As I write this post, Hurricane Ian is threatening Florida with 150 mph winds, torrential rains, and a devastating storm surge. While, of course, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Florida in these days, and while we should respond generously to subsequent requests for financial assistance in the recovery period, this event is yet further proof of the powerful impact that climate change is having on our world.
And, while we are justifiably focused on Florida, we must be mindful simultaneously that these climate extremes are not unique to the United States. Out-of-control wildfires have not only ravaged the American West, but the continent of Australia as well. Unprecedented storms have crashed ashore not only in Western Alaska but also in Eastern Canada. This past summer’s crushing heat wave was not confined to the US but also suffocated Europe and the South Asian peninsula.
I had the opportunity to speak with Aaquib Mirxa, a friend and colleague in Pakistan this week. He reported that—yes, the news reports we have seen in this country are true—fully one third of his country is covered in flood waters. One third! That is the equivalent of all of the US being under water from the East Coast to the Mississippi River!
While headlines have been replete with commentary about the end of life as we know it—from the January 6 Insurrection to runaway inflation to the isolating effects of social media—it is the climate crisis alone that truly poses an existential threat to the whole world. And, more and more we are hearing about climate refugees as droughts and excessive heat render vast regions of the world uninhabitable.
Political issues and environmental concerns have converged and are mutually reinforcing, thereby exacerbating the problem. This is perhaps most dramatically revealed by the War in Ukraine as outlined in Tom Friedman’s (excellent) OpEd in the New York Times. Friedman says: “There was no good time for Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, idiotic invasion of Ukraine. But this is a uniquely bad time. Because it’s diverting worldwide attention and resources needed to mitigate climate change — during what may be the last decade when we still have a chance to manage the climate extremes that are now unavoidable and avoid those that could become unmanageable. Unfortunately, what happens between Ukraine and Russia does not stay between Ukraine and Russia. That’s because the world is flatter than ever…Which is why Putin’s war is not just a crime against Ukraine and humanity. It’s also a crime against the home we all share: planet Earth.”
But, if we look hard, we may be able to discover a silver lining. Nations, it seems, may finally be paying attention. Climate Envoy John Kerry speaks optimistically about China cooperating with the US on climate policy. “My hope is that President Xi will recognize the benefit of getting both of us moving in the same direction. The world needs to see these two powerful countries actually working together.”
And, it is not only nations who are paying attention. Individuals are as well. While we may be accustomed to seeing neighbors helping neighbors in crises like hurricanes and tornadoes here in the US, Aaquib told me that Pakistan is flooded not only with rainfall, but with volunteers from all around the world who are seeking to help Pakistanis through their current crisis. Ignoring security issues prompted by machinations among Pakistani political elites, international visitors are coming to Pakistan in numbers not seen before simply to help others in need.
As we offer prayers and financial support to Florida as it struggles through the rampage of Hurricane Ian, we must be mindful that the climate crisis is global and will lead to unlivable conditions for millions and millions around the world, especially those who are most vulnerable. The only way that we can survive this existential threat is to work together, as nations and as individuals, setting aside whatever differences divide us and creating systems and solutions that benefit us all.