Catastrophic. Unprecedented. Cataclysmic. Relentless, Ferocious. Post-apocalyptic. Once every five hundred years.
These are just a few terms that have often been used over the past two weeks in headlines about the weather. But these weather events are occurring with such frequency that news cycles cannot contain them and it is difficult to determine which events the words describe: the relentless rains of Hurricane Harvey; or the current (as of this writing) monster storm, Irma, poised to hit Florida; the devastating heat that has spawned wildfires and turned much of the US West into skies opaque with dust and ash; or the recent monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India and Nepal that have claimed more than twelve hundred lives; or (while not technically a weather event), the earthquake in Mexico that registered 8.2 on the Richter Scale and is the strongest earthquake in Mexico in a century; or the fact that three named hurricanes churn through the Atlantic at the same time.
These crises are occurring with such regularity that it is difficult to keep them separate—unless, of course, you are in the direct path of one. There can be little doubt that these extremes are intensified by climate change. Yet, US environmental policy continues on its tone-deaf path, incoherent at best and openly dismissive—even destructive—at its worst. Perhaps the loss of life and property and its accompanying heartbreak caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, or the stifling heat of western wildfires, record-setting monsoons or extraordinary earthquakes will shake us into awareness.
It is clear: we must act with urgency to preserve our ecosystems and the populations they support. But, this is a task we cannot leave to policy makers in Washington or those who lead our classrooms or our board rooms. Each of us must take our place in the struggle to protect and preserve our environment.
I’m a great fan of Game of Thrones, but in recent days, it seems increasingly that we have a classic case of life imitating art. As the Lannisters, the Starks and the Targaryens wreak havoc on the people of Westeros and jockey for power among one another, the “army of the dead,” the real enemy of all humankind in that fictitious kingdom, has burst through the great northern wall and marches relentlessly southward as all are preoccupied with lesser things.
So too, in our land, we are consumed with news of political posturing and meaningless machinations. Meanwhile inaction about climate change wastes valuable time as our own army of the dead in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes, storm surges, monsoon rains and oppressive heat march toward us. We are being warned continually—by scientists, engineers, meteorologists and advocates for the poor and marginalized (who always suffer the most from environmental disasters). Yet, we continue to find excuses to support the notion that climate change should not be a top priority.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Florida and Texas, and Mexico and Bangladesh and wherever the whims of weather leave individuals and whole communities devastated and demoralized. It is time to connect the dots and recognize how unregulated growth, failure to take seriously the warnings about climate change and inaction on policies that support environmental justice are weapons used by the army of the dead that stalk us in these days.