New article by Bill McKibben in Grist Magazine. Excerpt:
If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of
one story — the U.S. safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil
of the world — then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its
peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story, the one that will
dominate our politics in the coming decades: America befuddled about
how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable.
Over and over last week, people said that the scenes from the
convention center, the highway overpasses, and the other suddenly
infamous Crescent City venues didn’t "look like America," that they
seemed instead to be straight from the Third World. That was almost
literally accurate, for poor, black New Orleans (which had never
previously been of any interest to the larger public) is not so
different from other poor, black parts of the world: its infant
mortality rates, life expectancy rates, and educational achievement
statistics mirroring those of many African and Latin American enclaves.
But it was accurate in another way, too, one full of portent for the
future. A decade ago, environmental researcher Norman Myers began
trying to add up the number of humans at risk of losing their homes
from global warming. He looked at all the obvious places — coastal
China, India, Bangladesh, the tiny island states of the Pacific and
Indian oceans, the Nile delta, Mozambique, on and on — and predicted
that by 2050 it was entirely possible that 150 million people could be "environmental refugees"
[PDF], forced from their homes by rising waters. That’s more than the
number of political refugees sent scurrying by the bloody century we’ve
Try to imagine, that is, the chaos that attends busing 15,000 people
from one football stadium to another in the richest nation on earth,
and then increase it by four orders of magnitude and re-situate it to
the poorest nations on earth.
And then try to imagine doing it over and over again — probably without the buses.
Because so far, even as blogs and websites all over the internet fill
with accusations about the scandalous lack of planning that led to the
collapse of the levees in New Orleans, almost no one is addressing the
much larger problems: the scandalous lack of planning that has kept us
from even beginning to address climate change, and the sad fact that
global warming means the future will be full of just this kind of
Link: Hurricane Katrina brings a foretaste of environmental disasters to come | By Bill McKibben | Grist Magazine | Soapbox | 07 Sep 2005.