Notes on the Economy of Life: Reckoning with a World in Crisis
I've keep trying to write a blog about "economistic worldview," the details of global finance I've learned this past week, etc., etc.
But yesterday morning at 2:00am, my parents began evacuating their home -- along with tens of thousands of their neighbors -- as Hurricane Harvey continues to drop unprecedented amounts of rain on Houston while I sit in my room in Lusaka.
I came to Zambia thinking: how good and relevant to go to Africa, to be where the real problems are, to be confronted by true poverty when studying economics.
But I haven’t seen poverty here any worse than I see every day on the streets of Denver.
And I’ve seen clean, bright, modern, bustling, in-door malls filled with a middle-class that could just as easily be in the states.
I’ve seen good roads and met people who know more about American politics than I do.
Meanwhile, it keeps raining 10,000 miles away in the place I was born, and one of the biggest disasters in the world is unfolding in America while I’m in Africa.
The world’s not what you think it is.
A few years ago, I read a book called Eaarth (sic) by Bill McKibben. His basic point was, it’s time to find a new name for this planet. It’s not the same one where our grandparents were born. The climate and ecosystem has already changed so substantively, we must come to grips with the fact that this simply isn’t the same world.
I came across a Guardian article struggling to articulate the scope of this storm. After naming that (as of Saturday) 9 trillion gallons had fallen, they listed some ways to visualize that amount of water: a 2x2x2 mile cube of water, the Great Salt Lake twice, the entire country with .17” of rainfall (I heard it’s now up to .38). Then they ended with this reflection:
"Welcome to the future of weather."
Welcome to the future, the new normal we created.
McKibben repeatedly writes: stop talking about climate change as our "grandchildren's problem." That's ridiculous. It's already our problem.
You may think it’s in bad taste to politicize natural disasters while they're still unfolding. On the other had, I’ve heard it said there’s no such thing as a natural disaster. I’m not sure I agree with either, but one thing seems clear: the events unfolding on my Texas Gulf Coast aren’t natural.
It’s not natural that the Gulf’s a foot higher today than it was in 1960 — generating that much more storm surge and a higher water table.
It’s not natural that the water temperature was 2-7 degrees warmer than it should normally be — driving more water to evaporate into the storm and supercharging Harvey into a Cat 4 in the blink of an eye.
It’s not natural that the poor and People of Color will be hardest hit. Its not natural that their homes should be lowest in flood planes, or that the most vulnerable should have the least insurance and capacity to recover.
Incredibly, this isn’t even the only record breaking storm happening on planet Eaarth right now. Mumbai and much of India is getting hammered by a system dropping 10 times their usual rain. Twelve hundred people have died across India, Bangladesh, and Nepal in the past month from record breaking monsoons.
So welcome to the future. The world that’s not what you thought is was.
Most maddeningly, we are so locked into our modern American worldviews that catastrophic events like this can’t even shake us into awareness of the real causes of climate change.
Setting aside those who will disregard the evidence, even most people who believe the climate is changing are mired so deeply into the common sense of capitalism that recognizing LIMITLESS ECONOMIC GROWTH as the fundamental culprit would be an impossible leap into absurdity -- possibly even into evil.
Our systems, livelihoods, behavior and consciousness are addicted to growth. We depend on it for everything from retirement to debt repayment to food production to geopolitical security.
Having spent a decent amount of time with addicts, that comparison is deeply disturbing.
Would we destroy ourselves to maintain our habit?
As we wait for or choose to become the answer, may we all join in prayer for Houston.