Shipwrecks, climate disruption, mass shootings

This excerpt from Kathryn Schulz, “Writers in the Storm” (The New Yorker, Nov. 23, 2015), seems to me a good analogy for the human slowness in solving problems:

It is difficult … to appreciate how catastrophic the weather could be before we had any ability to forecast it…. in 1869, there were 1,914 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes alone. Not coincidentally, the ship-salvage industry was instrumental in lobbying against early weather forecasting. Partly owing to its influence, the British government effectively eliminated FitzRoy’s position at the Meteorological Department shortly after his death, and suspended his two major innovations—weather forecasts and storm warnings—until scientific and public outcry sufficed to get them reinstated….

FitzRoy was not only among the founders of modern meteorology but also the captain who fatefully enrolled Charles Darwin as his ship’s naturalist in 1831.

Ship salvage was a big source of income, not only for a whole industry but also for residents of rocky coasts, as you know if you have seen the BBC series “Poldark,” set in Cornwall a couple of centuries ago. (Photo from PhotoBucket.)

Ship sinking

The misfortune of some is the profit of others.

So we should not be surprised that the fossil fuel industry, which as recently revealed has long known how its operations contribute to warming our climate and increasing the violence of our weather, has been doing everything in its very substantial power to prevent reductions in carbon and methane being added to the atmosphere and oceans.

Similarly, we should not be surprised if the gun and ammunition industry does everything in its power to prevent limits on sales of its products, even to the mentally disturbed, those who have actively threatened others, and individuals on the terrorist watch list.

The fossil fuel and gun industries are the ship salvagers of our time: they profit from others’ misfortunes and will go to the wall to avert change.

The question is: when will “scientific and public outcry” be strong enough to impose the needed changes? It’s no longer a question of a few thousand ships going down needlessly every year, but of severe disruption of the environment and human habitat and widespread deaths, injuries, starvation, forced migration, and fear among the general population.

If we wait for change to come from elected officials, it may take a long time. I don’t doubt that some really pursue the public interest, but as big money consolidates its rule, every day’s news bears out Upton Sinclair’s famous dictum:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

As some now think, is the only avenue to change for investors to sue fossil fuel companies for not warning potential investors that climate change and public demand for regulation may threaten the bottom line? And to sue gun manufacturers on the grounds that repealing their legal immunity is figuring in this year’s presidential debates?

See for example “Trinity Church Campaigns Against Some Gun Sales at Cabela’s,” New York Times, 12/21/15:

…Activists are raising reputational risk as an issue to push retailers and gun manufacturers to change.

Last week, New York City’s public advocate asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Smith & Wesson misrepresented or omitted information in its public disclosures about how often its products are involved in crimes….

Successful suits would be poetic justice, since when faced with any public-interest or moral issue, corporations like to say their only duty is to their shareholders.

Merry Christmas, shareholders, and may you have a shipwreck-free New Year.


About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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