These are headlines of the warming world we’ve created.
But sadly, I’m here to offer more bad news.
I don’t think these disasters will convince us to curb fossil fuel pollution.
Let me explain.
Wildfires and floods, the other disasters studied, did not sway people.
Think about this for a moment. Yes, the research showed that US counties hit by hurricanes are associated with a statistically significant increase in beliefs that climate change is happening and that it’s caused by humans. OK, sure. But even this paper notes that “the pace at which this feedback occurs … appears to be slow.”
“For example,” the researchers wrote, “our results indicate that it would take multiple hurricanes hitting a county to increase the proportion of individuals supporting policies that greenhouse gas emissions by one percentage point.”
As a result: “It seems unlikely that an increased frequency of natural disasters alone will have a dramatic impact on public support for climate change related policies,” one of the study’s authors, Jordan Suter, a professor at Colorado State University, told me by e-mail.
In non-science terms: Disasters probably won’t fix this for us.
Daniel Pauly, a fisheries biologist, coined the term in the 1990s to describe the fact that humans are remarkably terrible at perceiving slow-moving changes in the world around us.
Fires have to keep getting bigger to snag our attention.
And these changes land with us as just “eh, kinda weird and unusual.” We don’t actually feel the full timeline of the climate crisis, which plays out over decades and centuries.
In that context, these disasters won’t trip our alarm sensors.
I’m directing a documentary film about the topic called “BASELINE: Part 1.” It follows four young people growing up on the front lines of this crisis — between now and 2050.
My hope is that it might be an antidote of sorts, stretching our collective memory.
But solutions to these problems are difficult.
What would push us to act aggressively on the climate crisis?
An important part of that question is which “us” we’re talking about.
“Us” could be the wealthy, presumably like many of the homeowners in Orange County.
So, I don’t have a tidy solution for us — whoever “us” is.
We’ve had the science in front of us for decades.
None of that, unfortunately, has been persuasive.
At least to those with the power to change the global economy.
Perhaps a grassroots mobilization of ordinary citizens could change that.
The point is that the concerned public must not sit back and wait, as we have been, for the intensifying calamities of the climate crisis to somehow prove that we must rid the world of fossil fuels.
We have all the evidence we need.