Nov 4, 2012
Whatever “natural” causes led to Katrina and Sandy, the crass enormity of the destruction reflects decisions made by human beings.
For decades the best scientific researchers have predicted exactly these kinds of storms as one of the consequences of global warming. But that research has been ignored and even denigrated.
No one can say, of course, that either Katrina and/or Sandy were caused directly by global warming. But the climate change already documented will produce storms like these – and worse.
Research into weather patterns, coming from a range of fields, has shown that the earth is getting warmer, and it’s getting warmer, faster. Gleaning large amounts of information about past weather patterns, scientists have constructed models of what we can expect in the future: much more severe storms, and many more of them; much heavier rainfall in some areas, more snow and ice in others, and wider drought in still others, with destruction of agriculture. The melting of the global ice masses, already well documented, will lead to higher sea levels and encroachment of the seas into coastal areas – sometimes catastrophically.
These are not just idle speculations. They are predictions made in the way that science must always look to the future – by analyzing as much data as possible from the past, then try to follow the patterns in the data to see where they lead.
The scientists who worked on these models can be wrong in some details, but there is no doubt about the kind of problems that global warming holds for human society.
Some people, of course, prefer to be ostriches – can’t live unless they have their heads buried in the sand. And there will always be some right-wing ideologues who pretend the earth is flat, or that it was “created” four thousand years ago.
But that’s not the reason that the scientific research into global warming and its consequences has been pushed aside. To deal with climate change and its increasingly disastrous results would eat into the unending drive for more profit.
To deal with climate change would require a re-ordering of society’s priorities. Decisions would be made based on the best knowledge we now have of how to alleviate the immediate effects of climate change, and how to reduce that change. Companies would not be allowed to organize production in ways that led to human harm – either directly in the workplaces or in the long term impact on life.
But that would cut seriously into profit. And capitalism has never made decisions, no matter how necessary, that would seriously reduce wealth for the tiny handful of profiteers who today hold humanity in their grasp.
Even in the short term, decisions would be made far differently than they are today. The social catastrophes connected with Sandy and Katrina show that much more funding should go into public services, emergency services and infrastructure such as levees and sea wall barriers. Instead, for decades, government has been busy handing over more money to big capital, while cutting services society needs to confront disasters.
Utilities would hire more people, not lay them off; they would upgrade equipment to protect it from storm surges that have long been predicted. But that would cut into profit.
Symbolic of capitalist society’s priorities, Wall Street drew on public resources so trading could resume – even while survivors and bodies were still being looked for on Staten Island.
Emergencies, by definition, are sudden. But they are not unexpected. And a rational society would prepare for emergencies, knowing that preparation can be the difference in life or death when a storm like Katrina or Sandy hits.