by Libby Comeaux
We survived Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Christmas-shopper prompts blistering our screens since Halloween. Prepare for a commercial version of skin cancer – superficial in appearance but portending serious intervention.
I remember my little-girl shock when my mother pulled me aside to break the news that there really is no Santa Claus. No guy like the one in the Coke commercial who came down the chimney while we slept, left presents for us and ate the cookies we set out for him. No Santa?
What shocked me was that I never guessed it was okay for anyone to tell the truth about Santa Claus. Astutely childlike, I knew all along he was not real. I had internalized a cultural norm that we had to keep our mouths shut and go along with the snow job that was Santa Claus. And all this in a pious, God-fearing family.
There was a method in Mom’s revelation. Ours was a large and growing family. A childless couple down the street had made their garage available as our “Santa's Workshop.” Over the next five weeks, I got to sneak out after homework, skip my chores, and discretely “help Santa.”
I accepted the new responsibility with dignified reserve. Mr. Gorman patiently coached me in the art of repainting child-sized kitchen appliances for the girls and bicycles for the boys. I believe that was my first successful negotiation: a recycled bicycle for me too. And, not to brag, but I excelled in getting black paint inside the lines on top of a pink wooden stove to represent electric coils.
|The meaning of Christmas - at Gurgaon mall in India!|
This week as we recover from our Thanksgiving excesses by taking to the health club, I’m grateful for the non-federal actors who represented us at COP23 earlier this month. Volunteering in the absence of any official U.S. delegation committed to the Paris Climate Accord, they didn’t act deaf and dumb at press conferences when uncomfortable questions were raised. Recently there has been a lot of talk along the lines of, “If you see something, say something.” They were willing to say what they saw. Representing states, cities, businesses and other institutions taking responsibility for America’s Pledge, if they were a country, they would be the third largest economy in the world.
Me too. I see something. For almost five days in late August, Hurricane Harvey crept over the Texas Gulf Coast hurling wind and water against the people, landmarks, and landscapes of my childhood. Harvey dumped 51.88 inches of rain on my parents’ grave. So damaged was the chemical plant down the road that it belched lethal poisons into the air for days. A concrete-and-asphalt metropolis that whines 24/7 as the largest hub of fossilized carbon processing capacity in the Western Hemisphere cannot absorb that deluge. Only a rain forest or primeval prairie would have a prayer. More hurricanes followed Harvey, catapulting an internal migration of American citizens from Puerto Rico to Orlando and other mainland cities, overwhelming social service agencies.
|Houston meets Harvey - Katie Hayes Luke for NPR|
The World Bank reported this year that food not grown because of worldwide droughts could have fed 80 million people, roughly the population of Germany – and that long-term drought is four times costlier for cities than floods are. Heat and drought led to wildfires consuming eight million acres in the US as of September 14 – notably in Oregon, Washington, and Montana – and then we had the catastrophic California fires. Katherine Hayhoe calls these extremes “climate weirdness.”
We in the U.S. are just starting to experience the undeniable effect of the climate chaos that industrial humanity has been causing – undeniable, thanks to scientists like Hayhoe and Kevin Trenberth going public. But other parts of the planet have a head start on our level of public awareness. Without enjoying the benefits of a fossilized-carbon economy, they have suffered its consequences.
Severe rainfall and flooding has plagued South Asia for decades, this year affecting 41 million people, killing 1200. And in Sierra Leone, 500 people died from a mudslide that displaced 20,000. Fully a third of Bangladesh was under water, affecting 8.5 million people and claiming the lives of 142. Flooding and landslides in Nepal killed over 140, and the Pakistani city of Karachi received five times its normal September rainfall in one day, killing at least 27 people. Up to thirty percent of extreme rainfall comes from human-caused climate change, as documented by The Atlantic on August 27.
Drought crippled Spain and Portugal, not to mention large swaths of Africa including Morocco, Kenya, Cape Town, and the entire Horn. A National Geographic article associated oil and gas development in Iraq with the demise of agriculture and the beginning of drought as early as 2010. In the years that followed, we have observed how easily devastated communities fall prey to terrorist organizers who promise the basic necessities of life.
And when the rest of the world suffers, they rightly look to long-industrialized countries’ excessive emissions of greenhouse gasses. They observe how they suffer – and (relatively speaking) we don’t – from our lifestyle choices of the past 50-100 years. Not surprisingly over the past several years, U.S. officials responsible for our national security, up to and including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have underscored the immediate risks to U.S. national security posed by climate change. How shall the U.S. government respond? By building more border walls and expanding the definition of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free that we toss back, homeless, into the tempest?
Here comes Santa Claus, can all his secret helpers please open their mouths? We can no longer pretend to our children. We must prepare them for new realities, unpredictable except for this extraordinary moral and civic challenge. Our children need clear information and explicit training, so they can face the greatest test humanity has ever faced – surviving our unfortunate legacy to them of climate chaos.
So hang your stockings and say your prayers, ‘cause Santa Claus comes tonight.
Download – for free – your very own copy of America’s Pledge at www.americaspledgeonclimate.com
Libby Comeaux is a co-member of the Loretto Community with a legal background, whose retirement interests include revitalizing democracy for better-quality public decisions and ecological integrity.