From the Bahamas, stories are coming out about how Hurricane Dorian has ravaged and destroyed a beautiful landscape, transforming a happy population into desperate circumstances. One in particular haunts me of a man who stood with his wife on the top of kitchen cabinets, heads bent against the ceiling to breathe above the furious water, waiting for rescue, until finally the cabinet collapsed and he watched her drown.
Videos from helicopters reveal the devastation as the waters recede. The headlines have already moved on to Florida and the East Coast where the weakened storm blows less dangerously, but the people in the Bahamas are still fighting for their lives. With airports submerged, rescue is difficult. Full of simple joys and pains just a day ago, life now for everyone there is all about survival as food and clean water become scarce.
If insurance covers any of it, the effort to rebuild each home will be 13,000 different stories of triumphs and tribulations, celebration and despair. In the meantime, all belongings are lost and all lives are reduced equally to soggy rubble.
For decades the concept of Climate Change has been an abstract sci-fi scenario far off in the future, an inconceivable possibility that would surely be conquered by the slowly congealing effort of American ingenuity. Worst case: our grandchildren’s grandchildren would be disrupted. So remote, the sense of crisis lies dormant and even the word seems absurd in this context.
For the people in the Bahamas the reality of Climate Change has hit hard and lives have been radically jolted, likely never to be the same. Many will eventually rejoin the world either by moving to safer land or have the means to rebuild, but for now the infrastructure is gone, money is out of reach, communication is sporadic. Friends and family are missing. These people are surviving only by what is in their hands and their willingness to help each other. For them, all events in their lives will be forever defined as pre or post Dorian.
Like the people of Peurto Rico.
Like the people of Paradise.
Reports have been quickening to warn us that this is all happening far faster than first predicted. Not only are the hurricanes and fires more furious, the heat waves more intense, the rain storms flooding at 500 and 1000 year levels over and over, research is showing the Permafrost is releasing methane that accelerates the warming at such a rate that even if we are able to make the vast changes necessary to hold the temperature rise to 2 degrees, the deterioration will continue beyond that of its own volition.
The consensus has grown to accept that dramatic transformations in society are now inevitable and we have only a decade to mitigate the disaster and risk perishing entirely. Immense upheaval is probably certain for my children and very likely will be apparent in my own lifetime. The worst scenarios forecast migrations in the billions caused by sea level rise and mass starvation from drought on such a scale that in a mere 30 years civilization itself could collapse.
When I instinctively shut my eyes and cover my ears to these apocalyptic warnings, these pictures from the Bahamas and other recent disasters prevent me from finding peace in the sand. Averse to guns (sooner or later even the strongest will run out of bullets) and knowing only how to grow a little lettuce and tomatoes to add to Summer salads, I am not a good candidate for long term survival under primitive conditions.
At least for now, the conflagration is still so abstract, I cannot envision killing others to protect my own. True survival to me is in cooperation where we work together. I can build shelter while others grow food. If there is truly not enough to go around, then in my vision we’ll all be that couple in the Bahamas standing on our cabinets and we’ll all likely drown.
In the meantime, we have these years to change our ways. Daily, it seems, I hear more about the need to move away from fossil fuels and eat less beef. On this same night as I see the destruction of the Bahamas, 10 politicians passionately project their confidence to lead us toward a Green New Deal. Solar collectors are suddenly affordable enough to land on many roofs and grow across fields of green. Giant windmills stand atop hillsides and straddle the Plains. Even as our roads are more crowded with single drivers scooting every which way, high tech bikes and baby carriages share the lanes alongside.
An outstanding, albeit sobering, article by Richard Budah challenges architects to lead the way to a society that plans for the horrific future by designing cities inland to accommodate the mass migration from sea level rise. Accepting the inevitable truth of our deteriorating circumstances, we consciously withdraw and adapt, ultimately creating a small society of survivors living comfortably in the now tropical Antartic for the centuries (or millenia) it will take for Earth to rebalance.
Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker Magazine this week suggests that “…You can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope. “ In the process of redefining our borders according to the evolving landscape of Climate Change, we enjoin our better selves to create a society of cooperation, sharing our resources and making room at our tables to feast on the engineered vegetables that can sustain us.
It seems somewhat naïve in this time of endless wars and deregulations threatening our clean air and water to imagine a world based on universal love. I have yet to learn of the parallels I’m sure exist in other cultures, but at least I know in mine, the story is prevalent of lions living peacefully with antelopes in tight quarters on an ark until the waters recede.
Perhaps if we work together, those cabinets we stand on will hold after all.