Five important policy reminders from a stormy week

By: - October 4, 2022 6:00 am

Line technicians, contractors, and tree specialists were in high demand in the aftermath of Ian’s impact. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

Line technicians, contractors, and tree specialists were in high demand in the aftermath of Ian’s impact. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

North Carolina endured the wrath of yet another powerful hurricane last week. And while it comes as little solace to those who lost homes, businesses or, in a few tragic cases, loved ones, on the whole, the situation could have been much, much worse. One need only glance at the devastation that Ian inflicted on southwestern Florida to be reminded of what these storms can dish out and how fortunate we were in comparison.

And indeed, though life is carrying on for most North Carolinians while scarcely missing a beat, it would be an enormous mistake not to take a minute or two to reflect upon some of the powerful reminders Hurricane Ian delivered. Here are five of particular note:

1 – First and foremost is the growing urgency of the global climate emergency. Yes, hurricanes and other severe storms have long plagued many parts of the world – including the southeastern U.S. – but the science is absolutely clear: Our warming planet and rising seas are making these disasters more frequent and more intense. In effect, hurricanes like Ian are part of what has become the inexorable demise of barrier islands, wetlands, and other coastal areas around the world.

And sadly, while there is no magic solution to this sobering situation, it’s also clear that in order to save what we can and avoid massive and hugely destructive global disruptions, humanity must phase out the use of fossil fuels and move to a carbon-neutral economy as rapidly as possible. And while making use of market forces to facilitate this transition is an obvious priority, ultimately, the urgency of the situation demands that elected leaders take whatever steps prove to be necessary, including providing large public subsidies to sustainable energy of the kind long showered on the fossil fuel industry.

2 – Ian also provided the latest in a long line of reminders of the need to strengthen and enhance public infrastructure and resiliency. In some places this means relatively obvious (but by no means simple or inexpensive) actions like modernizing and improving core public structures like the power grid, water and sewer lines, systems of transportation and communication, and emergency response networks. In many others, however, it means making hard but absolutely necessary choices about planned retreat from extremely vulnerable coastal areas and flood zones.

And in many other places it simply means acknowledging the reality that life will be different and require enhanced investments in a variety of other basic public structures. This past weekend, for instance, the city of Raleigh succeeded in hosting a large and successful music festival attended by thousands of people from around the world that had long been planned as an outdoor event. And the only reason the show went on was the foresight that city leaders evidenced several years ago by building (over the frantic objections from the local political right) a first-class convention center that easily absorbed the crowds.

3 – Long-term planning and patience are more important than ever. In the 21st century Americans live in an instant gratification society in which we’ve come to expect quick responses to our problems and needs, but the hard reality of the climate emergency is that much of what we do is for the benefit of future generations. This is not to say that we should not demand immediate action – it is, in fact, essential – but a lot of that necessary immediate action is ultimately about doing our utmost to lower the probability of more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes (as well as floods, droughts, intense heat waves, and paralyzing ice storms) in 2042 and 2062.

4 – Partisanship should have no place in disaster response and relief. It was one of former President Donald Trump’s many great sins that he sought on more than one occasion to punish state and local officials whom he perceived as critics when it came to meting out disaster relief to their constituents. Thankfully and to his great credit, however, this is a practice President Joe Biden quickly abandoned. His stated commitment within hours of the storm’s departure to do everything in his power to aid the state of Florida – the home to a climate-change-denying governor who attacks him personally at every opportunity – was just the latest example of this honorable approach in action.

5 – We’re all in this together. While it’s true that poor people here and around the world are the group most likely to be on the front line in the global environmental crisis (as well as the least well-positioned to avoid its worst impacts and the most likely to become climate refugees), the hard truth is that almost no one will be spared in the decades ahead. From the millionaires who lost their homes on Florida’s posh Sanibel Island last week, to the comfortable suburbanites of future decades who will see their ways of life negatively impacted by product shortages, rising prices, severe weather, and increased societal turmoil driven by mass migration, there will be no hiding from climate change.

One can only hope and pray that last week’s storm awoke another several million additional Americans to this sobering truth.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.