Tag Archives: climate change

Climate Change is Class Warfare

That’s a not-entirely-novel observation by Kate Wagner, writing in The Baffler. Wagner notes that the house left standing in the wake of Hurricane Michael is the Sand Palace, a building that cost at least $400,000 and is owned by a rich radiologist. It has 40-foot-deep concrete pilings and is poured from reinforced concrete. So, yeah, it survived, even though the rest of Mexico Beach, Florida is now a ghost town, or worse, an apocalyptic wasteland. Wagner says that hurricane-proofing a house “adds roughly $30,000 to the total amount”:
This price tag almost by itself restricts future survival along much of the country’s beaches to the radiologists of the world. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, news coverage of “the house that survived Michael” has expressed little outrage about its owners relative wealth and what it means for class and climate change, preferring instead to frame the prudence of the good doctor as a feel-better cautionary tale…. It is an urgent architectural warning to all of us that the wealthy will survive a Category 5 hurricane. The rest will be left to stare down devastation, realizing perhaps too late that climate change is class war.
This is for sure class warfare, and it goes deeper than whose house stands or falls. The cost of rebuilding is enormous and is born by us all via the insurance premiums and taxes we pay. Federal money–yours and mine–will be used to rebuild Mexico Beach but in ways that will be more conducive to the wealthy then even before. I’ve written about that in my review of Orin Pilkey’s book, Retreat from a Rising Sea.

Retreat from a Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change
 Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey
 Columbia University Press

retreat rising sea.jpgWhat’s going with our planet’s climate is going to make the bursting of the real estate bubble look like a picnic on a sunny spring day. Upside-down equity and underwater mortgages don’t begin to describe the scope of what rising sea levels are going to do to us.

The grim picture painted and the solid evidence presented by the Pilkeys in Retreat from a Rising Sea is one of inexorable foolishness and inequity. Through a combination of denial and greed—often interlocked, as with politicians and real-estate developers—we are doing pretty much the opposite of what we should be doing.

It’s a kind of willful blindness, as described by Margaret Heffernan in her book about why we ignore the obvious at our peril: “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.”

Instead of buying people out of their repeatedly flooded coastal homes and businesses, we are, through the National Flood Insurance Program, forking over billions of taxpayers’ dollars to enable people to rebuild in the same spot. And then, after the next storm, we do it again, and again, and again… It’s a grotesque Groundhog Day. Continue reading

A World without Ice

A World without Ice
Henry Pollack
Avery; hardcover; a world without ice304 pages
October 2009
3 stars

Henry Pollack is a venerable scientist with a thousand stories to share. He’s been doing ice science for over 40 years. He’s also been explaining what he does, and the implications of what he and his colleagues have learned, for nearly as long. All of that experience makes A World without Ice a great introduction to climate science.

Pollack doesn’t bother to tackle the climate change deniers head on. At this stage of the game, there’s really no point. Although surveys inform us that Americans remain stubbornly pig-headed about the subject, the rest of us are innovating and positioning ourselves to capitalize on the inevitably growing demand for greener, cleaner technology. For example, roughly thirty percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the buildings we live and work in. Reducing emissions from buildings (either by building new ones right or by retrofitting existing ones) not only lowers our overall carbon footprint but lowers utility bills, as well. So the deniers can fume all they want; they’ll modify their tune soon enough when their wallets are empty.

Alas, behavior modification won’t happen nearly fast enough to blunt the sharp edge of climate change extremes. The planet will be largely ice free by 2030, Pollack argues, which will mean severe hardship for many hundreds of millions of people. We’ve already seen the government of the Maldives hold a cabinet meeting underwater to dramatize rising sea levels, but tiny far flung islands hardly register in the media-clotted American’s brain. When New Yorkers start swimming to work, though, perhaps the tune will change.

We are who we are, Pollcak shows, because of ice. Our landscapes were shaped by ice, our cultures formed in the give and take of glaciers. Pollack writes, “Ice is nature’s best thermometer, perhaps its most sensitive and unambiguous indicator of climate change. When ice gets sufficiently warm, it melts…. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.” And that’s exactly what it’s doing.

Say goodbye to ice by taking a tour through time and place with Pollack. It may make you sad, but it’s a fascinating journey with a voluble guide. And, who knows? Maybe if enough people read this book, we’d wake up to the fact that we’re acting like a bunch of dope fiends and admit we have a problem. Then again, no. We’d just have a better appreciation of what’s going on as we watch the ice melt.