Are we prepared for climate change? Health experts say no

Health experts told Congress that we're woefully unprepared for the coming realities of climate change. Will we listen?

For years, climate change has been treated as an impending disaster in the not-too-distant future. Yet every season we seem to kick the can down the road even though the effects of climate change are here. As a group of public health officials told Congress last week, Americans are not ready to deal with this fact.


University of Maryland assistant professor Marcus Hendricks pointed out a few inconvenient realities to congressional lawmakers, including the surge and strength of Western wildfires (sections of Yosemite Park were closed this week, and wildfires are predicted to get worse), Houston’s intense flooding, and storms in Florida and Puerto Rico. These are only the beginning. The prospect for this autumn is rather dim, as he notes:

Unfortunately, federal forecasters say there’s a 75 percent chance the upcoming hurricane season will produce between five and nine hurricanes, making the prospect of another catastrophe on the island very real.

Over 4,600 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Maria, according to Harvard. Besides the massive destruction of infrastructure, many other problems have manifested, including an uptick in domestic abuse, contaminated drinking water, and the inability for medical professionals to reach and treat those in need.

The New Republic has further bad news:

A record-breaking heat wave killed 65 people in Japan this week, just weeks after record flooding there killed more than 200. Record-breaking heat is also wreaking havoc in California, where the wildfire season is already worse than usual. In Greece, fast-moving fires have killed at least 80 people, and Sweden is struggling to contain more than 50 fires amid its worst drought in 74 years. Both countries have experienced all-time record-breaking temperatures this summer, as has most of the rest of the world.

Yet, as the magazine continues, the media continues to portray these changes as nature just acting up (or worse, as if a god is causing them). Of 127 segments on global heat on major broadcast networks, only one segment even connected temperature increase to climate change. In 2017, no major network studied mentioned a link between the increasing strength of hurricanes and our contribution to it.

How do we deal with this new reality? One expert suggests fleeing the coasts. While those in Miami might not have a choice, is that even feasible for the rest of the population? Then again, what if we too have no choice?

Like political exhaustion, Americans have been experiencing climate exhaustion for decades. We’ve grown immune to doomsday scenarios, thinking, “Sure, that fire was bad, or that hurricane did some damage, but we made it through.” Yet for the people who lived through that fire or hurricane (or lost family along the way), reality is quite different. We can’t become too exhausted to conjure appropriate levels of empathy and compassion to make serious changes, yet that’s exactly what’s occurring. If we’re not directly affected, we scroll to another story.

That won’t hold, says National Association of County & City Health Officials senior program analyst Chelsea Gridley-Smith. Knowledge of risk is useless without active public planning.

In health departments across the country, more than half of the health directors acknowledge the health impacts of climate change. Less than 20 percent of them have the resources and expertise needed to assess the potential impacts, create effective plans and protect communities from these impacts.

Preparation, she says, is key. A disaster is often labeled such only because we didn’t apply the available foresight. John McPhee warned of a hurricane flooding New Orleans in 1987. His reporting included public officials that knew what they were facing. Yet much of America acted shocked when Katrina arrived in 2005. How could we have not seen that coming? Some did, but they could not influence the government to do anything about it.

Humans are reactive animals. We have a unique ability to portend the future, but unless we act proactively, this skill is useless. We know some of the dangers of climate change. There are many that will take us by surprise. But not all of them should.

The only blame is on our lack of imagination, which, according to the experts on Capitol Hill, is sadly what we've created. With a president who won't even entertain the fact that climate change exists, our imaginations will have to grow, and quickly.

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Originally Poe envisioned a parrot, not a raven

Quoth the parrot — "Nevermore."

The Green Parrot by Vincent van Gogh, 1886
Culture & Religion

By his mid-30s, Edgar Allan Poe was not only weary by the hardships of poverty, but also regularly intoxicated — by more than just macabre visions. Despite this, the Gothic writer lucidly insisted that there was still a method to his madness when it came to devising poems.

In an essay titled "The Philosophy of Composition," published in 1846 in Graham's Magazine, Poe divulged how his creative process worked, particularly in regard to his most famous poem: "No one point in [The Raven's] composition is rerferrible either to accident or intuition… the work proceeded step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem."

That said, contrary to the popular idea that Edgar Allan Poe penned his poems in single bursts of inspiration, The Raven did not pour out from his quivering quill in one fell swoop. Rather it came about through a calculative process — one that included making some pretty notable changes, even to its avian subject.

As an example of how his mind worked, Poe describes in his essay that originally the bird that flew across the dreary scene immortalized in the poem was actually… a parrot.

Poe had pondered ways he could have his one word refrain, "nevermore," continuously repeated throughout the poem. With that aim, he instantly thought of a parrot because it was a creature capable of uttering words. However, as quickly as Poe had found his feathered literary device, he became concerned with the bird's form on top of its important function.

And as it turns out, the parrot, a pretty resplendent bird, did not perch so well in Poe's mind because it didn't fit the mood he was going for—melancholy, "the most legitimate of all the poetical tones." In solving this dilemma in terms of imagery, he made adjustments to its plumage, altogether transforming the parrot — bestowing it with a black raiment.

"Very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone," Poe explained in his piece in Graham's. "I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven — the bird of ill omen — monotonously repeating the one word, 'Nevermore,' at the conclusion of each stanza, in a poem of melancholy tone…"

It was with these aesthetic calculations that Poe ousted the colorful bird that first flew into his mind, and welcomed the darker one that fluttered in:

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore…

The details of the poem — including the bird's appearance — needed to all blend together, like a recipe, to bring out the somber concept he was trying to convey: the descent into madness of a bereaved lover, a man lamenting the loss of a beautiful woman named Lenore. With that in mind, quoth the parrot — "nevermore" just doesn't have the same grave effect.

* * *

If you'd like to read more about Edgar Allan Poe, click here to review how his contemporaries tried to defame him in an attempt to thwart his success.

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