Yesterday the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, delivered an ominous warning. He said that Hurricane Irma was “the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.” He went on to tell the residents of areas in its crosshairs to “get out.” Ironically, this is the same man who forbade the mention of the term “climate change” in his administration. He has also made no effort to fund projects to make the state more capable of dealing with climate change disasters like sea level rise, drought and stronger storms.
Telling people to “get out” is easy. It has also become terribly easy to ridicule or judge those who do not “get out.” We saw this during Hurricane Katrina when poor, mostly people of colour, were castigated for not “heeding” the warnings given by local officials. And we are seeing it once again. Hurricane Irma is behemoth at 400 miles across. The length of the state is a mere 400 miles or so. Bigger and stronger than any hurricane recorded in the Atlantic. In addition to this there has been little to nothing done by the state (or the federal government) to assist people or adequately address the looming catastrophes associated with human caused global warming.
It’s true that there are wealthy people in this region. The media informed us about some of the sprawling island estates owned by billionaires that have been decimated already. But as is the case of many of the Caribbean islands, most of the residents of Florida are not rich by any stretch. I know this state. My parents had lived in Florida for 20 years. I have a brother and his family and several friends who are there now. They work hard, have bills to pay and don’t have second homes to flee to or mansions that can be simply written off.
Many are elderly, many are working people, many are immigrants or undocumented people escaping dire circumstances, some are homeless, some are disabled, some are mentally ill, many have children, beloved pets they won’t abandon, and most have enormous debt and little to no healthcare or financial resources. Bearing this in mind, with gas stations closed, supermarkets empty, and the two main arteries in and out of the state clogged, where should they go? Where would they stay if they did? How would they pay for all of it? And who will reimburse them? They remember (as we all should) how badly things went after Hurricane Katrina and Sandy. Most of those people are still putting their lives back together with little help from the government services supposedly set up to address the aftermath, all while disaster capitalists profited off the misery.
It should go without saying that these people deserve our assistance and solidarity, not self righteous judgement or ridicule. This is especially true for the coming months when the focus of attention will shift from this storm to the next disaster or spectacle. In the coming years to decades most of us will find ourselves in similar situations, as victims of the convergence of a system infested with corporate greed and political corruption and facing the harsh realities of a militarized, resource depleted, climate changed world.
Whether we accept it or not, we are all facing this frightening new world. And I think its time we face it together.
Kenn Orphan 2017