Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Lethal Dysfunction Of The Far Right: A Mound of Sound Guest Post

Problem: you're already getting hammered by early-onset climate change. Solution: deny it's happening, look the other way, think happy thoughts.

It sounds ridiculously dysfunctional and it is but that is the approach being taken by governments, state and municipal, in parts of the American south.

Take North Carolina, for example, where the uber-rightwing state legislature has found a solution to scientific projections of at least a metre of sea-level rise this century - pass legislation banning any mention of that.

And then there's posh Miami, Florida where real estate prices are sky high and still climbing. Miami now floods regularly and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The problem is that the city is very low-lying and it sits atop a dome of porous limestone through which rising sea water passes virtually unobstructed. Seawalls and dikes don't work here because sea water simply comes up from underneath. The city already stands defenceless against seasonal high tides and regular storm surges.

Philip Stoddard is particularly well-placed to judge what is happening in Miami. Tall, thin, with a dry sense of humour, he is a politician, having won two successive elections to be mayor of South Miami, and a scientist, a biology professor at Florida International University.

"The thing about Miami is that, when it goes, it will all be gone," says Stoddard. Nor will south Florida have to wait that long for the devastation to come. Long before the seas have risen a further three or four feet, there will be irreversible breakdowns in society, he says. "Another foot of sea level rise will be enough to bring salt water into our freshwater supplies and our sewage system. Those services will be lost when that happens."

"You won't be able to flush away your sewage and taps will no longer provide homes with fresh water. Then you will find you will no longer be able to get flood insurance for your home. Land and property values will plummet and people will start to leave. Places like South Miami will no longer be able to raise enough taxes to run our neighbourhoods. Where will we find the money to fund police to protect us or fire services to tackle house fires? Will there even be enough water pressure for their fire hoses? It takes us into all sorts of post-apocalyptic scenarios. It makes one thing clear though: mayhem is coming."

Yes, mayhem is coming. So how are Florida's rightwing leaders responding?

"...what really surprises visitors and observers is the city's response, or to be more accurate, its almost total lack of reaction. The local population is steadily increasing; land prices continue to surge; and building is progressing at a generous pace. ...signs of construction - new shopping malls, cranes towering over new condominiums and scaffolding enclosing freshly built apartment blocks - could be seen across the city, its backers apparently oblivious of scientists' warnings that the foundations of their buildings may be awash very soon.

"Not that they're alone. Most of Florida's senior politicians - in particular Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor, Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers - have refused to act or respond to warnings ...or to give media interviews to explain their stance, though Rubio, a Republican party star and possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. 'I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.'"

Miami, in fact the entire state of Florida, is an invaluable object lesson, a miners' canary to demonstrate rightwing dysfunction at work in the fight against climate change. It's one but just one of several spots in the US expected to be particularly hard hit by global warming. Another is the American southwest from California through to Texas.

In already hot and dry Phoenix, Arizona, they're being warned to expect 10-degrees Fahrenheit warming this century. That translates from an average summer high temperature of 104 soaring to Kuwait City temperatures of 114F. In a region already severely water stressed, heating on this scale could undermine the major cities.

"Climate Central used the IPCC predictions - which generally estimate that summer high temperatures will be seven to ten degrees higher by 2100 - to make an interactive map to compare the current temperatures with cities that already experience those temperatures. For example, Sacramento will feel more like Tucson in the summer. Boston will feel like Miami. And Austin, where the average summer high is currently about 94 degrees, is projected to be more like Gilbert, which has an average summer high of nearly 104 degrees.

Meanwhile, on the clean, renewable energy front, Aviation Week has recently published several articles about space solar power (SSP). The idea is to capture solar energy in near-Earth space, convert it to microwaves and them beam the energy down to power grids on the surface.

“Space solar power has as a concept never been more appealing and more promising than it is right now,” says John Mankins, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory veteran who spent a decade as manager of advanced concepts studies at NASA headquarters. “The new technical architecture, which exploits all of the technological advances of the past 30 years in terrestrial technology—electronics, robotics, materials—makes the approach to space solar power both affordable and scalable.”

Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, though, it's a technology worth exploring.


  1. .. fine reportage .. albeit frightening .. Inserting our heads into the sand.. up our arses.. or reciting the 'right' dogma and talking points may not cut it ..

  2. What I find most worrisome is the default logic employed by Rubio. It's an expression of nihilism that seems to surface in societies before they collapse. "We can't do anything. It won't do any good and it will wreck the economy." What economy does Rubio envision for Miami when it succumbs to seawater inundation?

    The threat to Miami is inescapable every time a high tide sends seawater flooding into the streets. The state and municipal governments have no solutions to this because floodwaters come in from the porous limestone below. Sea level rise will make the problem vastly worse.

    Even Republicans cannot hold back the sea but that doesn't mean there are no essential responses needed for Miami. For starters they should stop the rapid development of ever more apartments, condos and shopping malls.

    They won't do it. Why? Because that would undercut the property values of everything else in Miami. Like the North Carolinians, reality must be suppressed at all costs.

    Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. I believe we're already witnessing the seeds of America's destruction. And this rightwing contagion isn't exclusive to the US. I read of a debate in Alberta recently over funding Calgary's flood abatement measures. It's a big hunk of cash, several hundreds of millions. Now the right is beginning to sow doubt. "Think about all the great things we could get for that kind of money. How 'bout new roads?" Don't worry, be happy.