Monday, November 12, 2012

Acts of God

Tropical Cyclone Storm Surge Probabilities, NOAA site
Chance of Storm Surge >= 2 feet (NGVD-1929) at individual locations
Sandy (2012) Advisory 31
For the 77 hours from 11 PM EDT Mon Oct 29 to 04 AM EDT Fri Nov 02

Unlike my academic writing for my dissertation, on this blog, I can own my opinions without too many citations. I have a few opinions about Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy has turned many lives upside down in NYC, not to mention those lost but we have never so desperately needed to invert our ideas about our relationships to nature, from infinite expansionism and extraction to accepting our limits while exercizing infinite empathy. we used to say that major weather events were an Act of God. I charge that Hurricane Sandy was an act of stupid white men. Michael Moore's Stupid White Men were DC policy makers. I think we are all stupid white men when it comes to the environment. We have made a world where Cuomo and Bloomberg can talk about storms like Hurricane Sandy becoming routine. We have replaced god, with our own stupidity.

In considering my new project for Memphis, Fish Story, I am still thinking about fish: the fish that have now lived (if they still live) in a toxic soup of chemicals and sewage for almost two weeks (not to mention the birds that eat them or the small life the fish normally consume). In a "normal, healthy" estuarine system which historically surrounded Manhattan Island with fecund abundance, Sandy should be part of a cycle of high impact phenomena to bring even greater nourishment and support to this bioregion. Instead, we have made a charnel house of this region.

Humans, particularly white European colonists and their progeny since 1650, have ignored any attention to how things work in their own world, except as they serve short term interests of acquiring material wealth and power. New York City, is in fact the icon of exactly that acquisition. It has been enormously successful in proselytizing that ethos and exporting it globally out to the world. the consequence of all that "success" is this disaster. We expanded to the point of what Jared Diamond wrote of as Collapse, filling in the wetlands that might have protected us. What has collapsed is the fertile, protective natural system that protected us and the built infrastructure that replaced it. That collapse signals an opportunity to exchange and invert our priorities. To exchange expansionism for empathy for all life. If we live with empathy, we cannot countenance what we have done to this planet. If a god had any part in Hurricane Sandy, it was in the circumstantial conflation of a climate change event and the Apple, days before an election for president of the USA.

It has been incidental to the success of our great expansionist society, that NYC is also full of begging homeless people, extracted from a culture that has no place for them.

Drawing of homeless woman begging across the street from Bloomingdales, May (from Homeless in the Apple project) 2012 Aviva Rahmani
Now, we are talking about the impact of global warming. In my opinion, global warming is the symptom of a terrible spiritual disease that is literally killing the whole world. My opinion is that Hurricane Sandy, as part of global warming in the anthropocene, is a spiritual wake-up call. The spiritual part has little to do with gods in the world and everything to do with the moral power of empathy for what is not us. Hurricane Sandy was not an Act of God. It was the backdraft of many acts by many people who chose convenience, expedience and short term gain (including myself) over encompassing a view of the world which might include the suffering of others, whether fish or homeless women across the street from a luxury emporium. As I type, I am listening to Brian Lehrer on WNYC speaking to a caller from Coney Island, describing old people walking down 14 flights of stairs to deliver a bucket of their own waste to the street level. None of that misery is the consequence of an Act of God.

Tomorrow, I will record another Gulf to Gulf webcast to discuss the science behind this new normal reality in depth with Jim White, my collaborator from INSTAAR and will post the url after we are done. Friday evening, I will participate on a panel at LIU in Brooklyn about fracking and social media. I will also post further about that here before the event. They are connected: the fish, the homeless, the old people with a bucket of waste, fracking and the world crying for an ethos of empathy rather than expansionism. And it is here, on the net, where we can advance another point of view, one that might invert our present headlong trajectory towards destruction.

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