Irma’s silver lining

The big lesson of the unprecedented Hurricane Irma, and the others, is that we are well into climate change. It is reported that New York City is planning on building a sea wall around its lower perimeter. Miami is planning a major pumping system. New Orleans has installed giant new pumps that unfortunately aren’t working. Conversely, cities throughout the Southwest are facing fresh water shortages.

The reality is that these places are not defensible against the threats. Spending trillions to keep the same location is unaffordable and is just throwing our good money after bad.

Severely damaged structures should be taken away for salvage. Populations have already been moving away and that kind of migration should be assisted. Coastal and desert cities should be returned to agriculture or natural conditions.

Public investments can be made for inland, efficient, high-density urban housing in cooler and wetter climates. Our industrial society can be made far more efficient and be powered with only renewable energy. But beyond efficiency, major investment can be made in equipment that removes carbon dioxide and methane from the atmosphere. Such technology does exist. Iceland turns captured CO2 into rock. Recycled carbon can make cement, fertilizer, anti-freeze and even consumer products like sneakers. Recycled carbon can replace fossil-fuel feedstocks.

Unfortunately, the fossil-fuel industries are the primary cause of climate change, and are wholly committed to protecting their profits and investment; even while disregarding the greater cost to humanity. The recently bankrupt coal mines are victims of the changing technology in energy, including fracking that produced very cheap natural gas. Solar and wind energy will be coal’s coup de grace.

The silver lining of Hurricane Irma is to point the way to the radical new thinking that holds out hope of waging an existential battle against humanity’s greatest challenge.

Patrick Hunter