There’s no way of knowing for certain whether Hurricanes Irma and Harvey would’ve been as destructive had it not been for the climate crisis, as Al Gore calls it. At the very least, however, these and other similarly monstrous weather events are surely a preview of what we can expect from the crisis in the very near term: increasingly severe weather, more floods, more catastrophic losses and frustratingly little by way of a movement to do anything to mitigate the root causes of the problem. Even this article, for what it’s worth, won’t be as widely read and shared because the crisis seems frustratingly inevitable.
Along those lines, it’s difficult to resist the instinct to feel utterly hopeless and cynical. We’re in it now, and a frustrating lack of political will mixed with public apathy or outright denial has completely stymied what should’ve otherwise happened years ago: an effort of the magnitude of the Apollo program to find affordable, clean, renewable energy sources while rapidly killing off entrenched yet archaic polluters. But we’re not a prevention nation. We’re a self-indulgent one. We’d rather continue our bad habits while finding ways to ease the side effects.
For example, rather than eating right and exercising, while supporting efforts to improve our food supply, we’d rather pop a few Lipitor to reduce our cholesterol, or a Nexium to reduce the acid reflux. Modern living, at least in the United States, now orbits around nearsightedly addressing discomforting symptoms, but very seldom do we make the effort to tackle the root causes of our discomfort. Why? Because it’s too hard, and we want what we want whenever we want it. Let us eat crappy foods and over-indulge — we’ll just take a pill to make sure it doesn’t kill us. Problem solved!
So it will be with the climate crisis.
As weather events stack up, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the primary method by which America will deal with the effects of the climate crisis is to figure out ways to comfortably live with it, rather than making any sort of sacrifice to engage in the hard work of solving it.
The Trump administration will be viewed by historians, scientists and citizens of the future as representing a major and critical step backward in our advance toward a series of policies that will stop and even perhaps reverse the root cause of the crisis.
First, EPA director Scott Pruitt told the American people last week: “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced. To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida.”
In addition to hiring the EPA’s arch-nemesis, Pruitt, to run the agency, in addition to Trump believing the climate crisis is a Chinese hoax, and in addition to withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, Trump’s Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert told the press on Monday: “We continue to take climate change seriously, not the cause of it, but what we can see right now.”
What this means, specifically, is that we’re in the midst of an era when mitigation of the symptoms, rather than mitigation of the causes of the climate crisis are taking priority. And this is horribly bad news, chiefly because the American posture on climate will be to simply let it happen while prepping for the consequences.
Rather than foregoing our big cars, wasteful home energy habits (which account for 10 percent of carbon emissions), our gluttonous consumption of beef and other corporate agricultural products (accounting for another 10 percent of all carbon emissions) or our resistance to new public transportation infrastructure spending, Americans will likely embrace other more convenient, hassle-free solutions.
What’s already being called the “climate change adaptation industry” is predicted to reach profits in the tens-of-billions annually in the coming years, according to a research firm known as Environmental Business International. The EBI reported: “The question isn’t whether this industry is going to explode, but by how much.”
- Businesses are manufacturing the next generation of levees and sea walls to hold back the ocean. In both Louisiana and New York City, more than $20 billion is being invested to stop the rising tides of the climate crisis. One company is marketing “invisible flood walls” that can be rapidly installed for the low, low price of $100 per square foot. Why? Well, partly due to the fact that coastal residents don’t want to abandon their beachfront properties.
- An outfit called US Air Conditioning is working on a global warming marketing strategy to sell more HVAC units. The CEO of the company, John Staples said, “The hotter it gets, the more your business increases.”
- Corporate Agriculture giants like Monsanto will rake in a fortune on producing seeds that are resistant to extreme temperatures, disease, pests and drought.
- Speaking of which, companies like Oxitec are already releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to prevent the spread of diseases like dengue fever, which could reach epidemic proportions due to the climate crisis.
- Water supply-based hedge funds? Oh yes.
- Insurance companies will get away with charging customers higher premiums for natural disaster-related coverage. Private fire-fighting companies will pop up in wildfire-prone regions. Hell, there’s even talk of building floating cities.
There are literally hundreds of new and modified industries that will emerge in order to allow us to coexist with the climate crisis without sacrificing too much of our lifestyle in the process.
Now, sure, insofar as the impact of the climate crisis has already begun, we need to protect ourselves. No one wants to be washed away in a flood, or to die from heat exhaustion or dengue fever. However, if a Manhattan Project or Apollo-style program was in place to solve the root causes of the problem concurrently with investments in adaptation, the need for spiffy new sea walls or industrial-strength energy-sucking air conditioners might be temporary rather than the accepted norm for life on this planet for another millennium.
We used to be a nation that could solve big problems. Yet this generation of Americans is mostly focused on avoiding the big problems with quick, convenient fixes designed to retain our indulgences. And one way or another this big problem is shaping up to brutally screw us as a species, no matter how many sea walls we build, because in the final analysis, the planet will ultimately survive and recover. Human beings, on the other hand…
As I’ve been saying about all things related to the Trump era: I hope I’m proven very, very wrong on all of this. (Thanks to Cade Parian.)