Cyclones and Climate Crises

How can a young person function normally in the face of a dying Earth?

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Tropical cyclone Idai over Mozambique as captured by Meteosat-11 at 09:15 UTC on 15 March. Image: Copyright: 2019 EUMETSAT

I’m writing this from my phone on my last day of a vacation in New Orleans, Louisiana. This is my second time in this city, which I love. New Orleans has such a unique culture and feels so different than anywhere else in the United States. Thinking about the other places I’ve lived, this is particularly reflected in a much larger Black population, which I did not have growing up in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, and was larger, but much more segregated, in my current home of the Boston metro area.

I think to myself walking down a residential section of Canal Street, between streetcar tracks on a sunny day, I would love to retire to New Orleans.

Then, it hits me that maybe I will not be able to do that. Will New Orleans be underwater by 2050? Or maybe hurricanes and floods will be so extreme it becomes unlivable. I remember distinctly when a crop of new members came to our Catholic church, Cure d’Ars, in Denver, a rare instance of a predominantly black Catholic parish. Since New Orleans has a high Catholic and black population, a few families displaced from Katrina came to our Sunday mass, and some of them stayed.

Boston is also at risk. Denver will, as always, be high and dry, but could slowly be subject to desertification. As there are more frequent disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires, perhaps it will take even less time for those places to be unlivable. New Orleans, less white and lower in average income, is probably most at risk of these three places.

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A sculpture at the New Orleans Museum of Art: “Too Late for Help”

This morning before joining my friends on a trip to New Orleans Museum of Art, I caught up on news about Cyclone Idai, a storm that has devastated Mozambique and parts of Malawi and Zimbabwe. I was just in Zimbabwe — though not the affected area — this past January, and felt like I fled just before collapse, with an oil crisis that sparked widespread protests occurring in late January and February, and Cyclone Idai landing on March 25th. But Mozambique bore the worst of the storm by far.

The Wikipedia page describing Cyclone Idai describes mostly the different forms of aid that came in from the UN, NGOs, and Western countries, but a lot of the groundwork is being organized, performed, and funded by Mozambicans at home and abroad. Neighborhood Whatsapp groups were created, as ways to check in on loved ones’ whereabouts. Local volunteers and workers distribute food and water at various safe points, as well as aid in cleaning up the city. The biggest concern is a developing cholera outbreak, which medical teams race to prevent.

While of course international efforts made a difference, there’s another side of the Idai story, one where “the vast majority of survivors saved themselves”.

My favorite, rather astonishing quote from this article:

“It was into this set of conditions that Cyclone Idai rolled: climate change doesn’t care what stage of political crisis a country is experiencing. And across Zimbabwe, people came together, and came together fast. Almost immediately, collection efforts were set up in large urban areas. My social media feed showed hundreds of pictures of people in queues –not to obtain petrol or cash this time, but rather to give donations towards the people in Manicaland whose lives have been devastated by Idai. In a country with massive unemployment, an insane economy which effectively has a double currency, and where political violence has been the order of the day for months, people came together. In droves. To give.”

Again, even in this situation, we see activism and energy, the modern pan-african renaissance at work. Countries cooperating to repair and rebuild, diaspora influenced campaigns, and the use of the modern technology to quickly organize and motivate groups of people.

But today, rather than being inspired, I wonder if it will be too late. I wonder if any of us will ever realize the dream of living in a future of stability, prosperity, and peace across the continent. Change takes time. Will there be anything left by that time?

I do not know.

I can only do my best not to despair completely. Balancing that question, pushing forward in spite of this climate-induced existential dread — it seems that is the modern burden of my generation.

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