Last week, I went to the Museum of the City of New York and saw an exhibition called Rising Tides. It captured the devastating impact global warming and rising sea levels are already having on some parts of the world, causing the displacement of whole communities and the prospect of millions more climate refugees in the near future. Among the dire predictions was one that swathes of New York City (which largely comprises a collection of islands) will be under water by 2050.
Today, I wake to more clear evidence that these warnings are real. The full picture is still emerging, but last night’s storm has caused serious flooding in some areas (including the Bronx) and a rising death toll. Roads and public transport are partially closed and people are being advised to stay at home while the clean-up operation takes place.
As a CNN commentator has just said, “these once every 100 year events are happening every week”. Central Park had a record rainfall last night. The previous record was set two weeks ago. Of course, the north-east media is paying more attention because these things are happening in its backyard. But there is still severe flooding in Louisiana and other parts of the south, while forest fires and draught continue in the west.
The political rhetoric around the climate crisis is also rising, but I see few signs of serious action to go with it. The Biden administration will use current events to bolster its infrastructure investment plans, which do include environmental remediation measures, like money for electric cars. But it also has $billions for more road building and the fossil fuel industry and its political lackeys are not going to go quietly. In between rolling coverage of the floods are numerous adverts for the unsustainable lifestyle this country leads.
Housing is key to all this. Our current model of individualised privatised, consumption-driven domesticity is ruinous. It’s a relatively small thing, but as I walked around my neighbourhood this morning, I noticed that virtually every front garden is paved over to allow a car (or two) to be parked, significantly increasing the strain on drainage during heavy rain. This and much more about the environmental impact of our homes has been known about for years. Again, the warnings go unheard because there are too many vested interests drowning them out.
If it weren’t for the floods, the headlines today would be about abortion, which is now effectively illegal in Texas and may soon be in other states too. There is, I think, a growing sense of shock that this has happened and that the Supreme Court has not intervened to uphold women’s rights. But as with the weather, no-one should really be surprised. Trump tried to re-make the Supreme Court in his own image and the reactionary, patriarchal forces in some parts of the country are gearing up to make abortion a touchstone issue in next year’s midterm elections. Their fake concern for the rights of women in Afghanistan is not shared for those closer to home.
But liberty isn’t completely under water today. While one storm raged last night, another was going on in Albany, the New York state capital, where politicians angrily debated extending the eviction moratorium. It was a remarkable spectacle, about which I’ll write more soon. Suffice to say, for now, that tenants in New York are today protected from losing their homes until at least 15th January 2022, a fantastic, inspirational victory for the tenant and housing justice movement here.