Failing dam in Puerto Rico, endangering 70,000, a reminder that Climate Denialism Kills

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Trump, notoriously, tweeted that climate change is a Chinese hoax.

Some 70,000 US citizens in Puerto Rico living along the Guajataca River are in danger as a dam in the vicinity is failing. Built in the 1920s, the earthen dam faces a drainage problem in the midst of the downpours visited on the island, which have abruptly filled it up and put unbearable pressure on the walls.

The failure of this dam underlines that climate change science is absolutely central to good public policy and planning.

As humans put heat trapping gases into the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide, through driving their cars, providing their homes with electricity, and heating or cooling their houses, more of the sun’s heat is trapped on earth rather than radiating off into space. That trapped heat has caused the average temperature of the earth’s surface to rise.

Trapping heat so that it causes the Caribbean to heat up is highly destructive. Warm water powers hurricanes. Hotter water makes them more violent and destructive now.

Warmer water also has more water vapor floating above it. That water turbocharges the rain storms once the hurricane makes landfall.

In Puerto Rico’s case, so much rain fell so heavily and so quickly that it overwhelmed the old earthen dam, which began to fail. It so happens that nearly 70,000 people live down river and are in danger.

People in charge of dams throughout the US need to be made aware of this situation. What is an ordinary load on a dam is about to change, and human-caused climate change will just attribute them to someone else. If you don’t believe in climate change, you cannot justify the expenditure of public funds to reinforce the dam.

If you deny climate change, you will not anticipate heavier rainfall. Your dams will then fail, creating tens of thousands of climate refugees.

Global heating doesn’t cause hurricanes. It simply amplifies them and makes them stronger and makes the rainfall associated with them much heavier.

When you vote for denialist politicians, you are selecting people who make policy. The policy they make will be clueless and will actively endanger the public. Climate change is real. We are causing it by our emissions. If you don’t believe that, you are not a responsible steward of our infrastructure and of our lives.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Puerto Rico Braces As Dam Fails”

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7 Responses

  1. It needs be remembered that these major, media hitting events with their death tolls, swathes of damage, and massive exoduses are peak manifestations of an inexorable process, evolving 24/7 and now affecting all life on Earth, and should not be regarded as one off; earlier and later summers some places, stronger hurricanes, changing aquatic patterns, depleting aquifers, higher sea levels, less snow; some not that harmful in isolation but all cumulatively portending a bleak future for which we should be preparing. Moving off fossil fuel is not enough; socio-logistical preparations need to be made or anarchy followed by dystopia will be our future. We are fiddling while the embers glow brighter by the day.

  2. The Republicans know damn well that the future holds bigger catastrophes. They just don’t want to pay for any of it–from health care that can be afforded, to “natural” disasters.

    • Which means somewhere, in at least one of their think-tank dungeons, one of the bastards is working on a plan for how they will rule us in the resulting collapsed civilization.

      Watch carefully as the mainstreaming of extreme right-wing ideas turns to the first hints that (a) debtors can be enslaved, and (b) debt can be inherited. That combination equals nothing less than a society of serfdom. It means that when civilization collapses – your debts WON’T disappear. They will simply become too large for you to ever pay off with your bare hands, and the debt holders will own you, and then your children.

      • I wonder how much of this is the natural order, historically speaking.

        Outright slavery has been the natural order until very recently. And indentured slavery, or the status you describe, is a hairsbreadth away. In fact, those tricks were standard in Latin America until quite recently.

        Non-competeagreement for fast food workers? It’s happening. I could go on, chapter and verse.

        What you’re describing is underway right now, only it’s being done incrementally and with appropriate nods to the “free market”.

        • I think what’s happening this time is much more twisted than the past situation. This time there’s no labor shortage to justify slavery. Instead, there’s a labor surplus. Which presents a danger to the capitalists, because it was one thing to take all the good jobs away from minorities under the last-hired first-fired principle, but now middle-class jobs in retail and services must be destroyed. If Whites and Blacks end up unemployed together, it is the greatest threat to oligarchic ownership of America since Whites and Blacks were indentured servants together joining Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 Virginia.

          My theory is, the corporations and investors have known for 60 years or more that this crisis was coming, since critics like Louis Kelso were writing about the danger of technological unemployment back then. The solution from a cultural standpoint is to turn the clock back to restore the caste divisions that protected the rich, and driving down wages has done a fantastic job of stoking White atavism in this way. But you can’t do that indefinitely.

          The solution is make-work that keeps us both divided and busy, even though there’s little useful to do. And the answer lies in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Make enough of us guards, and enough of us prisoners, and the division will take care of itself.

          Now you might rightly argue that, yes, labor can be extracted from the prisoners, but the guards aren’t genuinely productive. But we don’t need more than a few actual workers in the future. What we need is an ideological terror of the prisoners that makes us subsidize the guards out of the pay of those who still have real jobs, then have the guards beat enough labor out of the prisoner/slaves to break even. The deception of GNP is that it is possible for economic activity to increase while our standard of living falls. As utility-maximizers presented with a threat like, say, Global Communism or Black Criminality, we consider the money we pour into our military and police as a net improvement in our well-being even if our standard of living actually falls – because the threat must be dealt with!

          So it will appear the American economy is growing, but in fact an ever-shrinking number of actual free laborers will spend more and more of their income in taxes to subsidize the prison-industrial complex just enough to compensate for the inferiority of prison slave labor versus the most advanced automation available. Of course, the free laborers thus dig their own graves as ways are found for slaves to take their jobs if robots can’t.

          It doesn’t have to “work” in the classical sense. It just has to keep the most-armed tribe, the White patriarchy, supporting the system. They will all be engineers or supervisors involved in primitive resource extraction, or part of the prison-industrial complex. Families will have both, doubling the blind loyalty of the truly productive to the parasite guard class. Perhaps their debts will be allowed to slowly increase to keep the economy going until they can never get out. They will slowly regress into Medieval serfdom. But for minorities it will be far worse, because the logical goal of this system is to imprison most of them, not just 5% like today.

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