Hurricane Ian

A Personal Update from Sarasota

Thank you to everyone who has reached out after Hurricane Ian. I have been moved to tears by the thoughts and well-wishes from concerned friends and colleagues. Here’s all you need to know.

My house, humans, and dog are all fine; I am very fortunate. There is a great deal of outdoor damage in the area, but many are suffering a much greater loss of life and property, so my personal damage is nothing by comparison.

However, I do not want any attention paid to relief and recovery. Why? I want us to focus on climate change mitigation. Ian was a Category 4 storm with a massive circumference: it was both powerful and huge. Such storms are becoming more common, not by accident, but as a direct result of human-caused global warming. We don’t need short-term recovery or relief or even adaptation, which already admits defeat. We need systemic change; we need attention to the root causes of the problem.

This sounds harsh, this no-relief stance of mine. Cruel, even. Perhaps. But hear me out.

To help those deeply affected in South Florida today, we have mobilized thousands of emergency rescue workers, police, and the national guard. We have tens of thousands of volunteers in churches, schools, and non-profit organizations supplying tee-shirts and pet food, and blankets. Power crews from all over are working to cut trees and restore electricity. Planned events are canceled all over town so we can collect relief supplies for those in need.

And you know what happens next, after this storm? We move on and go back to “normal” life. We continue to do all the global warming things we’ve been doing – driving fossil-fuel-burning cars, subsidizing unsustainable agriculture, cutting down forests to build sprawling housing developments – all contributing to climate change – until the next storm, which (surprise!) is even larger than the last. Then lo and behold, we’ll spring into action again, feeling virtuous and #FloridaStrong about our ability to cope and “build back.”

For me, no more. I refuse to participate in this cycle any longer. Sure, someone needs to rescue those currently affected. I get that. Seriously, go ahead. But I am going to work to stop our government actors and industries and individuals from repeating this cycle and calling it business as usual.

What do I want instead of short-term relief? I want solar on all new homes in Florida. I want high taxes on gasoline (with financial aid for those in need.) I want beef consumption to plummet, and I want no single-use paper or plastic anywhere near me.  I want my retirement savings out of the fossil fuel industry (and all those who support it,) and I want everyone to boycott housing that has paved over necessary wetlands. I want citizens to go to candidate forums and ask only about climate change. I want windfarms to take over what were once soy fields and cattle grazing lands, and I want our agriculture and engineering and technology companies – and the universities that train their workers – to radically change how they do business. I want every single one of my elected officials behind this issue. And I want to invest in the creative thinkers who are identifying sustainable alternatives to our current way of life: they exist all over.

We MUST integrate Climate Change Prevention thinking into our daily lives, and it has to be now. There is no future time to do this. There is no do-over. Some argue we can do both relief and mitigation, but history tells us otherwise. Humans have limited time, energy, and money: the more we pump into relief, recovery, and adaptation, the less we have for truly addressing root cause issues, and for engaging in the climate change mitigation changes that might actually arrest this problem we’ve created.

To paraphrase an old but profound bit of wisdom, we must stop rescuing the babies we discover floating downstream in the river; we must go upstream to stop them from being thrown into the water in the first place.

Go upstream. Consider your life – your time, financial resources, skills, contacts, and levers of influence. Then decide what YOU can do, at every level, that focuses on mitigation and awareness. If we do not stop this now, there is no do-over; there will never be enough recovery available to address future storms. Everyone can do something.

Thanks for sharing. And thanks to all those who have made this work their life; we truly owe them our futures.

PS And for those of you who feel my strongly held anti-relief stance is harsh, take note. I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer, a relief worker in Sudan and Somalia, a tutor for orphaned girls in India, and a mentor for US teens experiencing poverty. I have spent much of my life on personal, one-to-one assistance. And I know that if we don’t shift our focus to the underlying problems, if we don’t go upstream, we will not create change.

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michael neuman
michael neuman
1 month ago

Well-reasoned. This is the way to go, and since Hurricane Sandy, there has been movement in this direction, woefully slow and inadequate, however. As a coastal planner for 40 years, focussing on these issues, this statement is spot-on. Things tend to change when all people change their own behaviors, and are committed activists to attain systemic change across the board in all sectors of society.