Crash on the levee
High water risin', six inches 'bove my head
Coffins droppin' in the street
Like balloons made out of lead - Bob Dylan
Most North Americans grew up in a steady-state universe. When things were bad, they were also largely dependable. And that could be a grace, too, because even catastrophes observed rules we could live by.
We knew, if we paid attention in science class, that things would change. Eventually. We knew, maybe, that we were forcing some of them to change, by refusing to change ourselves. We knew we were living only a moment of history, but it was hard to conceive of living some other moment, in which perhaps the bad things did not respect human scale and expectation.
Still, here we are, in another moment, where dystopic hyperbole has leached into wire stories with headlines such as "Experts Expect Katrina to Turn New Orleans Into Atlantis." I'm expecting the storm to weaken enough that the worst-case will not be realized. I'm hoping so for the poorest of New Orleans, who "chose" not to leave because they couldn't, and have been sitting up all night in the Superdome. But Katrina is already the 11th hurricane this season; that's eight more than have ever before been recorded at this time of year. The storms are increasing in frequency and ferocity, and will continue to do so as the Gulf Stream fails. All that heat has to go somewhere.
Climate Change is a challenge to our frames of reference. We've known storms before, but storms like these, this often? We've known extreme temperatures, but we've never seen the glaciers retreat and the pack ice melt at such a pace and scale. The old assurances of how bad it can get have been breached, and projected extremes are edging out of the narrow band of conditions conducive to global civilization and perhaps even complex life. And it's not the environment alone that goes begging for precedents. (And I don't think it's a coincidence that it's not.) Politically, economically, metaphysically even, we're all suddenly in over our heads without having moved an inch. And perhaps we should have moved, because the flood was forecast years ago. But like the people in the Superdome, we had nowhere else to go.
The Eye of Isabel, Sept 2003
Water pourin' into Vicksburg, don't know what I'm going to do.
"Don't reach out for me," she said
"Can't you see I'm drownin' too?"