me uncouth, but it seems we need a serious intervention.
Let’s be clear about this. The specific storm of the hour was not predicted by climate scientists. Why? What we are watching is weather, and none can predict a particular storm ten years in the future. Technology allows us to teach them very well, and warn people in the way. That is helpful to lessen deaths and injuries. It will not stop the property damage. To do that, we need to build for the storms. We need to mitigate the damage. We need to adapt to climate change, and we need to switch from fossil fuels to another energy source.
We have known that we will get more storms of a lifetime. We will also get more firestorms, droughts, winter storms. In other words, we will get more extreme weather. This is in many reports, including g the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are conservative in their predictions. In fact, the weather is becoming more extreme faster than predicted.
The irony is that in 2012 the North Carolina Legislature passed a law forbidding climate mitigation, which on the surface should make all of us shake our collective heads. The Carolinas will lose coastline to ocean rise. People will be forced to move away, or learn to swim.
But in 2012, state lawmakers responded by saying these studies could not be used for forecasts, arguing that the science wasn’t solid enough to justify laws that could change property values. A Republican-led legislature pushed a bill that said projections for rising sea levels could only be based on historical data, rather than newer studies predicting problems for the future.
Republican State Rep. Pat McElraft, who sponsored the bill, said at the time that studies of rising sea levels “used one model, the most extreme in the world.”
”They need to use some science that we can all trust when we start making laws in North Carolina that affect property values on the coast,” she said during a floor debate about the bill.
It was not just North Carolina. This denial of scientific facts, which incidentally cares not if you believe in it or not, is affecting government across the Southeast. Governor Rick Scott of Florida has had his doubts. Oh never mind Irma left death and destruction and was more dramatic. This opinion piece summarizes the issue well.
South Floridians know the floodwaters that more frequently overtake our roads and threaten our homes are a bipartisan problem that cannot be ignored.
Yet during his two terms in Tallahassee, Gov. Scott has done nothing to address the problem. Instead, he looked the other way as incentives to use alternative energies, like solar, were eliminated. And he reportedly prohibited his staff from using the words “climate change,” “global warming” and “sustainability.”
There are other examples of this. It is bad policy mixed with denial and large donations to campaigns from big donors. Part of the reason for this denial is that some of these states, hint Texas and Louisiana for example, rely on fossil energy for their economic well being. Their economies should have started diversifying away from the current energy sector, but they have not. A sudden change in the economy means potentially an economic recession. Some oil and other energy workers will have trouble transferring their skills. In some cases, income will drop anywhere from one third to two thirds. These are sudden shocks to economic life
These transformations of economic life are not unprecedented. But they leave a lot of people behind. They also point to how flexible countries are. And also how much they are willing to change. When oil emerged the US adopted gas for the navy. In time they were able to get longer ranges because oil is far more efficient than coal. The British navy did not. They were still dependent on the coal stations where their ships had to pull in more often. This also led to new technologies for the American navy and innovation. At this point the innovator is China. They are not just expanding renewables, but doing a lot of research into the new battery technology that will lead to stable electric grids that rely on renewables. That will allow them to develop an industrial society not fully dependent on carbon and fossil fuels. Incidentally, the first place you will see them is in your electric vehicles Paul Kennedy described this process in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. We are undergoing a similar process.
This is one reason why many of these Republican states have resisted this inevitable economic transformation. And then there is libertarian ideology. If the market is a god, and property is sacred, then we should understand that leaving the oil in the ground means that property becomes worthless. Also, thinking about future generations takes away from the present. Most Libertarians cannot think about their children, let alone those who have yet to be born. This ideology is big in these states. So is a very anti-science and facts ideology. These are people still arguing over whether evolution is real (it is). And in some cases even deny the effectiveness of modern medical care, assuming you could afford it.
Then there is the prosperity gospel, part of libertarian thought. Many of these people believe God would never allow for the destruction of the Earth. He promised this story of Noah. And if you believe the Bible is true, which many do, God did promise Noah this. However, God did not tell Noah that humans could not destroy the Earth. Neither did he promise to save us from our own folly. We are destroying the present and the future. Nobody will save us, but ourselves.
For the moment we are up to fourteen confirmed dead. The death toll is expected to rise. Areas in North Carolina that never flood are flooding. “Florence” is moving slower than a human walking, and dumping water like there was no tomorrow. We expect these monsters to become more frequent. Science has told us this. We should avoid acting surprised. In time, areas of the Carolina coast will be under water and will have to be abandoned. We already saw climate refugees with Katrina, and Alaska
Expect to see more storms of a lifetime. Expect more frequent thousand year floods. Expect for present and future planning to require mitigation and migration. Also in time we should change the energy basis of our economy. All these will happen faster than most people expect. There is a good chance that areas of the United States that resist this will see more climate refugees. We already have. Not everybody went back to New Orleans. However, the Southwest might become uninhabitable. Phoenix might become a ghost town by 2050 for example
However, there are some who think they are superior because we told you so makes them feel good. They feel that these Republicans, red states are getting what they deserve. We all will because climate change does not discriminate. The data we already know could care less if you believe it is factual, or not. That said, a little empathy could go a long way in getting an intervention. Telling people, you got what you deserve, is not going to help. but we need to get political leaders to stop following faith-based policies and enact fact-based politics.
Incidentally, we also need to remove a lot of money from politics.