George Monbiot is angry, fed up. He's angry at the degree to which the media, especially America's mainstream media, are ignoring the role played by man-made global warming in the mega-flooding in Texas and other environmental calamities.
To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy – but the entire political and economic system.
It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present, that demands perpetual growth on a finite planet. It is to challenge the very basis of capitalism; to inform us that our lives are dominated by a system that cannot be sustained – a system that is destined, if it is not replaced, to destroy everything.
To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age. Every aspect of our weather is affected by the fact that global temperatures rose by about 4C between the ice age and the 19th century. And every aspect of our weather is affected by the 1C of global warming caused by human activities. While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, none is unaffected by it.
To raise this issue, I’ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey. It is an insult to the victims and a distraction from their urgent need. The proper time to discuss it is when people have rebuilt their homes, and scientists have been able to conduct an analysis of just how great the contribution from climate breakdown might have been. In other words, talk about it only when it’s out of the news. When researchers determined, nine years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.
I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.
Hurricane Harvey offers a glimpse of a likely global future; a future whose average temperatures are as different from ours as ours are from those of the last ice age. It is a future in which emergency becomes the norm, and no state has the capacity to respond. It is a future in which, as a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters notes, disasters like Houston’s occur in some cities several times a year. It is a future that, for people in countries such as Bangladesh, has already arrived, almost unremarked on by the rich world’s media. It is the act of not talking that makes this nightmare likely to materialise.
I agree wholeheartedly with Monbiot. Catastrophes like the Houston flooding are a devastating problem and not talking about what's really happening - not just the anthropogenic climate change element but also the political and economic dynamics at play - is to guarantee a very dark future for our grandchildren. It's not just knuckledraggers such as Trump behind this. Justin Trudeau is also on a quest for perpetual, exponential growth in GDP and deeper global integration. He'll go to Paris and make solemn promises and then betray his oath by approving bitumen pipelines.
Perhaps one day, when enough of us are regularly taking refuge in stadiums, sleeping on cots and lining up for the porta-potties, we'll realize how devastating it was when capitalism was harnessed to neoliberalism in the 80s. Chances are it'll be too late by then to do much about it, to undo the damage. Oh well.