HomePrinceton PacketPrinceton Packet OpinionSOLUTIONS 9/25: Storms and fire

SOLUTIONS 9/25: Storms and fire

By Huck Fairman

The world is changing, the physical world and the political ones.

Fires have been raging not only in our northwest and in California (following record heat and an extended drought), but in Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, Siberia, the Arctic and Australia. Hurricanes have been ravaging the Gulf states (as well as other coastal nations.) Last week, five separate storms appeared in the Atlantic and Caribbean – something that had happened only once before. Hurricane trackers are running out of names for the storms.

Political disunity and turmoil have prevented nations from coming together to take meaningful corrective steps. Our president does not acknowledge the climate crisis and has begun the procedures to pull us out of the Paris Climate Accord. But while most nations have yet to live up to their promised emissions reductions, there is little debate among those who have studied the situations that concerted, global responses are needed for the survival of the world as we have known it. Before this administration, this nation frequently led the world in a range of corrective policies, going back to the Marshall Plan after World War II. But our current president shows little understanding or interest in formulating such ameliorative collaboration.

His narcissistic, egocentric, corrupt approach to governing has intensified our political disunity. Many of his closest former department or cabinet appointees, his former personal lawyer, and even his sister have all warned that he is not up to the job, and that he is a danger to the nation and the world. And yet the Republican Senate, and “his base” support, is stumbling on, thereby threatening, by inattention or misguided policies, a world facing the climate crisis.

But our country is not alone in being divided politically. Hong Kong, Byelorussia (Belarus,) and Russia, the UK, Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil, as well as in several Southern Asian states are either reeling from or paralyzed by division – all in a time when the nations of the world need to come together to address the climate crisis.

Additionally, India and China have been fighting in the Himalayas. Taiwan, China, North Korea and the U.S. have been jockeying for control of Western Pacific, sending military units into or over seas and land. Protestors and anti-protestors have been clashing in Kenosha and Portland. The struggles in Yemen and Libya go on, and on, supported by Saudia Arabia, Iran, the U.S. and Russia.

And yet the greatest threat to civilization, the climate crisis, deepens and widens as efforts to deal with it are distracted by these political struggles, by ignorance, and/or outright warfare.

Evidence of the threats that the globe faces can be found no farther away than California, Oregon, Washington and along our Gulf Coast. Our West Coast’s wildfires have devastated numerous towns and parts of the states. One response by California has been to establish new rules making home insurance more affordable. But insurance companies have begun refusing to write new coverage for homes in fire-prone areas. This hurts home values and makes homes harder to sell. While the state responded by prohibiting insurance companies from dropping customers in or near fire-prone areas, this ban lasts only to December, and cannot be renewed.

To offset the continuing exodus of insurance companies, the state will also develop standards for how homeowners and communities can reduce their wildfire risks, after which the state will direct insurance companies to cut premiums for those that comply.

But the insurance companies contend that no one can accurately calculate the reduction of risk. And so, presumably, unless another solution is found, the companies will continue their exodus. This will in turn have a ripple effect through the state and regional (if not national) economies.

Similar issues will be raised along the Gulf Coast communities facing flooding, and similarly along other coasts around the world.

But in addition to wildfires and hurricanes, powerful or record rain events, which have been moving more slowly than their predecessors, can also flood and destroy infrastructure as they linger over locations. Sarah Kapnick of Princeton’s NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics lab warns that climate change has increased the likelihood of such slow-moving storms by 40% since 1900. Why? Because warmer temperatures permit the atmosphere to hold more water, from evaporation drawn up by that increasing warmth. Thus, today’s storms have the potential to dump huge volumes of water as they linger over the cooler land masses.

We as a nation, and the world, face a number of related and very serious climate changes. Many people recognize this, but others, and the political division fomented by differing, but in many cases, uninformed, and misguided political views, threaten nations, and indeed civilization, as it has been, in relative quiet, since the end of the Cold War. Can the term “misguided” be objectively applied to our situation? If it is used to characterize policies that overlook or reject the warnings that science provides about the climate crisis, or the virus, then yes, the term is appropriate. An alternative term might simply be blind – to the threats enveloping the world.

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