Doing more in the Climate Emergency

Schaust du Eden?/ Und ich müßte sagen: Eden brennt ("Are you watching Eden?/ And I would have to say: Eden is burning")                           Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke isn’t saying nature is literally ablaze. In like fashion, I believe the Climate Emergency isn’t quite the one most talked about today. In order there be no doubt about where I stand, I believe the planet needs an explicit, long-term recovery from fossil fuel addiction and the betrayals, lies and lying of Big Polluters.

That said, anyone who studies emergency management in large disasters and catastrophes, at least in the US setting, knows recovery is the second part of emergency management. The first, very formidable phase is immediate response. This matters because: Just what is immediate response in the Climate Emergency?

The article starts with: “The climate crisis calls for a massive and rapid retooling of our economy and society.” Yes, surely that and more; but what do we do immediately?

In answer, I don’t think I’m doing an injustice to those who insist what we should do now, and in a very very big way is: stop using fossil fuels, stop cutting down trees, stop polluting the seas, stop using these befouling planes, vessels and vehicles.

We could respond, “Just how immediate is immediately?” Here though, let’s take these “Stop’s!” as sufficient calls for now-action.

Which means in the US setting, activating a city or county emergency operations center and/or incident management teams at the department level to coordinate immediate response efforts. States also do the same with respect to their own EOCs or equivalent.

This activation is done all the time, when high winds, ice storms, wildfires, heat dome effects, flooding and their combinations take down essential services, particularly backbone infrastructures of water, electricity, roads and telecoms.

Now the thought experiment: Activate the EOCs and IMTs, or at least the ones which know we are the Climate Emergency. And who are the distressed peoples and sites? Well, that’s not something you, the reader, can answer a priori. It’s up to the EOCs and IMTs, who recognize the Climate Emergency is leaving local people hungry, making local spaces uninhabitable, taking away local employment. . .

In thinking these things through, the stakes become clearer for both recovery and for immediate response.

First, much of what outsiders recommend for now-now clearly belongs more under “long-term recovery” than immediate response, e.g., those net-zero emissions promises or those altogether different, more resilient infrastructures. Note what many others have said about this longer-term: It is inevitably political with many stakeholders and in little or no way has the same logic, clarity and urgency that immediate response has, e.g., disaster declarations that trigger immediate release of funds.

That said and second, those aforementioned “stop-this-and-that” immediately hit a major obstacle. In really-existing emergency response, fossil fuel is needed to evacuate people, ship goods and services to distressed areas, keep the generators running when electricity fails, and so on. Cutting down trees, distribution of water in plastic bottles, and wide use of readily available gas-guzzling vehicles, in case it needs saying, are also not uncommon.

Rather than focusing concern around the greater reliance on petrol or like, we might instead want to think more productively about two empirically prior issues.

First, where are those EOCs and IMTs activated in response to the Climate Emergency? The aforementioned activation for wildfires, flooding and abrupt seasonal events have been increasing and increasingly responded to by all manner of city, county, state and agency EOCs and IMTs. These are climate emergencies—lower-case speech matters in a polarized US—even for those would never say the phrase, “Climate Change,” out loud.

Second, where EOCs and IMTs have been or will be activated, are they responding in ways that are climate-friendly? Or to put response challenge correctly: Where are the logic, clarity and urgency of the Climate Emergency requiring immediate eco-friendly response even before longer-term environmental recovery?

I ask the latter question, because I don’t think some of us who treat the Climate Emergency seriously have thought the answers through. For example and by way of comparison, it seems to me much more thought has been given by far many more people to the use of eco-friendly stoves, toilet facilities, renewable-energy generators, and like alternatives. Years and years of R&D have gone into studying, prototyping and distributing more sustainable options.

Shouldn’t we then expect and want their increased use in immediate emergency response as well, especially when (not: “even if”) expediting them to the distressed sites and peoples means using petrol and cutting down trees in the way? Do we really need new studies or a benefit-cost analysis to take that decision—right now?

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