Friday, October 12, 2018

THE SLOW APOCALYPSE


Well, here we go again,cleaning up after the second monster hurricane of the season to hit North Carolina. Although Hurricane Michael roared in from the Gulf, rather than the Atlantic, as far as the battered central and eastern counties of the Carolinas are concerned, it didn’t make much difference. They’ll still got hammered by destructive winds, plenty of rain on saturated ground, and the threat of storm-generated tornadoes.

Destruction from Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle (NBC News).
 Michael came ashore on the Florida Panhandle as a Category Four storm—the strongest storm in history to hit there—and pretty much flattened that part of the state. It left behind tens of thousands without power in Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, and is expected to remain at tropical storm strength until it finally blows out to sea today. Experienced weather-watchers are in awe of not only the storm’s power, but also how quickly it built over the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico in a matter of a few days.

Again it appears our little patch of ground in the mountains was spared the worst of the storm’s effects. We had rain, which we needed, but not much wind. No flooding. No washouts. No tornadoes. We were lucky. So why are you reading this weather report, when The Weather Channel is much more grimly interesting?

The short answer is because, as writers and readers of science fiction and SFR, we are all concerned with the future. And what we are seeing right now—on our television screens if not outside our windows—is a sign of what is to come. 

These two megastorms—Florence and Michael—hit North Carolina after the warmest September on record for the state, in the warmest year on record so far. That is not a coincidence. Neither is it a coincidence that the eastern counties of North Carolina have been devastated by flooding numerous times in the past few years, including just two years ago with Hurricane Matthew, which was said to be a “hundred-year” event. And yet North Carolina state government policies, as well as Federal flood insurance policies, encourage routine rebuilding of coastal communities and flood-prone communities along river basins further inland, as if these storms were isolated, once-in-a-lifetime incidents.

I’ve had notes for a post-apocalyptic SFR novel called Higher Ground on my computer for years. The story follows a group of refugees from a catastrophic event that inundates the eastern coast of the U.S. as the survivors struggle to reach safety in the mountains of Appalachia. But I no longer believe we will see that kind of single, horrific event—an earthquake and tsunami, say, or a meteor strike like in DEEP IMPACT (1998). 
 
A disaster of this magnitude is doubtful. We'll likely drown by inches.
I believe now, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, that the world will end not with a bang, but with a whimper. The storms will keep coming, growing worse and worse. More and more people will lose their homes, their businesses, their lives. Due both to budget constraints and lack of political will, our collective ability to help them through state and national programs will diminish, until we can no longer do so at all. 

People displaced by the flooding and the destruction will become refugees within our country, those with resources able to start over, those without left permanently adrift. The coasts will be left to the rich; the inland towns will be abandoned. The “higher ground” will be coveted, driving up land prices and crowding out those who can’t afford them. (In fact this last is already happening: Western North Carolina has experienced a steady influx of mostly wealthy retired Floridians since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.)

The process will be gradual, but it will be relentless. Just as relentless, by the way, as global warming. Which is real and the inevitable result of our love affair with fossil fuels, the combustion engine and unfettered development. This is not politics, it's science. Don’t believe me? Look at your television screen or out your window. The future is now.

Cheers, Donna



4 comments:

  1. I totally agree, Donna. Hurricanes are nature's way of correcting atmospheric imbalance, and we're seeing her working overtime these last couple of years. This might be a good time to ditch the rebuilding efforts and pull back from reconstruction on the coasts, which would spare structures not only from the impact of major storms in the future, but also from rising sea levels due to climate change.

    But will anyone support an organized effort to avoid rebuilding on that prime beach front property? Unfortunately, I think not. The commercial value far outweighs the risk for most investors. So it seems inevitable we'll be right back here again at some point in the future. Caveat emptor.

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  2. First, I'm glad you're safe. Weather is scary stuff. I used to live in Tornado Alley (Missouri), I've felt a tornado go overhead in Michigan, and watched straight-line winds tear up land in front of me while I sat in my car on the side of the road. Fortunately, my family and I never experienced what those in the path of Florence & Matthew have. Climate change is so obvious. For the future, in one of my stories, the civilization devised a way to control weather. Want rain? Here it is. Need dry weather for harvest? No problem. Kind of naive, right?

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  3. Thanks, Diane. Yes, weather is scary! Remember the old commercial, "You can't fool Mother Nature"? Yeah, that. And I think you're right, Laurie, that "economic concerns" (or good old fashioned greed) will drive decision-making, rather than science or good sense. And we'll all pay the price.

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    1. Sadly, yes, that's the case. Most corporations are much more concerned with turning a dollar than doing the right thing. As authors, we certainly know the impact from that "good old fashioned greed" mindset.

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