Climate Change Makes It Weird

Some of the damage caused by Hurricane Idalia.

The latest nugget of bad news for people looking for property insurance in Florida hit the state earlier this week. Hurricane Idalia, powered by above-average Gulf of Mexico water temperatures, ramped up into a major hurricane, yet another Gulf storm that underwent rapid intensification prior to landfall.

Idalia then made landfall at Keaton Beach as a 125 mph Category 3 hurricane. Thankfully, despite damage estimates of up to $20 billion, the loss of life was minimal. As of Thursday afternoon, one death was recorded. This is due to a combination of a very good forecast by the National Hurricane Center (hard to claim it was bad if you run this animation of the storm track and five-day forecasts), and people heeding the warnings.

This was very good news because you have to take the weather seriously at a time when the weather is crazier than Trump after his fourth indictment. Such a moment requires thinking like adults who understand what reality is and are not clinging to myths. Kinda dumb to die in storm surge because you sneered and snarked “those weather forecasters are never right they just hype everything I ain’t evacuatin’.” Believing a myth is one hell of a cause of death.

You may have noticed that the weather has been especially nuts this summer. Flash floods in Vermont, drought-driven wildfires creating smoke that choked East Coast cities, people falling onto the sidewalk and getting burned in Phoenix, and so on. There are worst-case scenarios being realized. There are also worst-case scenarios that have not happened yet and are only more likely to happen with climate change. As horrifying as Katrina was for New Orleans residents like Adrastos, that storm was not the worst-case scenario for the city. Idalia and Ian at points in their development raised fears of the potential for the worst-case scenario for Tampa.

Climate change, especially for those in hurricane-prone regions, has a way of taking people who think “won’t happen to me” and patting them on the head, pinching their cheek, saying “awwww is that what you think? Does you? Does you think? Oh, how adorbs” before introducing them to the “and find out” portion of the ol’ fuck around and find out. So, have to let go of old ways of thinking.

Not just with hurricanes. Think that most tornadoes occur in Tornado Alley, which is in the Great Plains? Well, have to update that idea and shift it east to roughly states along the Mississippi River.

Another outdated idea is “Ha, I don’t have to worry about climate change, I’ll be dead by the time it’s a problem.” Which, wow, is one hell of a big middle finger to any relative under 30. “No, grandson, I really do love you but I think it’s hilarious that you’ll live your adult life in a hellscape.” In any event, this summer should have pretty much beat that idea out of its adherents, perhaps literally.

Socially, climate change can make things weird. I can think of a few instances where people I know announced a move to Florida or Phoenix on social media. I saw congratulations, excitement, and playful expressions of envy. I didn’t say this, but I wondered about how they might handle runaway insurance costs, extreme heat waves, and the very real possibility that Phoenix will be a very hard place to live, even harder than it is now. Awkward!

Immigration policies will need to be updated at some point to deal with the inevitable influx of climate refugees to the United States. The 2015 humanitarian disaster involving Syrian refugees displaced by extreme drought was a warning shot. Some of us have to change our thinking on immigration. What are anti-immigration people going to do, turn people away and let them die? Well, maybe don’t answer that. But the instability and suffering are threats that loom on our horizon.

We have to move fast, so incrementalism will not cut it. Some Americans seem addicted to incrementalism, clinging to the idea that we cannot move too fast on anything with a fervor that seems to make me think they view it as a national sacrament. But if the moment demands fast action as it does now, moving slowly is as reasoned as moving slowly when a tsunami is bearing down on you. As President Biden said in late July, “Name me a part of the world that you think is going to look like it did 10 years ago 10 years from now — not a joke.”

That kind of fast change demands different thinking. That goes for all of us.

The last word goes to Bob Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan.

Leave a Reply