You wouldn’t know it from a perusal of the web presence of pretty much any major American news source, but there has been absolutely catastrophic flooding in Louisiana this week. Thirty parishes have been declared disaster areas, 20,000 people have been rescued by emergency workers, and thirteen people have died. I personally didn’t find out any of this was happening until a friend checked in safe on Facebook yesterday, even though it’s been going on for almost a week and I read a lot of news.
Two related thoughts. First, this reaction is the inevitable consequence of casual cosmopolitan liberal classism. Faced with ludicrous (and sometimes racist) rhetoric from the right about “Real America,” many liberals have instead cast impoverished, rural white Americans utterly outside their sphere of concern. When the kinds of people who write for and read the New York Times talk at all about the kinds of people who live outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it is with withering condescension.
Which makes the area outside of Baton Rouge perfectly suited to become what Naomi Klein has recently labeled “fossil fuel sacrifice zones,” areas that are able to be destroyed by climate change-fueled extreme weather events without provoking anything more than collective indifference. Classist rhetoric of the sort that is all too common in enlightened liberal circles is essential to dooming a place to this fate. As Klein writes, “There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills?”
Second thought: this is very bad news for liberal incrementalists who are uncomfortable with radical climate change activism and calls for systemic economic change. Their story has always been that we are fast approaching a tipping point where the consequences of climate change will suddenly become so undeniable that fossil fuel company executives and conservative politicians will be forced into a change of heart. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, and some earth-saving Grand Compromise will be hammered out in Washington.
For a while, this was all going to happen when the impacts of climate change “finally” spread from low-lying formerly colonized nations to the United States. But now American citizens are dying due to once-in-a-generation flooding and the corporate responsibility eschaton is still nowhere to be seen. One is reminded of Thomas Friedman’s repeated proclamation over a period of several years that “the next six months” would be critical in Iraq.
So: whither the tipping point? Rest assured, there’s one coming. But I’m not sure even the most strident corporate accomodationists want us to get there.