The Cost of Climate Change

After politicians and other talking heads who have denied Climate Change finally admit that there might be a problem, their response, typically, is “we can’t afford to make changes.” I could not disagree more. On the contrary, we can’t afford NOT to make changes.

While we can’t point our fingers and say with certainty which natural disasters are caused by climate change, there have been more of them than previously occurred and many of them have been much worse than in the past. Not only have countless numbers of people lost their homes, their communities, and their lives, but the financial losses have become staggering.

Here is a list of the top ten costliest natural disasters in the United States:

Katrina Flood Victim
Katrina Flood Victim

Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and especially New Orleans in 2005
Damage: $145,000,000,000 (that’s $145 billion, but I think it is helpful to see all those zeros)
Deaths: 1,833

Drought & Heat Wave in the Midwest and Southeast in 1988
Damage: $76,400,000,000
Deaths: 5,000-10,000

Northridge Earthquake in Southern California in 1994
Damage: $67,000,000,000
Deaths: 60

Hurricane Sandy along the Eastern Coast, but especially in New York and New Jersey in 2012
Damage: $65,000,000,000 (does not include the Caribbean and Canada)
Deaths: 156

Drought & Heat Wave in the Midwest and Southern Plain States in 1980
Damage: $54,800,000,000
Deaths: 10,000

Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana in 1992
Damage: $43,500,000,000
Deaths: 61

Midwest Floods along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 1993
Damage: $32,800,000,000
Deaths: 48

Drought & Heat Wave 2012: Usually, this is a pond where cattle drink
Drought & Heat Wave 2012: Usually, this is a pond where cattle drink

Drought & Heat Wave starting in the West and progressing across the U.S. to the East Coast in 2012
Damage: $30,300,000,000
Deaths: 123

Hurricane Ike 2008 mostly in Texas and Louisiana, but also inland
Damage: $28,400,000,000
Deaths: 112

Hurricane Rita & Wilma in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas in 2005
Damage: $18,600,000,000
Deaths: 35

Where did I get these numbers? Why from an insurance company of course (and The Christian Science Monitor—a pretty conservative publication). If you live in a place that is prone to hurricanes your insurance will be higher than if you don’t. If they happen more often, you will pay higher premiums. Insurance companies are very pragmatic. They are not political or partisan. They just want to make money and the greater the risk you present, the more you must pay. Other organizations that take climate change seriously include the Pentagon and the CIA (when people’s lives and homes are threatened, they tend to get testy) and Pension Funds (again, it’s about money).

If the above numbers seem modest to you (which I take to mean your earnings do not place you in the top one tenth of the 1%), consider that the list only includes disasters in the United States. Here are the other, recent, “big ones” that have occurred world-wide.

Indian Ocean Tsunami
Indian Ocean Tsunami

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami, 2011
Damage: $210,000,000,000
Deaths: 15,840

Sichuan Earthquake 2008
Damage: $148,000,000,000
Deaths: 69,197

Thailand Floods 2011
Damage: $45,700,000,000
Deaths: 815

Yangtze River Flood 1998
Damage: $26,000,000,000
Deaths: 4,159

Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami 2004
Damage: $15,000,000,000
Deaths: 227,898

Some might dismiss earthquakes as not caused by climate change, but scientists are increasingly finding a link between the two. It seems that if we can send a man to the moon, we can affect plate tectonics. I am not sure if I am more amazed by our hubris or by the scope by which we are changing our planet.

And do I need to say it again—it’s expensive.

Changes are happening, literally, right before our eyes. If I wasn’t so terrified of the future, I could become sucked into the theatre of it all (catastrophes caught on film that look like Hollywood-generated movies, politicians denying that it is happening). If the stakes weren’t so high, it could be pretty entertaining.

Like most people, I have a hard time keeping my focus on the crisis we are headed towards. I get pretty exorcised about other things going on. And they are pretty noteworthy, but, as a mother, most of it doesn’t matter if my child is going to be living in a world more akin to the one portrayed in the Mad Max movie of 1979 than the one I grew up in. I am unsure what skills my son really needs to thrive and survive in the world he is inheriting. Should I emphasize computer science (sounds practical) or survival skills à la MacGyver (yay duct tape and Swiss Army knives!)

Recently, I began reading Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. She takes climate change very seriously. Which is to say she understands Rome is burning and we’re all fiddling like our lives depended upon it. However, she does see a silver lining: this is an opportunity. If we actually want to survive what we have wrought in some semblance of what we have known (ie not tearing each other apart like mad dogs as everything falls apart), we have to change things from the ground up, and now! Therefore, we have an opportunity to make everything better. This means improving our democracy, our financial system, and reducing widespread inequalities. In effect, if we act decisively, we could not only pull ourselves back from the brink, but improve the quality of all our lives as well.

So, we have a choice.  Pay through the nose for the collateral damage of climate change and suffer through the extreme weather or pay perhaps less and not have as much extreme weather.  It seems pretty simple to me.

The news regarding climate change is pretty grim out there, so we have to take our inspiration where we can find it. I hope all of you will join me in fighting for something good—not just against something bad. I want something better than delivering my son from a nightmare, I want to give him a joyful, hopeful future.


Torture & Injustice: Here and Abroad

I feel that I must respond to the recent news. I am utterly disheartened by the failure of the respective grand juries to indict either the officer who shot Michael Brown or the one who strangled Eric Garner. And, although I am hardly surprised, I am still appalled by the atrocities perpetrated by the CIA against so-called “terrorists.” It is all sickening. Much has already been said about these and other injustices. However, I am saddened that I have heard no one in my acquaintance even mention any of this unless I bring it up first. Is everyone oblivious? Too caught up in the holiday frenzy? Afraid? I just don’t know. But when I allow myself to think how I would feel if it was my child that was being tortured by our government (whether it is by cops or military), it makes me ill. And every one of those individuals is someone’s child.

A white man I know who lives in El Paso, who speaks Spanish fluently and strives to treat everyone equally, nevertheless understands that it is just about impossible not to be racist if one is white in America. If you are white and want to understand “white privilege” better, this video is well worth the time: Understanding White Privilege


An excellent book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. It explains in brutal detail what happened to African-Americans after the Civil War. If you think “yeah yeah there has been racism, but why haven’t more blacks pulled themselves up by their bootstraps?” this will answer that question (and many more). If you don’t have time to read the book, than perhaps you can take the time to watch the documentary based upon it: Slavery By Another Name documentary

Evolving Tastes

Last week there was an interesting article in the New York Times ( A Taste you Hate? Just Wait ) about how our preferences can evolve over time. I’ve had experiences similar to those the author described.  For the longest time, I never cared for lentil soup.  Then, one day, while having lunch with my mom at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner , I felt a craving for lentil soup.  So I ordered it, and loved it.  Now I make various lentil soups fairly regularly.  Usually with some vegies.  Sometimes with a ham hock.  Sometimes it is a dal. But I love them all!  The same thing also happened for me with tomato soup, winter squash, zucchini, lasagna, ham and some other foods.  I now eat most anything (that I’m not allergic to).  The one category that still yucks me out is meat with unusual textures, e.g. gristly.

Sadly, many of us Americans have had our food tastes “dumbed” down.  Processed food is engineered to appeal to our most elementary taste buds.  This is described in the excellent book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  The author really nails it.  It is difficult not to like the products made with these ingredients since we have evolved to seek them out.  Not to mention when we are bombarded with advertising telling us how we will be happier, have more time, earn love from our families/friends, etc. if we only buy these products.  And they seem to cost relatively little compared to “real” food.

After my son was born, child-rearing books that I read recommended introducing the same foods to one’s child multiple times.  Apparently, it can take a dozen tries with one food before a child will “like” it.  This has been reinforced by books I’ve read more recently like French Kids Eat Everything and Bringing Up Bebe.  I wish I had been able to read both of them when my son was a baby.  Still, we try to encourage him to be adventurous with new foods and he does eat a very varied diet (thank goodness he likes salad. I so won out there).  My husband eats anything so that’s not a problem!  Also, I try to model by regularly trying things that I haven’t liked so far and I talk about it.  Maybe I’ve changed!  Maybe cooking something a different way will be more appealing.  There are people who are “super-tasters” for whom foods simply taste stronger and they have a hard time with bitter flavors, for example.  But I suspect there are not as many as people think (similar to people who claim to have “low metabolisms.”  The variation is infinitesimal and not worth even mentioning).  I remember after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area from the Midwest and I was not familiar with sushi.  However, I had friends who liked it so I would get dragged to sushi restaurants.  After about one year, I woke up one morning and thought, “I feel like having sushi today.”  Granted it was sushi like California rolls and Ebi Tempura rolls, but still, it was progress.

I had a similar experience with kale.  I had never really cared for it (if I was served it, I would eat it, but I wouldn’t make it at home and this was before it was on every restaurant menu).  Then, I tried kale chips at a friend’s house and ended up practically inhaling them.  That got me started on kale.  It was a gateway preparation for me.  What’s not to like when it is covered in oil and salted?  Next, I started steaming it and we all liked that.  A few years ago I grew it in my vegetable garden and when I was picking it to make it into chips or steamed, I would snack on it.  I thought, if I can eat it raw in the garden, why not at the dinner table?  So we did!  I’ve since learned that I prefer certain kinds of kale for certain preparations.  The curly kind for chips, the flatter kind (like Redbor) for salad and either when cooked.  I still find that I’m not so fond of the lacinto kale.  Mostly, it seems like more work to get it off the stalk.  Below is my favorite recipe for cooked kale.

Kale, Bacon, Beans, and Dates

4 slices bacon

1 bunch kale, striped off stalks and chopped

1 c. beans (I like navy or garbanzo)

a handful of dates, chopped

½ lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Cut bacon into a few pieces, place in a large heavy pot and cook over medium until crispy.  Remove and let drain on some paper towels.  When cool, crumble bacon.  Meanwhile, add damp kale to pot, cover, and let the kale cook down a bit.  Add the beans and dates and toss a little and let them heat up.  Remove from heat.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the kale mixture and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle bacon on top of kale mixture and serve.