Things I’ve Been Reading: Miami, Britain, Ebola

Photo of a sandy footprint

1. Miami, and delusion. Miami is sinking under water, and everyone pretends it’s not happening. My parents lived in Miami a few years back, and I noticed that myself. everyone went around living in the city – buying real estate, developing land, renovating houses on the beach – and nobody seemed to notice the city will be underwater very, very soon. And not in a mortgage sense. It’s a strange lesson in the human capacity to cling to the narrative that’s comfortable, not the narrative that contains any truth. The storm sewers of Miami Beach now flow backward and no one considers what that means.

2. Ebola. I made this argument in a fragmented way on twitter – Ebola could be a game changer. Alex Evans makes it better, on Global Dashboard. Ebola is a disease so terrifying and infectious that it makes the need for decent health systems compelling. The question is – will anyone actually be compelled?

3. Two incisive and very different takes on sexism from the New Yorker. First, an article about the British scholar Mary Beard, and how being a well-paid cisgender white person make misogyny slightly easier to handle. That sounds like a snarky description, but I believe Dr. Beard would agree with it. Next, the toxic stew of xenophobia and sexism that apparently led the British police to believe that eleven-year-olds can consent to sex. And, as I consider it, another example of the human need for comfortable narratives.

Gratitude in a Time of Climate Change

Climate change is going to affect life on earth in ways we can’t even begin to understand yet, but the first impact is the one we’re seeing: extreme weather events. Hurricane Sandy last year, Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda this year, the ice storm that just hit the east coast of the US, famine in Somalia – that’s what climate change looks like. Colder, hotter, wetter, drier, at unpredictable times and place we don’t expect.  A series of disasters, predictably unpredictable.

And it means we, in the wealthy world, are going to have to choose.

We can batten down our own personal hatches and ignore everyone else. If the world is less secure and the weather is terrifying, perhaps we need to save every penny for our own personal disaster response. Maybe we need to have, hold, and hoard just to protect ourselves. Maybe our governments will have to hoard too  – climate change hits economies hard, and foreign aid budgets are often victims.

Over time, if we do that, the poor countries being hit hardest by climate change will get poorer and poorer. People are brave and they’re resilient, and they can rebuild even without help – but how many times? We end up with an international system in which wealthy countries manage to maintain status quo and poor countries slide backwards in fits and starts.

Or we can choose generosity. We can give more than we did before. We can keep sharing our resources and help everyone maintain status quo. We can support resilience, and provide the helping hand that people need when their home has been washed away. We can give as individuals and as governments to prepare for and ameliorate the impacts of climate disasters.

Normally I’d segue here into a discussion of interconnection. Helping poor countries does, in fact, help everyone, and no rich country can isolate itself from the pain of others. Not to mention that surviving and slowing climate change is going to require government-level commitments, not just individual giving.

I’m American, though, so it’s Thanksgiving for me. I’m going to take another direction. I’m going to talk about gratitude.

Individual giving is important to climate change resilience – government approaches alone can’t do it. I am a middle class professional in a two-income family. I am profoundly blessed. I have the resources to give to others without putting myself at risk. I am thankful for this. I am thankful that I am rich enough to be able to help others in a meaningful way – I am thankful for every charitable donation I’m able to give.

Every time I support typhoon relief, or flood response, or earthquake rebuilding, I am investing in the world my children have to inhabit. And I am thankful I can do my part. Climate change is an ugly picture, but we decide how ugly. I am grateful I have the resources to help.


(photo credit: NASA Goddard)

Friday Fear – 1 February 2008

Friday Fear:Friday fear is a new weekly feature which offers you a list of five or six things to be very, very, afraid of.

1. Internet outage in the Middle East Aside from losing access to your gmail, can you picture what would happen to the US economy if we lost internet access completely? Also – could terrorists do this on purpose?

2. Double dipping your chips really does spread bacteria. Perhaps someone at the party with you has XDR TB ?

3. You can’t trust your doctor. Or the FDA. Or the coroner.

4. Bats and bees are dying.

5. And, finally: Weaponizing the Climate.