By Victoria Stoppiello
I was a little chagrined that two young friends decided to drive to Astoria, 45 miles each way, to see a movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The subject of the film was immaterial; it was their decision to drive an hour each way just for a movie, especially given they often stream films via Netflix, which is a relatively carbon-neutral method to get entertained.
I’ve heard that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a docudrama, probably with few scenes that really require the big screen to be appreciated. Maybe getting to see it early after its release was important for fans of the band, Queen.
But, in the middle of this discussion, my husband piped in that his daughter had flown from Los Angeles to Portland to see the same film with her long-time best friend, Shannon. I erupted: “So, the earth is going down in flames, but Dawn flies to Portland to watch a movie that is probably showing on five screens within a couple miles of where she lives in central LA.”
There’s a link between this transportation choice, a warmer climate, extreme heat, drought, and destructive storms—that is, if you believe human activity is part of the equation leading to climate change. A round trip plane trip LA to Portland may not seem like much, but it’s the worst way to travel, putting CO2 into the atmosphere at an altitude where it does the most harm.
However, in the last few days, I’ve encountered more than one person who now questions the wisdom of flying. Perhaps it is because news has trickled out about the federal government’s release of the second half of the quadrennial national assessment on climate change; this report focuses on the economic and health impacts of a changing climate. “Gee,” I thought sarcastically, “maybe now that there’s a dollar sign associated with extreme weather events decision-makers will notice.”
Government leaders may choose to look the other way, but the insurance industry will not. A hotter climate and resulting hurricane destruction have been increasing for more than a decade. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused enormous destruction and significant loss of life, surpassing the record previously set by 1992’s Hurricane Andrew—and Katrina’s destruction is still evident. The federal government has other messes to clean up besides New Orleans—Puerto Rico, the Carolinas and now the Florida Gulf coast.
It doesn’t appear that our government has the will and maybe not even the means to restore the areas devastated by these storms. The National Flood Insurance Program provides up to $250,000 for a home and $100,000 for personal property for those who purchase the insurance, not much given today’s housing prices. However the program was already more than $20 billion in debt before Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle. Payouts are in the billions for each of the previous storms. This is one issue where environmentalists, insurance executives and fiscal conservatives are aligned to push for change, according to an article in the December AARP Bulletin.
I’m thinking, “It’s over,” as my pessimistic first cousin Skip would say. I’m not optimistic that we’ll reverse course because decision-makers are rich as well as powerful and appear to assume their wealth will somehow insulate them from catastrophes. The wealthy work to protect themselves from the hardships that most people encounter. More than a decade ago, an editorial in the Daily Astorian noted that private security forces (less trained and less educated than police) outnumbered public law enforcement—at the same time that private recreation facilities were beginning to outnumber those open to the public.
On another front, life expectancy in the US has dropped again, due to what are called “deaths from despair”—suicides and opioid addiction. This trend won’t become better as climate change wreaks havoc for more people in more places. City police are becoming more militarized to protect the status quo. Fifty years ago, protestors could see the faces of deputies. No more. Cops are outfitted a la science fiction figures, their identities anonymous, their humanity muffled and disguised.
It is our seemingly insignificant choices that have accumulated into global impacts. We in the wealthy strata have the most responsibility—and the most freedom to choose. I live in relative comfort. My self-respect is relatively intact. My mantra has been “When is enough, enough?” However, a lifetime focused on using less, of believing I don’t have the right to extinguish other species or other cultures, doesn’t seem to matter when my stepdaughter can hop a plane to see a movie a thousand miles away.
Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer who has been watching the weather and climate change in the Columbia Pacific region since 1985. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The link to the climate assessment report is https://nca2018.globalchange.gov.