• Otter Views: Tornadoes and Taxes

    by Tom Stevens

    “May you live in interesting times,” goes the old Chinese curse. We may be witnessing some of those now.

    My tocsin of alarums starts with the recent news that earth’s atmosphere has set a three-million year record for climate-warming carbon dioxide content. We’ve now passed the dreaded 400 parts per million threshold and are blithely streaking toward 450 ppm.

    That may gladden fossil fuel promoters who preach that carbon is good for plants, trees and growing children, but 400 ppm is too much of a good thing. The last time atmospheric carbon hit that peak was in the Pliocene Age. Back then, global temperatures were 10 degrees warmer and sea levels 80 feet higher than they are now. Goodbye, Disney World.

    Because we are a proudly know-nothing, “kill the messenger” society, climate scientists brazen enough to publish their findings have been condemned to everlasting hellfire by congressmen from Oklahoma and other faith-based jurisdictions. Ironically, Oklahoma is a beta test site for the warming world’s muscular new weather.

    As did New Orleans and New York City before it, Oklahoma last week suffered a natural disaster that seemed unduly severe even by “Tornado Alley” standards. A super twister packing 250 mile per hour winds ripped through an Oklahoma City suburb that had been flattened and rebuilt just a few years earlier. Aerial photos showed the suburb scattered apart like a box of dropped matches.

    Among the dead were elementary students who sought safety in a school hallway the twister utterly demolished. Like most of the state’s buildings, the school had no storm shelter because Oklahoma building codes don’t require them. As a proudly tax-averse “small government” state, Oklahoma shares with neighboring Texas a bedrock hostility toward anything that might restrict business or personal freedoms.

    Tornado shelters evidently fall into that category, as do fertilizer plant inspections. Shortly before the Oklahoma City twister, a small Texas town suffered deaths and widespread destruction when its antiquated fertilizer storage plant exploded. Post-mortems revealed that the aged plant had undergone lamentably few state inspections and been held accountable for even fewer improvements. The reason: antipathy toward government intrusion in private business.

    Like their counterparts in “superstorm”-ravaged New Orleans and New York, citizens of Moore, Oklahoma and West, Texas swiftly vowed to rebuild their shattered communities. But characteristically, they don’t want to pay state property taxes to do so. As a result, the hated Obama government has to get involved, and the aversion cycle worsens.

    With proper oversight, the Texas fertilizer plant disaster likely could have been prevented. But the deadline for preventing super storms like Katrina, Sandy and the Moore tornado expired 20 years ago. We are now reaping the whirlwinds sowed during a century of promiscuous carbon-burning.

    Scientists’ warnings fell on deaf ears back then, and they fall on deaf ears now. Polls reveal that most Americans see no link between human activity and climate change. If anything, multi-billion dollar lobbying and disinformation campaigns funded by the fossil fuel industry have given “climate change deniers” a credibility profile Al Gore can only envy.

    Chalk that up to human nature. If acknowledging climate change means paying higher taxes, building dikes and tornado shelters, altering ruinous land use practices or moving inland, then climate change cannot be real. These new droughts, floods and storms are no worse than thousands of previous ones, and they have been ordained by a higher power. We had nothing whatsoever to do with them, and we will make no changes because of them. By cracky!

    As someone smart once said, though, science doesn’t care what we think. It’s going to happen anyway. Now that we’ve crossed the 400 ppm atmospheric carbon threshold, the still, small voice of science has this to say: more heat-trapping CO2 in the atmosphere portends a warmer, stormier world. As polar ice and glaciers melt, ocean currents and weather patterns will change. Droughts will worsen in many places; floods in others. Sea levels will rise. Food production and potable water sources will diminish. Species that can’t adapt will vanish.

    This all sounds very far off in the future, but as recent events suggest, it’s happening already, and much of it is irreversible. So, what does any of that have to do with taxes? Put bluntly, the coming damage and adaptations will need to be paid for.

    So will any infrastructure upgrades the new weather warrants. Think of all the supposedly storm-proof systems Hurricane Sandy disabled and exposed in New York: subway, air and surface transit; heat, power and light delivery; communications, sewerage and water lines; fire prevention and public safety. Those are costly to restore.

    If America wants to remain a functioning union in the coming climate model, it will need to pay its taxes. Even you, Apple.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 31, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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