The most pernicious delusion of our species is that we are somehow above nature. Ever since we chipped away at flint to make spear points or domesticated fire to do our bidding, we’ve contriving hard against nature.
But for the past 10,000 years or so, we’ve been in the process of wall-building. Domesticating grain species is a wall built against hunger that could come from depleted game herds.
But grain grows best only in certain areas, and thus, we’ve become sedentary and possessive. We’ve become better fighters to defend our lands. We’ve built better tools of war. A gun is a finely crafted rock-chucker. An ICBM with a hydrogen bomb is little more than a super rock-chucker that throws a very deadly rock.
When diseases have developed as a result of our great concentrations of population, we’ve created sewage systems. We’ve developed medicines to defend ourselves against disease.
We have made it so our average lifespans are at least double what they were just centuries ago. The planet now teems with us.
And we all want walls to protect us.
We’ve spent so much time designing and contriving new ways of security, new ways of comfort, that in these wealthier countries, we live almost as aliens upon our own planet.
In the United States, we live in a sort of fairy tale fortress. The nuclear triad and our advanced airforce mean that no enemies are going to get us. Most of us live in cities, where the only predators we’ll ever know are those belonging to our species. Air conditioning and mosquito control make the South livable, and insulation and fine furnaces make the North’s winters pass in comfort.
We have power, but that power is finite.
Very simply, there is isn’t a wall we can build of any kind that can stop a hurricane. We cannot nuke our way out of this threat. We are totally at its mercy.
Harvey, which dumped all that rain on Texas and Louisiana, ruined the best-laid plans of cotton farmers and urban planners.
The boiling seas off Africa are now sending us another. This one is a vortex of water vapor and wind that no more cares that it is going to hit West Palm Beach than it would Winnipeg. It is mindless force of nature, and it is about to humble the sunny lands. It will cost billions of dollars.
And no presidential act, no bluster or official act, can stop what is coming. True, the warming planet makes these superstorms more likely, but the contribution our carbon-addicted economy did to create this storm was already cast into the atmosphere. Whether we elected the denialist or the one who didn’t deny it, we were going to warm and warm anyway, and the storms will still come.
We are laid out vulnerable now. The millions of years of evolution and the thousands of years of civilization are but a veneer. Before this coming storm, we are the Taung child, and the great eagle is stooping from the sky, talons poised.
We’ve spent much of our political energy over the past year or so engaged picayune squabbles. We’ve become obsessed with immigration, especially of how it relates to our so-called “national character.” We’ve elected a man who will keep us safe from the scary Mexicans and Muslims, as if those were the greatest threat we had to face.
We lost our minds about who gets to refuse service at the bakery and who gets to use what bathroom. We fought those wars of culture so long that they are so well-worn and threadbare that we no longer have a body politic. We have our factions now. That is the United States. States that are united in law but no longer in national purpose or understanding.
But while we were worrying about all these things, the planet warmed a bit more. We landed, then, one year on a bad roll of the dice, and the big storms are coming.
We could have spent this time working on building up a post-carbon economy, improving infrastructure, and developing innovative ways of flood control and evacuation procedures.
That’s what a rational people would have done with these past few years. The debate of the last presidential campaign would have largely been based upon those issues and not the worst sort of nationalist fear-mongering.
But we build the walls. We imprison more people in the world than any other, and yet we do not feel safe. We are armed to the teeth with more guns per capita than anywhere else, and yet we don’t sleep easy at night.
Income inequality and job insecurity eat away at our sound minds. We might have spent the last election fighting over those issues. We chose differently.
Now the poor are exposed to the drowning waters and the howling winds. It won’t be as bad as Katrina, we hope.
But no wall can stop what is coming. It is coming. People will die.
No matter how advanced we are, the fortress cannot protect us.
We are vulnerable, exposed. And this is truly frightening for such a walled-off species.