Much like a baseball player taking a steady regimen of steroids and then hitting more home-runs, the Earth’s atmosphere has received an increasing amount of energy since we started burning fossil fuels, and the increased power and irregular behavior of the recent hurricanes is one of the results.
After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and now Nate, the places where the storms made landfall are forever changed. There has been so much death, destruction, and suffering in such a short period of time. No one can hold the consequences of these storms in their mind without becoming overwhelmed by the complexity and devastation.
I grieve for the people who have lost their lives or loved ones as a result of the hurricanes. I grieve for the people who lost their homes. I grieve for the pets who were left behind, injured, killed, or lost in the chaos. I grieve for the dead and displaced wildlife. I grieve for the countless people who are going to suffer a lifetime of health problems because of the pollution that infected the air and water as chemical plants, oil refineries, sewage systems, and other infrastructure broke apart. I grieve for the people who will contract diseases like malaria and dengue fever, spread by the mosquitoes that will multiply in the stagnant warm water for months.
There is so much death to grieve, but the story is not over. Rebirth is coming, and in many ways is already here. We are at a critical moment for Houston, Puerto Rico, and the other places that have been forever changed by theses hurricanes – how are we going to move forward?
Instead of re-creating the homes and systems that were wiped out and left people so vulnerable, it’s imperative to take this opportunity to create safer, more resilient communities and systems in their place. It is also imperative to move some of these communities inland because sea levels are rising and storm surge during major storms is getting more destructive.
The common way of building weak dwellings with cheap materials as quickly as possible is no longer morally acceptable. Living on coastlines is dangerous and guaranteed to end in misery. Receiving electricity from outdated and vulnerable energy grids is one disastrous power outage waiting to happen. Assuming that a wastewater treatment plant designed decades ago can handle the 50 inches of rain that Harvey dropped on Houston (or process the new chemicals and drugs that go through its system on a nice day) is naive.
Despite the lack of progress and ignorance of climate (science) denial, I have faith because I believe that the vast majority of us have the ability to imagine, invent, and change our habits. Renewable energy technology is cheaper and more widely available than ever before. There are organizations that set up communities in developing countries with LED lanterns powered by solar. There is another invention called the Slingshot, which is a renewable-energy-powered water filtration system that can clean water on site without complicated chemicals or difficult upkeep. Both of these amazing pieces of technology are being shipped to Puerto Rico as I write this.
Elon Musk has directed some of his attention away from Mars and onto Puerto Rico. He is offering to re-build Puerto Rico’s electrical grid system to run on renewable energy, and Tesla is sending “power-packs” now. If anyone has the mental and financial resources to imagine and create an innovative, resilient energy system for Puerto Rico, it’s Elon Musk. This is the type of work and thinking that needs to be done by as many people and organizations as possible – in Puerto Rico, in other hurricane-damaged places, and ultimately all of the communities that are located on the coastlines. Current systems do not have to be wiped out by a disaster before modernizing them to handle our current climate and weather patterns.
So please grieve the death and destruction that has caused so much suffering for so many people in recent months. Feel your anger at the injustice and incompetence embodied by the current U.S. Administration, and then let that anger go. Because the Earth and humanity need everyone to embrace the rebirth, and find a place to contribute and join in now. This doesn’t mean changing everything about how you live, but it does mean understanding that you are a part of this, changing some of the ways you live, and contributing to the monumental task of adapting to the current material conditions of our world.
The good news is that there is economic growth in this rebirth process. Much like the New Deal, there are jobs to be had and money to be made by creating new infrastructure systems in the United States and around the world. So many brilliant people have painstakingly researched solutions to stabilizing our increasingly chaotic climate, while others have invented amazing technology that can help us adapt to our changing world. These solutions and inventions will save and improve the lives of so many, but we must adopt and implement them, which is the hard part.
It is foolish and reckless to ignore the changes that are happening to the Earth. Climate change is real, happening now, and will continue to increase in intensity over time. Climate change is not the enemy, but it is our reality and requires all human beings, especially those living in Western countries with their basic needs met, to accept it and act in accordance with what they know. The enemy is our inaction.
The government is not going to save us from climate-change-induced destruction. It’s pretty clear that the current U.S. Administration is not capable of leading the coordinated effort necessary to address the impacts of climate change and help citizens adapt to it. But even if the government was up for the job, the huge scale of climate change requires citizens to remain engaged and take personal responsibility for their adaptation.
Death and rebirth make up the continuous cycle of life. My culture likes to pretend that this cycle does not exist, but climate change is calling its bluff. The Earth’s systems are unbalanced on a scale that humanity has never seen before, and she is screaming at us to pay attention through hurricanes, drought, wildfires, and sea level rise. It’s time to step up and act like we are living in a new world, because we are.