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Disaster Upon Disaster

3 205 0
21.06.2019

How much suffering must one region endure before we begin to see it, properly, as a new category of suffering? How many natural disasters does it take to qualify as biblical, or apocalyptic, or at least to make us understand that we are living not through a bad week, or a bad year, but an unraveling climate system in which so much of what we take for granted as permanent features of the built environment may be turned into flotsam and jetsam by unprecedented weather?

Our capacity for denial, for compartmentalization, and for normalization mean that the answer, unfortunately, may always be “more.” No matter how bad things get, it may be easier, emotionally speaking, to connect the dots to the experience of the past, as distant and different as that experience may be, rather than to the future, which terrifies us so much we choose simply to not believe it — and look away from the events of the present that point unmistakably in that direction.

By the end of the century, should unabated warming continue, a recent study suggested, parts of the planet could be pummeled by six climate-driven natural disasters at once. That kind of multiplying climate misery may seem still far away, but in fact we are seeing more and more instances of one disaster following directly in the footsteps of another, a whole new experience of sequential catastrophe, each making the impact of the next one worse.

Last month, in the Midwest, 500 tornadoes swept through the region in just 30 days — an average of 20 every day. The region is still underwater from historic flooding earlier in this spring, with some places deluged by seven feet of water and others issuing multiple disaster declarations in a single week. The Mississippi River has been flooding for three straight months; in Baton Rouge, the river rose past “flood stage” the first week of the year, according to Weather.com, “and has been above that threshold ever since.” In March, major........

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