Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If you’re a news junky like me, you probably wonder why the news for the last several years features so many stories on weather and natural disasters. When I was growing up Walter Cronkite hardly ever did a piece on the weather. Now we can’t go a day without hearing about some big natural event somewhere on Earth on the nightly news.

This piece of information jumped out at me while reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein:

Over the course of the 1970s , there were 660 reported disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wildfires, and storms. In the 2000s, there were 3,322— a fivefold boost. That is a staggering increase in just over thirty years, and clearly global warming cannot be said to have “caused” all of it. But the climate signal is also clear. “There’s no question that climate change has increased the frequency of certain types of extreme weather events,” climate scientist Michael Mann told me in an interview, “including drought, intense hurricanes, and super typhoons, the frequency and intensity and duration of heat waves, and potentially other types of extreme weather though the details are still being debated within the scientific community.” 36

Klein, Naomi (2014-09-16). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (p. 107). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Since I wondered about those statistics I did a Google search and found EM-DAT The International Disaster Database. The site is full of statistics and wonderful charts like this one:

eveyr2_view

Whenever I watch the news and see stories about hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornados, fires, blizzards, etc., it always disturbs me to see people made homeless, or forced to live without power and water. We once lived without power for thirteen days. Since then I’ve had the power go out a couple times for 2-3 days. When I see these news reports I often wonder what I would do if my house was destroyed, or if I had to live without utilities for a very long time. I’ve known a number of Katrina refuges. They just moved away from New Orleans forever.

Who do I know around the country that would put me up? Luckily, my wife works out of town, so I have a second home to go to. But if I had to stay in Memphis, I know a number of friends who’d put me up. But that would only be temporary. And what if I was homeless without any of my paperwork, maybe without even my wallet, how do I reestablish myself? I know the Red Cross helps people in times like that. This makes me think I should cache some important papers in a bank vault or at a friend’s house.

Ever since Hurricane Elvis devastated Memphis in 2003, with straight line winds, I’ve always kept a bunch of flashlights and battery lanterns around. I should keep more bottled water and ready-to-eat non-refrigerated food. And what about medicines? It makes me wonder if I should have an emergency backpack? And what should go in it? It’s something to think about.

Living without electricity and heat is one thing, living without plumbing is a whole other issue. When the water is shut off and you can’t flush the toilet, you quickly realize the value of civilization. I once wondered when the water was shut off while the utility company was working on the main, if I shouldn’t store several plastic jugs of water for flushing the toilet. However, I don’t know how practical that would be.

What if my truck was destroyed, or the roads were blocked? Could I just walk away? Bicycle? Where would I go? Generally, disasters are local. Cell phones are a miracle. I could call a friend that lives somewhere nearby that’s outside of the damage zone. Who? Luckily, I don’t have children or pets. That must be an extra nightmare to deal with.

I should read blogs and memoirs by people who have lived through catastrophes to pick up tips. This is an interesting topic to think about. More than likely, I won’t do much to prepare, assuming like most people, that I’ll always be safe. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to make some preparations.

And has climate change worsens, I suppose we could have many times more natural disasters each decade. What if there were 10,000 in a decade? Will everyone become super-prepared? Can we build tornado proof houses? When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s some people built bomb shelters because they were afraid of nuclear war. Will people start building natural disaster proof houses? Or weather bunkers?

JWH

50 Reasons Why The Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do not read this if you are depressed or are easily depressed. I’m not kidding. I hope I’m proven wrong. I really do.

I write this on the day I turn 63 while thinking about the future. Usually, I’m extremely positive about the future, probably because I love science fiction. However, if I wrote a science fiction novel today I’m afraid it would be a pessimistic apocalyptic novel. Normally I hate being cynical, but I thought for this essay I’d let it all hang out. I’ve spent my whole life assuming we were getting smarter and we’d become a rational species before we made ourselves extinct. I now think I’m wrong. We’re going to cross the finish line before we can get our shit together. Up until a century ago, the world was safe because there wasn’t enough of us, and the Earth’s carrying capacity could absorb our endless acts of stupidity.  My bet is those saving graces will run out in the next one or two hundred years. We won’t go extinct, but our global civilization will be stillborn and collapse. The once mighty homo sapiens will end up being subsistence farmers and fishing folk, and the industrial civilization will fade into distant myths. So it goes.

tundra

I doubt many people will read this essay, and I beg anyone with a depressive nature not to read these cases I present to make my point because they are truly depressing. Since I am not a true cynic, I hope I am proven wrong. These essays are just random articles I’ve run across recently, in no particular order, but taken as a whole paint a very bleak picture for the human race.  And it’s so sad because most people are good, and many people are smart, and we should be much better than our collective self.

I think there will be a number of reasons for our downfall, and they roughly fall into these categories:

  • Pollution.  The byproducts of billions of human lives are overwhelming the ecosystem. Rising CO2 levels is just one of many indicators that we are self-destructing.
  • Scarcity. We’re using everything up.
  • Theocracy. If it wasn’t for Islamic fundamentalism the globe would be mostly quiet regarding wars. But the more we work to stop worldwide terrorism it’s pretty obvious that’s there is an unresolvable conflict between democracy and theocracy. Even in America, there is an upwelling for theocracy. I believe such movements are causing civil wars around the globe, and we’re seeing the emergence of World War III. Theocracy is the evil our Founding Fathers feared when they created the Constitution.
  • Inequality. Social order breaks down when there is too much inequality, and inequality is on a sharp increase.
  • Corruption. Wealth and plutocracy protect the few against the many and this undermines order.
  • Crime. As the population density increases, resources dwindle, inequality grows, humans attack each other.
  • Extinction. We are currently in another mass extinction event. There have been several in the history of Earth. Humans are the cause of this one.
  • Hate. As our problems grow with more and more fellow humans sharing the planet, we lash out at each other.
  • Tyranny. As long as billions are oppressed by political and social injustice then we haven’t developed a practical political system to support humans on Earth.
  • Misogyny.  Hatred of women is so deep rooted in all the cultures of the world that for many, including women, it’s hard to see. As we approach the world’s first global civilization freedom for women is on the rise. Sadly, this freedom will be the first to go when things fall apart.
  • Prejudice. For all the enlightenment we’ve achieved in the last fifty years over race and sexual orientation there are strong indications that many people are still ignorant of the scopes of their prejudices.
  • Xenophobia. Many among us can’t get over their tribal instincts.
  • Disease. Drug-resistant diseases are on the rise, and the global spread of dangerous diseases because of transportation and warming climates indicate the revenge of mother nature is near.
  • Denial.  There are too many reality deniers among us. Up to now, we’ve been able to deny the gloom and doom of the population bomb, our inherent stupidity, and greed, because the Earth could absorb our mistakes. We deluded ourselves into believing we could always beat the system. Well, the bill is coming due, and we can’t pay the check.

These are some of our main Achilles heels that will bring about our downfall. People used to think God would save us, many still do. More recently, we thought we could save ourselves, especially with science and technology.  I use to think that. I wish I still did.  Most people live with their heads in the sand, cramming their minds with sports statistics, shopping for new cars, planning a wedding, buying Christmas presents, and ignoring all the dying canaries falling from the sky. If you think I’m wrong read just a fraction of the articles I list below. I firmly believe we know enough to solve our problems, I just doubt we have the collective will to work together to get the job done.

  1. Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure” – 60 Minutes. It’s not that we can’t fix these problems, we’re just too cheap and short-sighted to do so.
  2. A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” – Rolling Stone. Some men don’t have a clue to how evil they are to women. If this is the best and the brightest, at what is supposed to be an institution of higher learning, then I rest my case. [This article has been proven false, but the whole story behind that is another reason for depression.]
  3. Depleting the water” – 60 Minutes.  Jared Diamond wrote a huge book about past collapsing civilizations. Even when older civilizations saw the end coming they didn’t change course. Neither are we.
  4. Dismembering History: The Shady Online Trade in Ancient Texts” – The Daily Beast. Greed and self-interest know no bounds.
  5. Stop Trying to Save the World” – The New Republic. No matter how hard we try to do good we seem to fail. Do-gooders just can’t outwit stupidity and bad guys.
  6. Iran Nuke Deal: A Matter of War or Peace” – The Daily Beast. It’s not the war on terror, but the war of theocracy v. democracy. Three great religions claim to have the same God. Do their animosities end when they die and go to heaven, or does God segregate paradise by faith?
  7. The ‘Caliphate’s’ Colonies: Islamic State’s Gradual Expansion into North Africa” – Der Spiegel. Didn’t believe my point in #6? Try this one, and wonder if WWIII hasn’t already started.
  8. Hell is Other People” – GQ (British). This is what happens when civilization collapses. That seems to be happening a lot lately. This is what humans are really like when there’s no big government to rule them. Yeah, that’s a fuck you to my Tea Party friends.
  9. Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone – Especially the Wealthy” – The New Republic. Everyone should read Thomas Piketty.
  10. The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi” – The New York Times. With all the money we spend on education, with all the discoveries of science, why do so many people still embrace bullshit ideas?
  11. Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram” – The New York Times. Without big government guys with guns rule. Is this what the NRA means when it says “An armed society is a polite society?”
  12. In Brazilian city, homeless face ‘extermination’” – Aljazeera America. As our population grows, and we compete for less and less, we seem to lose our higher natures.
  13. Groundwater declines across U.S. South over past decade” – Climate.gov. New NASA satellites can measure ground water, and we’re using it up so fast that ground is sinking all around the world.
  14. The Horror Before the Beheadings” – The New York Times. From another front of WWIII.
  15. Poor teeth” – aeon. Is this how a great nation takes care of its citizens? As long as the “I’ve got mine, fuck you” attitude prevails in America, we’re heading downhill.
  16. ”Hurt That Bitch”: What Undercover Investigators Saw Inside a Factory Farm.” – Mother Jones. What if the survival of our species depends on how kind we are to animals? A certain percentage of humans are evil to other humans – is that the same folks who are evil to animals? Or do we have two problem groups to deal with?
  17. The Ebola Wars” – The New Yorker. Ebola can be easily contained if you have a big government. Science can destroy Ebola if we have a big government that supports science.  You know the next line I would write.
  18. The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’s Gamergate” – Deadspin. Some men just don’t have a clue about women. Their minds have never evolved out of the Neolithic, yet they are a product of the 21st-century education and culture. When civilization starts circling the drain, I advise women to kill all the men and take up cloning for reproduction.
  19. Where the Tea Party Rules” – The Rolling Stone. America is coming undone, and it’s not because people are bad. Most Americans are good, salt of the Earth folk who do the best they can. But things keep falling apart. We can’t go back, and we can’t work together to go forward.
  20. My Terrifying Night With Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord” – New Republic.  The real Katniss Everdeen who fights the dystopian world order called democracy. If you had the choice between dystopia and chaos, which would you pick? The decisions we have to make are very complicated.
  21. George Clooney, South Sudan and How the World’s Newest Nation Imploded” – Newsweek. Report from another front in WWIII. This war is not going to come to an armistice.
  22. Louisiana Has a Wild Plan to Save Itself from Global Warming” – New Republic. We could solve the global warming problem, it’s why we don’t that’s the real problem with our species. Climate change is another world war, one we’re ignoring. You can’t win if you don’t fight.
  23. A Hundred Women” – The New Yorker. One measure of how civilization is succeeding is to study how women are being treated around the world.
  24. Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash” – Pro Publica. As long as we have a plutocracy we’re not going to solve many of our problems because money always trumps common good.
  25. The Fight of Their Lives” – The New Yorker. Strangely, many Kurds are Sunni, just like ISIL/ISIS, yet they want to destroy each other. Not all Islamic people are the same. The ones we call terrorists do not believe in borders. They are a threat to everyone that does not believe exactly like they do. Their brand of Islam is now spreading across the world. How do you have a global civilization that requires a choice between independent democratic nation states versus a borderless theocratic world rule?
  26. Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson” – The Atlantic. Why does skin color divide us so? The color of our skin is about as important as the color of our shirts. What drives this senseless hatred?
  27. Was Moses a Founding Father?”  – The Atlantic. How different is this from the Taliban or ISIS?
  28. The Case for Reparations” – The Atlantic.  They say Christianity teaches compassion. Does this sound like a nation of Christians?
  29. Zero Percent Water” – Medium.  Like CO2, H20 is one strong indicator of our future.
  30. Meet the College Women Who Are Starting a Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault” – New York.  How can this problem exist if these are our daughters – and sons?
  31. Young Carlos” – New York. Conservatives won’t do anything about climate change, but also hate new folks moving in. Being a climate change denier means learning to live with the side-effects of the thing you refuse to see. Maybe you’ll change your mind when all those people from out west moves east to find water. People move to America now because there’s less population, more equality, more opportunity. The I’ve got mine, fuck you philosophy fails us ultimately because if we have it good and everyone else doesn’t, they are going to come check us out. Think global, act locally.
  32. China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet” – Rolling Stone. How can we say “Don’t be like us.”
  33. Nuclear Tourism” – National Geographic.  Is Chernobyl the portrait of Earth without people?
  34. The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys” – The Atlantic. The title says it all.
  35. Will Misogyny Bring Down the Atheist Movement?” – BuzzFeed. Even the sons of the Enlightenment treat women badly.
  36. Zoonotic Diseases” – National Geographic. The complexity of the biosphere is astounding. But our ignorance and cruelty are more astounding.
  37. Hell in the Hot Zone” – Vanity Fair. Ebola is not the scariest thing about the outbreak, it’s us.
  38. Son, Men Don’t Get Raped” – GQ.  The lack of empathy in some humans compared to the compassion in others illustrates how far we have to go to change and save ourselves. You decide if we can make it.
  39. Dignity” – The New Yorker. Another report from the front on inequality.
  40. The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out by Religious Families” – Rolling Stone. I should have put “Intolerance” on the list above. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. It’s a shame that religion is often not the solution.
  41. Why not kill them all?” – London Review of Books. What if America was like this? It will be like big government breaks down.
  42. How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy” – Businessweek. Sometimes an evil dictator is better than chaos. It’s hard to start a democracy.
  43. Putin Dreams of Empire” – New Yorker. Why is it still about alpha males?
  44. The Race to Stop Africa’s Elephant Poachers” – Smithsonian. If humans lack empathy for other humans, why expect them to feel for animals?
  45. The Social Laboratory” – Foreign Policy. Will it require Big Brother to bring about law and order?
  46. Gambling with Civilization” – The New York Review of Books. By denying reality to preserve their self-interests, aren’t Republicans gambling with our future?
  47. Two degrees” – Vox. CO2 is how we set the global thermostat.  Changing it two degrees will have untold consequences. It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.
  48. A Convenient Excuse” – The Phoenix.  Addicts are great a rationalizing another fix.
  49. Climate Change and the End of Australia” – Rolling Stone.  It’s one thing to deny what might happen, it’s a whole other thing to deny what’s right in front of us.
  50. The Battle Over Climate Science” – Popular Science.  Don’t kill the messenger.  The real reason why we won’t survive is too many of us are reality deniers. We rationalize, we put off, we shirk, we ignore, we pretend, we lie, we escape in fantasies.

Happy Birthday to me. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll go back to being positive.

[I wrote an update to this essay for my 64th Birthday.]

[The only book I’ve read since writing this that has given me hope is Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. 3/10/17]

Can Science Fiction Change Republican Minds About Climate Change?

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 8, 2014

The other day I was talking with my science fiction reading friends about whether or not science fiction can change public policy or opinion about the future. On one side of the argument, we had the belief that science fiction is only entertainment, on the other, some believed science fiction can enlighten people. I was on the side of science fictional enlightenment, but when asked to produce a list of books that actually changed public thinking, I was stumped. My only example was Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I think Orwell produced a number of memes about life in a totalitarian state that it has shaped political thought ever since. Just think how often his book was referenced during the recent NSA scandal.

Wind_Up_Girl_by_Raphael_Lacoste-600px

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, two science fiction novels were bestsellers that warned people against the atomic war apocalypse – Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, and On the Beach by Neville Shute. Neither are much remembered today, but then again, few people today worry about WWIII anymore. Did reading about Armageddon help us avoid it?

Despite the success of some of the new climate fiction (cli-fi) novels, I’m not sure they’re making an impact. Nineteen Eighty-Four is something Republicans can understand and embrace because it resonates with their political thinking, but how many conservatives have read Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson, or the brilliant The Windup Girl by  Paolo Bacigalupi? There’s a good chance that most people don’t read books that don’t match their current thinking.

After the mid-term elections it’s pretty obvious that the majority of Americans want Republican leaders, even if Republicans are against their personal interests. For example, Obamacare is proving most successful in red states. Republicans are extremely united in their opposition to climate change politics. Their denial of reality is amazing. And they’re absolutely consistent by siding for profit over environment. Nor do we see conservatives showing any signs of moving in new directions. Is there any book or movie that could make red state voters change their minds?

This is where I wonder about the power of science fiction, or just the power of art. Can any novel or movie actually change people’s minds if they already believe differently? Over my lifetime I feel I’ve constantly evolved because of my empathy with fictional characters. My own life is not as diverse as the life I see on TV, the big screen or in the pages of books, so I honestly feel I know more about people from art, than from just knowing them. I feel art expands my view on reality and changes me. But that could be an delusion.

Do I read liberal books because I’m already liberal, or because previous read liberal books made me liberal? Do conservatives read conservative books because they are conservative, or have conservative books made them conservative? If I read conservative books and conservatives read liberal books, would we change our views? I don’t know. Maybe genes override outside input.

Personally, I think the United States is making a fatal mistake by ignoring climate change and by choosing to destroy the environment. I could be wrong, and I’ve been wrong plenty of times, but on this issue, I think I’m right. Is there any way I could present my views in a novel that would convince people who don’t think like me to change their minds? Can anyone write a Nineteen Eighty-Four type story that would inspire millions to change their votes and avoid the future we’re racing to meet?

JWH