Won't be water, it's fire next time
Along with everyone else in the country, I have been watching the California fire storms with depressing fascination. Unbelievable, we sigh, when they post another figure about the number of evacuees, the number of houses destroyed, the businesses lost. Incredible, we cry, when they pan a neighborhood in which all the houses on this side are smoldering, ashes, while the houses across the street stand unharmed. Looks like Dresden, we say as we watch the flames against the night sky. Looks like Hiroshima, we say as we see the lone, barren tree trunk stark against the brown/gray rubble.
What a boat load of misery.
All those memories, all those mementos, all those pictures, all those things-that-have-meaning. All those things.
Amazing that so few have died.
The situation will, of course, be chattering class (MSN and blog) fodder for a while. Was the response better than the response to Katrina better because we learned something, or better because California is better run than Louisiana? Did the evacuations work because the evacuees were middle class, or because the state had better warning systems in place? Should the National Guard have been in Iraq or back home where they belonged?
Were the fires due to arson or bad luck? Should new homes have been built in locations where - twenty years ago - no one lived and the fires just burnt themselves out, or does it matter?
And, of course, there's the smell of burnt elephant on the table: what, if anything, does climate change have to do with this?
Funny, I was going to post this week on the presumed impact that global warming is having on New England fall foliage. It peaks later, it's not as vibrant, there goes our fall tourist economy. (Good thing people will be streaming in to see our Olde Towne Team play in the World Series.)
I've been out to central New England a couple of times in the last few weeks, and the foliage was, in spots, very pretty. But there's still an awful lot of green, and in Boston it looks (and feels) like mid-September. (There have been some days this month when it felt like mid-August.)
But who's going to gripe about sub-par leaf-peeping when anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 people are out of there homes, taking shelter where they can find it?
I think we need to have that conversation about global warming. Whether it's caused by our consumption of fossil fuels, aggravated by our consumption of fossil fuels, or just happening "naturally", it's happening. And, I've been reading, it's happening faster than we thought. (This is largely, it is supposed - except by the 'it's all natural' school of warming analysis - by the increased consumption of those darned fossil fuels by emerging manufacturing and consuming economies in India and China. And who might we be to complain about anyone's per capita consumption of the world's resources?)
Of course, the populations worst hit by global warming won't be us right away - other than for minor hiccups like Katrina and California, which we can always rationalize away as being something other than.... And I'm sure that this latest disaster isn't all global warming. But it's part of a pattern of more and more, worse and worse.
Time to, as the man says, take a look at a few of those inconvenient truths.
We consume too much and, in doing so, we foul our own nest. Even birds and monkeys know better than that.
We don't want to think about limits to growth. We want to think about having a "great room", central air, a third car.
We sure don't want to think about folks whose subsistence level lives could get a whole heck of a lot worse as it gets hotter and drier. And just how long is it going to take for "evil doers" to whisper in the ears of people holding their starving babies in refugee camps that this is all the fault of America. Just think. We'll see largely illiterate populations who start making some connections about global warming, while our so well educated politicos, PhDs, right wing cranks, and corporate shills stall and crawl about doing anything because nothing is proven. Won't that be something?
We are smart. We are lucky. We are inventive. But how long can we just go about, placidly assuming that this trifecta will bail us out. That some MIT or CalTech genius will come up with the magic bullet that will make the problem go away. (And, yes, I do have some faith that we will develop solutions to at least some of the climate-related problems we face. We are, after all, smart, lucky, inventive - and hard working.)
My sister Trish and her family have close friends in San Diego. Their daughters are nearly the same age, and the families visit back and forth once or twice a year. They got a call from their friends, letting them know that they'd been evacuated and where they were staying. But they were staying in an area that was later declared in danger. Then they heard nothing for a very long day. Then they heard that Randi, Rob, and Emily's house was spared. Their street made it through; much of the neighborhood - not so lucky.
All those people. All that misery.
I haven't yet googled it, but I believe that the title of James Baldwin's searing book, Fire Next Time - written well before the words "global" and "warming" were ever strung together in a sentence - was based on an old gospel song or spiritual.
"Won't be water, it's fire next time."
Katrina. California. Seems like we've had both already.