The Eye of the Storm

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner / Substack
The Eye of the Storm "It is unlikely that this storm will cause those stoking our destructive politics to rethink their approach." (photo: NBC)

The pictures out of Florida, and the accompanying stories, are horrific and heartbreaking. The terror. The loss. The fracturing of lives into a before and an unknowable after.

The full scale of the damage will take a long time to assess. There are the immediate wounds of a natural disaster — the loss of life, the destroyed property, the emotional trauma of prolonged power and infrastructure outages.

Hardship, however, will ripple outward over time, like concentric waves from a stone thrown into a placid pond. Except there is nothing placid about the world Hurricane Ian has struck.

Natural disasters have always been part of the human experience on a sometimes inhospitable planet. Human ingenuity and science have created tools for us to mitigate harm. We can predict storms through satellite imagery and evacuate before they strike. We can construct buildings to be more resilient to winds, or earthquakes, for that matter.

But humans have also helped increase the danger these natural disasters pose. Scientists tell us the data are clear — human actions have induced a climate crisis that makes weather events like storms, droughts, and fires more frequent and more severe. In addition, disasters like these exacerbate our societal weakness. The poor, the marginalized, and the elderly tend to suffer disproportionately.

Just as the wake of a mass shooting IS the right time to talk about our national gun problems, the wake of a natural disaster IS the right time to talk about our climate crisis and our social divisions. Sadly, Hurricane Ian is not an isolated event. It is a harbinger of a more chaotic future, and we would be wise to learn from its lessons.

Our planet is different from what it once was, and that truth should be factored into how we answer an urgent question: How do we rebuild, and where?

This storm also highlights another reality. Either we build strength and resilience by looking out for one another, or we worsen our weaknesses by fomenting our divisions. Last night I tweeted the message below, and the response has been overwhelming. I think that’s because deep down, “most Americans know it.”

Right now, most of us can provide little immediate help to those in the path of the storm other than to say, we see you and hear you. We will be there for you. And when we make that pledge, we should not forget those in Puerto Rico, Alaska, and other areas recently enduring natural disasters.

There are too many problems this country must face, and there are too many problems this world must face, for us to have the performative poppycock we have seen from so many of our supposed “leaders.” It’s easy to strut upon a stage of divisiveness when it is others in need. When the tables turn, you must hope they treat you with the grace and empathy you lacked in responding to their pain.

We are one planet and one species. We either learn how to live in harmony with each other and our natural world, or we inflame a culture of division. The first path is one of sharing our burdens and our risk. The second path increases the odds that we will be the ones one day staring down the eye of the storm.

It is unlikely that this storm will cause those stoking our destructive politics to rethink their approach. But maybe it will help the rest of us refocus on what kind of country and what kind of global citizens we aspire to be.

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