• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


Whither the weather

Will extreme weather, fueled in large part by climate change, change politics? Will it change our society?

January 26, 2012

Anywhere I've lived in the Northeast, one thing's always been true: bad snowstorms make good neighbors. There's nothing like inclement weather to remind us of our shared humanity, to make us more generous to each other.  Of course, the reminder usually doesn't last too terribly long, but still . . .

I was reminded of that truism this morning as I listened to radio reports of the winds/rains/tornados in Texas, each of which ended with a reminder about how the affected area had previously been experiencing extended drought.  Compared to the relatively mild winter we're experiencing in the Backboro area (knock wood!), folks in Texas and northern Mexico are having a hard go of it.

Not that tornados and flooding are unheard of in Texas, of course.  I remember being in Houston years ago; it seemed like half the city was under water.  The motor hotel I was staying in was partially flooded and I had to change flights out of town because I couldn't get to Houston Intercontinental Airport.  As I recall, the National Guard was deployed -- not in large numbers as with Katrina, but prominently.  Nobody, even in that conservative part of the country, was complaining about the evils of big government on that day.

So when I think about the fact that 2011 was a year of tremendously expensive weather events, both in the USA and worldwide, I wonder whether an increase in natural disasters will change the way Americans think about government.  FEMA and the National Guard are agencies that, when you need them, you want them to be well funded, well staffed, well prepared, well equipped.  And you want those things to be true immediately, which means you want them to have been true retroactively.  As the frequency with which such agencies are called on for service within our borders goes up, will it affect our thinking?

We've already seen how the causal chain can work in the negative direction -- how the malperformance of an abysmally incompetent FEMA reflected badly on the executive branch in general.  Is there likely to be a similar positive effect when emergencies are handled well?

And, if that's the case, might thinking better about our government help us think better about our neighbors?  Our selves?  Might it help us get past the (largely fomented) anger that's dominating our politics and, in consequence, our society?

Maybe it truly is an ill wind that blows no good.  Or maybe that's just easier to say when you're in the opposite corner of the continental USA.


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