Yesterday I considered the questioned raised by Mark Hertsgaard, Can Sandy Help Jolt America Out of Climate Change Denial?. As I was thinking about this, I began wondering about another kind of catastrophic event, and the “jolt” it delivered which stays with us today: 9/11. It was a very different kind of thing, of course, and side-by-side comparisons are complicated, at best. But it’s still possible to consider how easily, generally speaking, U.S. citizens accepted federal actions related to “homeland security” – everything from militarized police departments to “kill lists” – and how widely unconcerned We the Electorate seem to be related to climate change. Deaths and devastation are as real associated with what NOAA calls “weather related hazards” as they are with terrorist attacks.
Judging by the general lack of protest (with notable exceptions, by a relatively speaking small number of activists), 9-11 “jolted” us hard enough that we were willing to accept, and even cheer, “security measures,” many of which we would otherwise have at least blinked at. Those measures were the kind that many of the DC Electeds fully supported, and would have, with or without 9-11. And by and large, most citizens seem to have stopped paying much attention to the actions taken by the government in the name of “homeland security.” The “jolt” is largely past. The “new normal” continues unfolding, with significant loss of civil liberties, and a largely quiescent citizenry.
When it comes to climate change, we’ve had several big and visible “jolts,” but in general, the Republican Party has taken the “denial” route, mainly, I think, because it’s another of the “issues” which they know will excite their base. The Democratic Party, in general, seems to take climate change seriously, as in “it’s for real,” but in terms of being willing to take steps with that reality in mind, they seem more focused on the desires and demands of the petroleum industry.
The U.S. Natural Hazard Statistics provide statistical information on fatalities, injuries and damages caused by weather related hazards. These statistics are compiled by the Office of Services and the National Climatic Data Center from information contained in Storm Data, a report comprising data from NWS forecast offices in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
The numbers on the chart are for 2011. The total of 6,408 is since September 11, 2001 and through the 2011 figures. Tina Dupuy, at AlterNet has a very interesting piece about this.
We’ve been shortsighted. We’ve marginalized those who warned us. We’ve treated environmentalism as an irksome fad. We’ve given cadence to nontroversies and called it balance. We’ve spent trillions to protect ourselves against terrorists and done nothing to keep our biggest cities above water in a storm.
‘One of the very important national security threats we face is climate change.’ Said Senator Barbara Boxer in a 2007 cable interview. In the 2010 mid-terms, her opponent sacked Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, made it into a campaign commercial and said: ‘Terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.’
Yes, the weather. This frivolous weather thing the hippies keep harping about just devastated the biggest, most densely populated, city in the country. … The structural damage and loss in revenue are unprecedented. Even before Sandy, our weather-related fatalities far exceed the Americans who’ve died from terrorist attacks. Since September 11, 2001 there have been roughly 30 Americans killed by terrorism (depending on how you do the numbers). Extreme weather deaths in the same time period have totaled 6,408 as of 2011 according to the National Weather Service.
You can check out numbers at the NOAA link, with a drop-down menu for details by “extreme weather” category and by state, among others. You can also see 72-Year List of Severe Weather Fatalities. As far as I can tell, the lists don’t include fires caused by lightening and/or drought conditions, though those may be factored in and I’ve just not seen the details.
I continue seeing demands that Duopoly candidates Romney and Obama seriously address climate change. Unfortunately, even as the “extreme weather” repercussions of Sandy make front page news, some combination of the candidates not wanting to talk about it and too few of the electorate demanding that they do, means that about the only time such weather is deemed worthy of attention is while a specific “weather extreme” provides a few days of dramatic photos and stories, with little to no serious analysis. The whole thing quickly becomes old news, and until there’s a tornado or blizzard or hurricane that creates lots of good photo ops, the weather returns to back page status for most people.
“Jolts” can make a difference. Which ones do, and which don’t, have as much to do with how We the People respond, and keep on responding, as with what actions governments take. Now, when DC wants something to happen, the Electeds will push it, openly and behind the scenes, with a tenacity of those well paid for their efforts. For We the People, it’s a much steeper, harder climb. When the 2012 numbers are in, the 6,408 will, of course, increase. Maybe that will provide a little bump, if not a jolt.
(Weather Fatalities Chart via NOAA)