Real life disaster

I had a pile of hand sewing to finish this week. My hands had work to do and I needed something to occupy my mind which didn’t require a great deal of concentration. I decided to watch a movie called, “2012: Ice Age.” It’s a preposterous, poorly written, supposed to be scary, apocalyptical film. It should have been classified as a comedy.

Of course, the heros know how to do all kinds of things like build a bomb out of diesel fuel and fertilizer, which just happen to be in the abandoned van they “borrow.” They manage to miss being crushed by massive chunks of ice which plummet to earth all around them, the result of the Air Force trying to blow up an iceberg speeding toward New York City at 200 miles per hour. They fly through impossible conditions (the dad knows how to fly) in a plane they serendipitously happen upon in a garage where they take refuge. Miraculously, they land at the airport in New Jersey, only to narrowly be missed by a jumbo jet taking off from the same runway. Their plane explodes just seconds after they get out and somehow even in the midst of a massive power outage, their cell phone batteries never die. They find another car (with a full gas tank) and somehow manage to run into the daughter they are looking for on the streets of New Jersey and they escape just in time.

Well, let’s just say, the film didn’t win an Oscar.

It seemed ironic, however, as I watched this film that many of the scenes of mass destruction in New York City, looked eerily similar to the newscasts of Hurricane Sandy’s visit to the Big Apple. Of course, the movie had people running in panic through the streets, horrific traffic accidents, and instant temperature drops that froze people in their tracks. The most recent hurricane warnings gave people more time to take cover and the news didn’t show any pictures of panicked mobs in Times Square. However, the pictures of toppling cranes, water rushing into subway tunnels, cars standing in water above the doors, downed trees, blown-in windows and missing roofs could have been footage from a bad disaster movie.

Part of the violence of this storm was coincidence and pure chance. For twenty years or more, however, scientists have been warning us that our warming climate had the potential to produce more violent and unpredictable weather. Meteorologists say this storm was in part caused by an increase in the temperature of the water of the Atlantic Ocean, the result of the warmest summer and fall on record. Scientists have tried to explain that while weather and climate are not exactly the same thing. James Hanson, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, explains global warming as loading the dice and increasing the chances on each throw that these kinds of extreme weather events will happen. While this may have been an isolated weather event, the conditions which made it possible, very likely are the result of global climate change.

The economic costs of this storm are staggering. The human costs from the island nations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica to the city of New York cannot be measured. Even with insurance and the assistance of the Red Cross and the government, it will be difficult for individual and families to recover. For those who have no insurance and who fall through the cracks of assistance, recovery is nearly hopeless.

If scientists are right and this kind of storm becomes more frequent, how will we fix the damage caused? Insurance companies have already raised rates because of past disasters and in anticipation of future events. The Red Cross can’t keep up. There are people who have been trying for decades to recover from floods, hurricanes and wild fires across the country. Many residents on the Gulf of Mexico have been struggling to get back on their feet since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, even though our federal government spent at least $95 billion in disaster relief for that storm alone.

We spend a tiny fraction of that amount in preparing for disasters. We are personally even less willing to change our lifestyle or our dependence on energy derived from greenhouse gas producing oil and coal.

Scientists have warned that unless we decrease the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million (we’re currently at 393 ppm) within this century, our planet’s climate will be changed forever. There is debate about what that future will look like, but there is little debate about the need to make some changes. If, in the next 50 years, we burn all the oil and coal we can now access and which is held in reserve by oil and coal companies around the world, we will raise the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to well over 500 ppm. At that level, the earth’s climate change will not be reversible.

The world’s wealthiest will be able to adapt and to rebuild after repeated disasters and warming weather. The world’s poor will have a harder time. It is the poor who will starve because of drought and rising food prices. It is the poor who are washed away when their huts disappear in floods and mudslides. It is the poor who walk to escape spreading famine only to find borders closed to them.

This is not a radical fringe issue, promoted by environmentalist extremists. It should not be a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a real problem, an economic issue, and a moral one. It is an issue of conserving the earth for our children and grandchildren.

Why are those running for public office in this state and in the nation afraid to take it seriously?

Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains