HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…..

8 10 2017

music: The Band, “Look Out, Cleveland

This is a story about Harvey, Irma, and Maria. What an awesome threesome! A lot of ink, pixels, and hot air has gone into telling their stories, but not much of that has taken a “deep green perspective.” They’re part of a much bigger picture–really, part of a couple of “much bigger pictures,” one nested within the other, like a small shark intent on snapping up a fish, not realizing that he’s about to be snapped up by the jaws of a much larger shark. To explore this hierarchy of hungry sharks, but let’s start with Tropical Storm Harvey.

Twelve years to the day after Katrina flooded New Orleans, America’s forty-sixth largest city, Harvey, a much bigger storm, inundated America’s fourth largest city.

Consider the Houston recipe: Establish a sprawling, extremely toxic chemical industry pretty much at sea level on a low-lying, hurricane-prone shore. Run lots of pipelines full of oil, gas, and other toxic substances from all across the country to this area, making it one of the essential nodes that supports our whole way of life. Allow a large city to grow mixed in with all these chemical plants and pipelines, so that virtually the entire residential area of the city is within smelling distance of a chemical facility. Don’t do zoning. In fact, take an “anything goes” ethic when it comes to environmental safety standards, including a good strong dose of climate science denial.

Put this mixture on a shelf for a few decades and pay attention to other things, while carbon emissions due to that chemical industry raise the temperature of the planet, causing sea level and the intensity of storms to rise.

What could possibly go wrong?

To find out what could possibly go wrong, add about fifty-five inches of rainfall, two feet of it in just two days, That’s about a trillion gallons of water, by the way. The mix is pre-moistened: Harvey was the third “five hundred year flood event” in the last three years in the Houston area. Be sure to keep that climate change denialism whipped up!

The next step is something you don’t do: Don’t try to evacuate people from the storm. They’d just end up stuck in a traffic jam on the highway, like last time. Umm, is that all you learned from Hurricane Rita?

Once this recipe has cooked for a week or so, fold in these facts: eighty percent of Houston homeowners have no flood insurance, and FEMA grants are capped at around $33K, which probably won’t cover many homeowners’ rebuilding costs. Fact number two: releases from flooded chemical plants have soaked the city in a toxic marinade that will persist for decades in the water, the soil and in the wood of any structure that was flooded. Hmm….maybe it’s for the best that many Houston residents will have to find some other city to live in. Too bad the Houston area’s non-human residents–its plants, land animals, and fish–don’t have the same opportunity.

Meanwhile, the chemical companies are not leaving. They’re keeping their facilities right where they are, of course, since that’s where the pipelines, railroads, and shipping channels come together. They are probably including somewhat stronger flood protections in their plans. I’m betting they will prove insufficient, although the added expense, and some stronger storm in our near future may be sufficient to drive the companies out of business, leaving only semi-submerged Superfund sites to mark their passage.houstonproblem

If you would like to reheat this recipe in the future, you may be able to bake it all in the radiation from a couple of inoperable, possibly under water nuclear power plants. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a distinct possibility.

So that’s the dish Harvey has served us. Let’s check out Irma’s Miami recipe. Well, it’s actually the “whole state of Florida” recipe. It’s a little different. You build not one, but several very large cities on a low-lying, hurricane-prone peninsula. But this ain’t no stinking industrial area. This is the place where the wealthy come to play. These wealthy people build lavish homes and hotels right on the coast, right on the beach. Add fresh water from a shallow aquifer in highly porous soil, but then start siphoning that water out for various human uses, faster than it can be replenished, and gradually replace it with salt water filtering in from the ocean. In just a few decades, South Florida’s aquifers will be one hundred percent salt water Next, fold in a hurricane. Follow that with gradually rising sea levels and stronger and more frequent hurricanes, and this area, like Houston, will be uninhabitable by humans in no time. Again, the mixture may be reheated in the future by inundated nuclear power plants, the gift that never stops giving!floodida

And finally, there’s Maria’s variation on this exciting new recipe. Take a beautiful tropical island inhabited mostly by very poor people. The first step is to marinate it in debt that stems, at one level, from paid-off politicians who will not demand that the wealthy individuals and corporations that also inhabit this island pay a fair share of their copious wealth in taxes. Instead, those politicians have borrowed money, at high rates of interest, which the poor people of Puerto Rico have now been asked to pay back, both by higher taxes and through cuts in government services that most Puerto Ricans depend on.  You know, schools, public health, pensions, roads, water and sewage. Things like that. Long before Maria took her toll on Puerto Rico, this debt peonage was already eating away the possibility of a decent life for most Puerto Ricans.maria-puerto-rico-damage-flooding_hector-retamala-afp-getty

At a deeper level, all this debt is about our basic economic assumptions, i.e., debt-based government financing, but that’s a discussion for another day. Back to our recipe. Scramble the island with a large hurricane, carefully removing all electrical power from the mix. Let it bake by itself in the sun for a couple of weeks. This will actually soften it up quite a bit, and make it more open to conversion from a tropical slum to a tropical paradise for the wealthy, through a treatment known as “The Shock Doctrine.” For an example of “The Shock Doctrine,” check out Katrina’s recipe for New Orleans, which left the city much whiter, and “wealthier,” than it was before the storm. How? Use the disaster as a pretext for a real estate grab, “redeveloping” the island as a playground for the wealthy, even more attractive than Florida due to its special tax policies, There will be new jobs for some of the old residents as cleaning and maintenance personnel. The rest will just have to find someplace else to live, like the many long-time New Orleans residents who evacuated the city temporarily in 2005 and never made it back. To the corporate forces with their eyes on prime tropical real estate, the fate of its former occupants is an “externality,” and not the corporatocracy’s problem.

Let me summarize the short-term situation: the Texas Gulf coast is likely to lose some of its middle- and low-income population, because many of them will not be able to rebuild their homes and their lives. With fewer peasants underfoot, the oil and chemical companies will expand further, and probably be even more exposed when the next big storm hits. In Florida, the working class will be the first to leave, but the wealthy will not be far behind them. I think there will be a real estate crash in The Panhandle State in the next few years, as the number of fools willing to invest in Florida real estate dwindles. Puerto Rico? Due to the artificially high cost of living and the artificially low wages, (Thanks, Obama!) people have been scrambling to leave Puerto Rico for decades. They’re American citizens, so they come to “the mainland.” The current junta and its supporters may not like the color of their skin or their politics, but they can’t keep them out, because they’re already in.

All these American climate refugees will come looking for refuge in more stable places–like Nashville. They aren’t going to have a lot of money. Even many currently wealthy Floridians are going are going to have to take quite a haircut on that condo in West Palm Beach. In Nashville, as in many other cities in the country, our wealthier citizens and businesses have priced the poor out of the city. Hey, racial segregation is against the law, but financial segregation is the law. All hail the mighty market! That means that newly arriving American climate refugees will, to some extent, meet the same fate as refugees everywhere–marginalization and criminalization. It won’t be as blatant as what Africans who cross the Mediterranean endure, or meet when they arrive in Europe, but, given that to business and the government that protects it, the mental state of the lower classes is “an externality,” i.e., something that doesn’t have to be put on the balance sheet and therefore doesn’t need to be considered, resentment is going to build, as if there isn’t enough already, and I wrote this before what happened in Las Vegas.

From a “deep green perspective,” it is totally insane to build a huge, complex, fragile, and frequently dirty infrastructure, or a dense urban area with lots of high-rise hotels, in a place that is frequently in the path of hurricanes. What is appropriate for such areas is a low-density, low-tech human population with simple, largely locally suppliable needs. “Grass shacks,” anyone? If they blow away, you just harvest more grass and rebuild–but maybe I’m just being silly and romantic, and the truth is that surviving the storms of our future will not be easy. Two hundred mile-per-hour winds have no mercy. This is just the beginning. I don’t think it will be long before Harvey, Irma, and Maria are dethroned from the “worst storm ever” dais, and society shatters under the impact of the storms to come.

Isn’t this the sort of problem national governments are supposed to take care of?

Yes.

How has our government met this systemic crisis? The current junta is taking the tactic of publicly denying that it’s a systemic crisis, thus absolving themselves of any need to act on behalf of the public. Meanwhile, the military and the corporate sector are free to protect their assets with the copious funds at their disposal.

Things were different under the Democrats. The government went through the motions, saying some of the right things while taking ineffective half measures. They were able to fool, or at least placate, much of their base with this charade, while the military and the corporate sector protected their assets, etc.

Here’s the part nobody talks about: the wealthy are fixing to make the other 99% of us obsolete through automation and AI.  Robots don’t need to be paid, and don’t need medical insurance or Social Security. Robots don’t develop attitudes. They don’t protest. They don’t vote. If the corporatocracy no longer needs us, it doesn’t have to care what happens to us. We can get shot by each other or by the police,overdose on heroin, starve, or drown. The people in charge don’t care. What happens to us, our children, and our grandchildren, is just “an externality” to them. If we die in some disaster or tragedy, it’s one less angry, hungry mouth to feed.

So, the climate change that will destroy our global techno-civilization, and that will cause population crash is the shark that’s about to eat the shark of the systemic injustices of our society, the perpetrators of which are wholly caught up in the process of devouring us “little people.” There are about 99% too many people on this planet for its good and our own. Will the “gentle”–a better translation of a certain old Greek word commonly translated as “meek”– will the gentle or the gentry inherit the Earth?

There is still a chance that those who have chosen the gentle, Green path (and I consider myself one of them) can “inherit the Earth,” sooner rather than later, and steer a  smooth, compassionate transition to a much smaller human population–or at least exercise compassion through the calamities that will be decimating us. There is still a chance for this change to be achieved through conventional politics, and that’s what The Green Party is about. Caring for, and co-operating with, each other will get us through what our species’ foolish behavior has unleashed much better than the tunnel-vision authoritarian mindset that got us into this mess.

I’ve presented three recipes for disaster in this talk/post, and I admit none of them are very appetizing, but I believe we all know the recipes to follow that will finish this meal with tasty, and just, deserts. Many of you out there are hard at work on them already. “Keep on coming, don’t stand and wait!”

Grateful Dead: “New Speedway Boogie

Jerry Garcia, “My Sisters and Brothers

 

 

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2 responses

13 10 2017
kotascatch

Good work, Brother Martin. I hope, also, can people can change before it’s too late.

14 10 2017
brothermartin

Thank you! And thank you for sharing my post!

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