Crisis Management: Extreme Weather Calls for Big Government Action

With for-profit insurance companies unable to address extreme weather and other implications of climate change, emergency assistance will need to come from government action.


| May/June 2012



Coastal-Hurricane

Only government has the capital and the capacity to deal with the catastrophic implications of climate change.

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER/FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/GSFC/

Look back on 2011 and you’ll notice a destructive trail of extreme weather slashing through the year. In Texas, it was the driest year ever recorded. An epic drought there killed half a billion trees, touched off wildfires that burned 4 million acres, and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and buildings. The costs to agriculture, particularly the cotton and cattle businesses, are estimated at $5.2 billion—and keep in mind that, in a winter breaking all sorts of records for warmth, the Texas drought is not yet over. In August, the East Coast had a close brush with calamity in the form of Hurricane Irene, whose rains did at least $7 billion worth of damage.

Around the planet the story was similar. Wildfires consumed large swaths of Chile. Colombia suffered its second year of endless rain. In Brazil, the life-giving Amazon River was running low due to drought. Flooding in the Thai capital, Bangkok, killed more than 500 and displaced or damaged the property of millions. And that’s just to start a 2011 extreme-weather list, not to end it.

Such calamities, devastating for those affected, have important implications for how we think about the role of government in our future. During natural disasters, society regularly turns to the state for help, which means that such immediate crises are a much-needed reminder of just how important a functional big government turns out to be to our survival.

These days, big government gets big press attention—none of it anything but terrible. In the United States, especially in an election year, it’s become fashionable to beat up on the public sector and all things governmental (except the military). The right does it nonstop in talking points that disparage the role of an oversized federal government.

By now, this viewpoint has taken on the aura of folk wisdom, as if the essence of democracy were to hate government. Even many on the left now regularly dismiss government as nothing but oversized, wasteful, bureaucratic, corrupt, and oppressive, without giving serious consideration to how essential it may be to our lives.

But don’t expect the present “consensus” to last. Global warming and the freaky, increasingly extreme weather that will accompany it is going to change all that. After all, there is only one institution that actually has the capacity to deal with multibillion-dollar natural disasters on an increasingly routine basis. Private security firms won’t help your flooded or tornado-struck town. Private insurance companies are systematically withdrawing coverage from vulnerable coastal areas. Voluntary community groups, churches, anarchist affinity groups—each may prove helpful in limited ways, but for better or worse, only government has the capital and the capacity to deal with the catastrophic implications of climate change.

julia jones
4/29/2012 6:51:12 PM

Yes, we do live in an "economy that fundamentally combines private and public economic activity." And it is the lack of government supervision and avid greed that has led us to today's crisis...in fact, you can say it is the COLLABORATION between the two. Another reminder that too few women are involved in either government or business...Look where we are today with solely male leadership....women are not perfect but they are blamed for all problems so why not give business/government a good scapegoat or two! Read more: http://www.utne.com/politics/extreme-weather-crisis-management-zm0z12mjzros.aspx?page=5#ixzz1tSNMko3P