Unnatural Disasters


By Guest Contributor

We’ve become largely desensitized to words like ‘10,000 likely dead.’ It’s not our family, our friends. But can we stop for a minute and recognize that people have died and will continue to die, as Typhoon Haiyan razes Southeast Asia because of a storm greatly exacerbated by climate change. Though Haiyan has received significant mainstream media coverage, it’s framed to evoke pity, sadness, a sense of helplessness.

But this framing distracts from the true tragedy: our complicity. We are responsible, as people living in a country that pours the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and works the hardest to prevent substantive international action on climate change. Our actions are intensifying storms while those who have done the least to bring about climate change experience the deaths of their family members and the destruction of their homes.

Yeb Sano, Filipino delegate to the U.N. Climate Summit that kicked off this week said Monday morning that “disasters are never natural. They are the intersection of factors other than physical. They are the accumulation of the constant breach of economic, social, and environmental thresholds. Most of the time disasters are a result of inequity and the poorest people of the world are at greatest risk because of their vulnerability and decades of maldevelopment, which I must assert is connected to the kind of pursuit of economic growth that dominates the world; the same kind of pursuit of so-called economic growth and unsustainable consumption that has altered the climate system.”

When discussing climate change on our campus, we focus on a distant future, thinking about how we will smoothly, rationally transition off of fossil fuels. We “integrate sustainability” into our practices only when it requires no sacrifices of our quality of life. What the situation in the Philippines remind us is that while we wait for serious action to be comfortable, there are sacrifices. People are sacrificed.

People refer to divestment and the environmental movement as “radical,” but radical is watching 10,000 people die as a result of the largest storm in our history and refusing to take action. Radical is accepting such a storm as the new normal.

Moreover, it is inhumane. As residents of an exceedingly wealthy and powerful nation and as people with access to a political system that moves if we demand it, we have a responsibility to organize, to bring about a future that values a human life in the Philippines as much as a life at Middlebury College.

Climate change is truly, fundamentally terrifying. It is almost impossible to think about the reality we face and to refrain from despair, to continue getting out of bed in the morning. But we must, we must engage, because if we don’t we are going to spend our lives watching the world’s most marginalized suffer as a consequence. This we cannot do.

As Yeb Sano says, “it’s time to stop this madness.” Enough is enough.

Please join members of Divest Middlebury and Sunday Night Group Thursday, Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. outside of Mead Chapel for a candlelight vigil to remember those lost and suffering from Typhoon Haiyan.

GRETA NEUBAUER ‘14.5 is from Racine, W.I. and HANNAH BRISTOL ‘14.5 is from Falls Church, V.A.