Thursday, September 08, 2005

More, More, More. How Do You Like It? How Do You Like It? 

DHS czar Michael Chertoff's appearance last week on Meet the Press was notable for its extraordinarily high ratio of lies per minute, but the bit that truly sent us into spasms was the one in which he characterized the deaths of up to 40,000 Americans as good practice for the next disaster:
And as much as we are working on desperately getting people out now, we've got to make sure we are holding in reserve and we are preparing for what could come next, whether it be a hurricane, whether it be a disease. I mean, we are challenged to make sure that at a moment when we have a current catastrophe and we have to be vigilant about other catastrophes that we do not lose focus and spend time dwelling on the past. I promise you we will go back and review the lessons that we have to learn, what went right and what went wrong. But I will tell you now we will be making a huge mistake if we spend the time in the immediate future looking back instead of dealing with, as you point out, what's going on now and what may yet come.
The horror of it: if Mr. Chertoff keeps his job, he will almost certainly have the chance to put his "experience" to work in future calamities -- because, as Bill McKibben explains in his new piece for TomDispatch, the destruction of New Orleans is just a teaser trailer for the rest of the 21st century:
No single hurricane is "the result" of global warming. But a month before Katrina hit, MIT hurricane specialist Kerry Emmanuel published a landmark paper in the British science magazine Nature showing that tropical storms were now lasting half again as long and spinning winds 50% more powerful than just a few decades before. The only plausible cause: the ever-warmer tropical seas on which these storms thrive. Katrina, a Category 1 storm when it crossed Florida, roared to full life in the abnormally hot water of the Gulf of Mexico. It then punched its way into Louisiana and Mississippi -- the latter a state now governed by Haley Barbour, who in an earlier incarnation as a GOP power broker and energy lobbyist helped persuade President Bush to renege on his promise to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

So far the U.S. has done exactly nothing even to try to slow the progress of climate change: We're emitting far more carbon than we were in 1988, when scientists issued their first prescient global-warming warnings. Even if, at that moment, we'd started doing all that we could to overhaul our energy economy, we'd probably still be stuck with the 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in global average temperature that's already driving our current disruptions. Now scientists predict that without truly dramatic change in the very near future, we're likely to see the planet's mercury rise five degrees before this century is out. That is, five times more than we've seen so far.

Which leads us to the second problem: For the ten thousand years of human civilization, we've relied on the planet's basic physical stability. Sure, there have been hurricanes and droughts and volcanoes and tsunamis, but averaged out across the Earth, it's been a remarkably stable run. If your grandparents inhabited a particular island, chances were that you could too. If you could grow corn in your field, you could pretty much count on your grandkids being able to do likewise. Those are now sucker's bets -- that's what those predictions about environmental refugees really mean.

Here's another way of saying it: In the last century, we've seen change in human societies speed up to an almost unimaginable level, one that has stressed every part of our civilization. In this century, we're going to see the natural world change at the same kind of rate. That's what happens when you increase the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere. That extra energy expresses itself in every way you can imagine: more wind, more evaporation, more rain, more melt, more... more... more.
UPDATE: An outstanding catch by our distinguished colleague from Left I on the News, the eminent disco scholar Eli Stephens. While visiting Arizona on Monday, August 29th, just as Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Mr. Bush reassured an audience of concerned citizens at the Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club that he had been in close contact with DHS chief Michael Chertoff and the two of them were right on top of the impending crisis.

No, no, the other impending crisis:
I don't know if you know this or not, but hundreds of thousands of people have been detained, trying to illegally cross into Arizona. In other words, what I'm telling you is, there's a lot of people working hard to get the job done, but there is more we can do.

I spoke to Mike Chertoff today -- he's the head of the Department of Homeland Security. I knew people would want me to discuss this issue, so we got us an airplane on -- a telephone on Air Force One, so I called him. I said, are you working with the governor? He said, you bet we are. That's the most effective way to do things, is to work with the state and local authorities. There are more resources that will be available, we'll have more folks on the border; there will be more detention space to make sure that those who are stopped trying to illegally enter our country are able to be detained.

It's important for the people of this state to understand your voices are being here in Washington. D.C. And this Senator and this Congressman are working closely with the administration to make sure we got the resources necessary to do our responsibility, which is enforce this border. And we'll do so. And we'll do so. (Applause.)
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