In Puerto Rico, we may be seeing a prequel of what a post-climate change dystopian world may look like, and it’s truly terrifying. I hope I’m wrong.
Here’s an imagined picture of what Puerto Rico could look like in a few weeks or a few months, unless rescue efforts are ramped up quickly:
Tens or hundreds of thousands of American citizens sick or dying from contaminated water; mass starvation because fresh food and water can’t reach those who need it; a breakdown in social order as law enforcement officers are unable to even get to work, because they’re trying to take care of their own families, or because shattered transportation infrastructure prevents them from reaching remote parts of the island; maybe even roving gangs of young people stealing food, water, fuel, and medicine to save their own families; makeshift refugee camps fighting other refugees for scarce resources; the armed forces trying desperately to restore order.
Meanwhile, hedge funds and investment banks holding Puerto Rican debt foreclose on the territory’s assets.
Not a pretty picture. Think “Lord of the Flies” meets "Wall Street."
Welcome to Dystopia
If you’ve ever read any dystopian novels or seen dystopian movies, this is often what the post apocalyptic world is portrayed as—A small wealthy elite revels behind gilded walls, while out in the hinterlands, most people struggle for survival, often pitted against each other in armed gangs and tribes.
Only ten days after Puerto Rico’s second storm of the century in a week, San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz pleaded "People are dying in this country. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy."
To which President Trump tweeted back insults to the besieged Mayor.
Even if a dystopian scenario doesn’t fully emerge, it will be months before power, water and transportation are restored to much of the island. Lawlessness is likely to grow. And Puerto Rico faces the threat of bankruptcy from Wall Street banks on top of it. Puerto Rico may never fully recover.
And we must ask, is the number and intensity of recent storms in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean the result of global climate change warming the seas? If so, is the physical and social devastation of Puerto Rico a precursor to what more and more of the world will be experiencing.
What about poverty -stricken Bangladesh which is considered one of the two most vulnerable countries to climate change, which could result in the death and displacement of millions? Or low-lying American cities like Houston, Miami, New Orleans, or even New York? What about much of the American West where flames from massive forest fires are growing and claiming increasing amounts of territory?
The True Costs of Climate Change
Republicans and the donor class who finances them often claim that even if man-made climate change exists, it would cost the economy too much to resist it, much less roll it back. But what’s the economic, human and social cost of devastating storms making key populated areas all but unlivable and threatening the foundations of organized civilization?
In the short run, President Trump must check his narcissistic ego, realize that Puerto Rico's crisis is not about him, and mobilize every part of the U.S. government to save Puerto Rico from dystopia.
If we can occupy Iraq or Afghanistan to try to create order, then we can send the full resources of the Federal government—civil and military—to defend Puerto Rico and save lives. At the same time, the Federal government must relieve Puerto Rico of its Wall Street debt so it’s not denied the financial resources to rebuild.
But then it’s time to take our head out of the sand and realize that climate change is an existential threat to civilized life in the United States and around the world. It will take a concerted effort and resources from the U.S. and every other developed economy to halt and reverse climate change, and build a sustainable economy. Otherwise, more and more parts of America and the world could soon look like the emerging dystopia of post -hurricane Puerto Rico.