Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Orville Taylor | Nature’s wrath in the South

Published:Sunday | September 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this aerial photo taken on Friday, September 1, homes sit in floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas. Port Arthur's major roads were swamped by rising waters brought by Harvey.

Despite my peripheral knowledge of the Bible and my deep understanding of the wrath of God in the Old Testament, I always resist the temptation to make any link between the activities of men, including governments, and the punishment that the Lord visits upon the disobedient and unjust.

After all, he did nothing for the hundreds of years that millions of black people endured inhumane enslavement, during which tens of thousands of them suffered worse deaths than his own son endured. And there was no rescuing God when the freed African Americans underwent reconstruction in the post-emancipation period, in the USA.

For all the chanting of Negro spirituals, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, and after periods of lull, martyred still yet undetermined thousands of black Americans. Even his chief servant, sociology graduate, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, was murdered just over a hundred years later, while the Government reluctantly acceded to the nominal treatment of 12 per cent of its population as equals.

Just to be clear, he didn't do anything either when George William Gordon was unjustly murdered by the State in the aftermath of the Morant Bay Uprising in 1865, of the other Africans were tortured in the centuries before. By the way, senior pastor and State Senator Clementa C. Pinckney was in a conversation with him when he and eight others were murdered by white supremacist, Dylann Roof, in 2015, during service at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Yet, I always smile when a man of the cloth with a lisp cites the verse from Romans 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." Indeed, there is a very human message in the scripture, though. It is the same that Grandma used to tell us: "Who can't hear must feel." There is no divine science in the prophecy that poor enforcement of building codes will lead to major consequences in the event of earthquakes, or that allowing hotels to poorly dispose of their effluent will kill the coral reefs.

We do not have to be religious to understand the correlation between the abuse of nature and natural phenomena turning into disasters but the science is real. In 2007, University of the West Indies (UWI) academics, Professor Anthony Chen, Dr Leonard Nurse and Professor John Agard, all shared in the Nobel Peace Prize, as part of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Control spearheaded by former US Vice-president Al Gore Jr. Stemming from Gore's activism via a relentless campaign to educate citizens about global warming, it peaked in a 2006 American documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim.

 

HUMANS AT FAULT

 

In essence, the argument from the scientific data was that human activity, and in particular, the use of fossil fuels, was a major contributor to global warming and climate change. Interestingly, inasmuch as the major culprit seemed to be the oil companies ultimately responsible for 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, there was imposing evidence that large-scale animal husbandry was to blame as well. This activity, which, despite its name, has nothing to do with interspecies conjugal relations, is best demonstrated by its 18 per cent contribution via biogas production from cattle. It might be one of the few times when good science and 'bull...t' are coterminous. Other malefactors include deforestation. This last variable is higher in the less-developed countries. Nevertheless, the demand for their lumber and other activities such as mining is fuelled by metropolitan countries and by multinationals, whose headquarters are located there.

Not strangely, in 2001, the George W. Bush administration, whose pedigree has petroleum-laced DNA, refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. This was supposed to be a commitment on the part of the participating governments to reduce their production of greenhouse gases and thus reduce the rate of global warming.

There is some disagreement among scientists, especially within a minority, as to whether global warming has a causal effect on harsh weather phenomena. However, there is no discord when 99 per cent of them agree that the increased emission of greenhouse gases has led to an increase in global temperatures.

Doubtless, therefore, this also leads to warming of the oceans and the melting of polar ice. Any high-school science student knows that the increase in ambient temperature leads to more moisture in the air. These two things fuel hurricanes and typhoons and make them more severe. Therefore, try as you may, there is, indeed, a direct relationship.

While the naysayers of the former Bush and the present Trump administrations have downplayed the impact of human-caused global warming, perhaps because of their economic interests, Mother Nature has reacted like the female canine and her colloquial namesake among humans.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the third most powerful in the history of the USA, ripped through the Southern states, affecting the Republican strongholds of Louisiana and Mississippi mostly. She killed at least 1,245 people, with a further 135 still missing. The economic impact of Katrina is conservatively estimated at US$108 billion.

Sociology, not history, once more repeated itself. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump withdrew the USA from the Paris Accord, and like Bush suggested, the country would use its own standards to fight climate change, without international oversight. This time, Hurricane Harvey has dumped more rain than any other tropical cyclone in the history of that country.

Once again, the states that are most affected are the ultra-red ones that ensured the election of the president. Texas has borne the brunt of the onslaught of this weather system, but Louisiana is also imperilled. Climbing estimates from Harvey have already gone past the $109-billion mark. Interestingly, the flashpoint cities of New Orleans in 2005 and Houston, currently, had black mayors and significant black and other minority populations.

Signs are ominous. Worse is on the horizon. If we do not heed nature's call, the same will happen as when we try to defy our bladders and bowels. It comes out in the end, whether we like it or not.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline