Hurricane Matthew is one more climate change alarm bell

October 13, 2016
Survivors of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti

My heart breaks over Category 4 Hurricane Matthew’s slamming of Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.

When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City where I live, our entire neighbourhood was destroyed — every single house was uninhabitable.

To fully comprehend the tragedy of such hurricanes is impossible. But we must connect the dots — between Matthew, Sandy, Super Typhoon Meranti that recently hit Taiwan and China with sustained winds of 305 km/h, the several Super Typhoons that have killed thousands in the Philippines, the recent flooding in Louisiana, the five-year-long drought in California, and so much more.

The sad reality is that for the first time in 4 million years, due largely to humans burning fossil fuels, our atmosphere has a concentration of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The last time this was the case, sea levels were 5 meters higher.

Political leaders are drunk off campaign contributions from a few extremely wealthy people whose greed has put our future on course to pass climatic tipping points that, once passed, leave little hope for an inhabitable planet. We have arrived at our last chance.

Climate change is not about charts, ice core samples and weather models. It is about human suffering — it is my parents’ experience during Hurricane Sandy, retreating from chest-deep floodwaters as fires burned all around them.

Hearing the experiences of neighbours still brings tears to my eyes. A mother was cut by storm debris and bled to death while her children watched. Another mother got trapped in the basement when the floodwaters gushed in, and she drowned. The rest of the family had to wait upstairs for hours knowing their mother’s body was floating downstairs.

This horror unfolded in New York City, a highly developed place with robust resources and a response infrastructure in place. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed 250,000 people. Now its vulnerable infrastructure has been battered by a monster storm.

The victims of this storm join the many from the front lines who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Yet again, those who die from climate change were not those whose lifestyles created the problem in the first place.

Yet again, it is poor people, Black and Brown people, who die as a result of “developed” countries’ race to the finish line with fossil fuel subsidies, campaign contributions, corporate lobbying and compliant media.

The climate justice movement has made huge strides lately, but we all have to do more. We cannot succumb to cognitive dissonance, sit back and say: “They signed the Paris Treaty, problem solved.” False solutions are more dangerous than no solution.

There is a long list of climatic crises. The oceans are acidifying faster than in the past 300 million years. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. More CO2 equals more acidic oceans, which equals coral reefs calcifying, which equals loss of habitat for marine life, which equals no fish to eat.

The oceans are also filled with tiny bits of plastic that have been wreaking havoc for all sorts of marine life. There may be more plastic than life in the oceans in just 30 years — some say there will be no fish at all by then.

The entire Pacific now has radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant spill in Japan. The Great Barrier Reef is in disrepair and surface temperatures are skyrocketing.

The oceans are the lungs of the Earth, producing more than half of the world’s oxygen. We need them.

It is not just glaciers that are melting — Arctic permafrost is, too, releasing methane that has built up for a long time. Methane is much more potent than CO2. There is enough methane trapped under the permafrost to have the same effect of all the CO2 in the atmosphere already.

The five mass extinctions in the Earth’s past have all been preceded by increased methane levels. With other major contributors such as industrial agriculture and fracking, methane has been sharply increasing. It is nothing to take lightly.

The fossil fuel cartels now own stakes in enough oil reserves in the ground to destroy five planet Earths. Yet there are growing movements like “Keep It in the Ground” and climate divestment campaigns that are fighting the fossil fuel industries.

It really appears that the powers that be see themselves as exempt from the dangers of a whacked-out climate, because their silence on the issue is deafening. In 2012, there was not a single question about the climate crisis in all the presidential and vice presidential debates.

The 2016 debates have started off the same way. This is no accident. A few people stand to make tons of money and will stop at nothing to get it.

We have to fight back in dignified defence, like the indigenous nations that have joined together to defend their land and our future from the Dakota Access Pipeline in North America.

Climate change means disruptions in food supplies, more and bigger wildfires, prolonged droughts, rising sea level as glaciers melt, loss of drinking water supply and increased civil unrest in times of resource wars. What will happen if the sea rises three feet by 2100 as NASA predicts, forcing 200 million people from their homes?

Our leaders are driving us over the climatic cliff. We are accelerating towards tipping points that, once crossed, allow no return, no chance to leave a recognisable planet to babies born already. We have arrived at our last chance. It will be too late for the next generation to act to protect the world they will inherit.

It is easy to get overwhelmed, to feel powerless, to not be sure of how to do your part. But there are billions of people whose lifestyles are not what caused this crisis, whose lives depend on us doing our part.

Let us reaffirm that we will not sit idly by while greedy businessmen put the world on the brink of ecological collapse. We know another world is possible. It is up to us to create it.

[Abridged from US Socialist Worker.]

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