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Why Climate Change Will Make You Love Big Government

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Posted on Jan 28, 2012
Sam-Lehman (CC-BY)

Power lines prop up a utility pole after Hurricane Irene passed through Baltimore last August.

By Christian Parenti, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

The damage to Vermont was estimated at up to $1 billion. Yet the state only has 621,000 residents, so it could never have raised all the money needed to rebuild alone. Vermont businesses, individuals, and foundations have donated at least $4 million, possibly up to $6 million in assistance, an impressive figure, but not a fraction of what was needed. The state government immediately released $24 million in funds, crucial to getting its system of roads rebuilt and functioning, but again that was a drop in the bucket, given the level of damage.  A little known state-owned bank, the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank, also offered low-interest, low-collateral loans to towns to aid reconstruction efforts. But without federal money, which covered 80% to 100% of the costs of rebuilding many Vermont roads, the state would still be an economic basket case.  Without aid from Washington, the transportation network might have taken years to recover.

As for flood insurance, the federal government is pretty much the only place to get it. The National Flood Insurance Program has written 5.5 million policies in more than 21,000 communities covering $1.2 trillion worth of property. As for the vaunted private market, for-profit insurance companies write between 180,000 and 200,000 policies in a given year.  In other words, that is less than 5% of all flood insurance in the United States. This federally subsidized program underwrites the other 95%. Without such insurance, it’s not complicated: many waterlogged victims of 2011, whether from record Midwestern floods or Hurricane Irene, would simply have no money to rebuild.

Or consider sweltering Texas. In 2011, firefighters responded to 23,519 fires. In all, 2,742 homes were destroyed by out-of-control wildfires. But government action saved 34,756 other homes. So you decide: Was this another case of wasteful government intervention in the marketplace, or an extremely efficient use of resources?

Facing Snowpocalypse Without Plows

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The early years of this century have already offered a number of examples of how disastrous too little government can be in the face of natural disaster, Katrina-inundated New Orleans in 2005 being perhaps the quintessential case.

There are, however, other less noted examples that nonetheless helped concentrate the minds of government planners.  For example, in the early spring of 2011, a massive blizzard hit New York City. Dubbed “Snowmageddon” and “Snowpocalypse,” the storm arrived in the midst of tense statewide budget negotiations, and a nationwide assault on state workers (and their pensions).

In New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg was pushing for cuts to the sanitation department budget. As the snow piled up, the people tasked with removing it—sanitation workers—failed to appear in sufficient numbers. As the city ground to a halt, New Yorkers were left to fend for themselves with nothing but shovels, their cars, doorways, stores, roads all hopelessly buried. Chaos ensued.  Though nowhere near as destructive as Katrina, the storm became a case study in too little governance and the all-too-distinct limits of “self-reliance” when nature runs amuck. In the week that followed, even the rich were stranded amid the mounting heaps of snow and uncollected garbage.

Mayor Bloomberg emerged from the debacle chastened, even though he accused the union of staging a soft strike, a work-to-rule-style slowdown that held the snowbound city hostage. The union denied engaging in any such illegal actions. Whatever the case, the blizzard focused thinking locally on the nature of public workers. It suddenly made sanitation workers less invisible and forced a set of questions: Are public workers really “union fat cats” with “sinecures” gorging at the public trough? Or are they as essential to the basic functions of the city as white blood cells to the health of the human body? Clearly, in snowbound New York it was the latter. No sanitation workers and your city instantly turns chaotic and fills with garbage, leaving street after street lined with the stuff.

More broadly the question raised was: Can an individual, a town, a city, even a state really “go it alone” when the weather turns genuinely threatening? Briefly, all the union bashing and attacks on the public sector that had marked that year’s state-level budget debates began to sound unhinged.


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By gerard, January 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm Link to this comment

Seems to me a clear and helpful article. There is always that tug-of-war between “public” and
“private” to deal with, but it’s (IMO) a self-evident fact that we need both. At the same time, we need an ever-changing, always cooperative balance between the two.  Nothing too much, as the Greeks used to say.
  That balance can always be figured out by people with differing viewpoints coming together to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides - give or take a little here and there—never perfect, but do-able.
  What we dare not lose (and are in grave danger of losing) is the willingness to work things out together, the faith in democratic values and in the ability of agencies to self-correct and change.
  All is not lost yet, if we can exchange real information freely, say what we think, work for what we believe in, and resist authoritarian manipulation.
These are the very issues that are being muddled and endangered by super-managing agencies drunk on their own power and trying to manipulate outcomes. They even propose to dominate Nature!
  Unless they can be brought back to reality, the outcome is doubtful. Balance is vital. Integrity is essential. Blah, blah and blah ... but there it is, as usual, as always.  Buena ventura.

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By LocalHero, January 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

What baseless, blatant idiocy.

The solution is to turn the problem over to the same corporatocracy that caused the problem in the first place?

Needless to say, there’s no reason to check into Parenti’s TomDispatch any time soon if this is the kind of fuzzy, statist thinking he produces. What dreck.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, January 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm Link to this comment

Hi balkas,

We don’t have a century. 

The UN predicts the population will reach 9 billion by 2050; by 2100
the population is expected to be 10 billion. 

Make no mistake, by that time the leading cause of death everywhere
will be starvation and thirst.

The ecosystem is collapsing. Our children will endure it. Our
grandchildren will probably die from it. It’s very serious. 

We’re fighting a war on terror against our fellow human beings but the
real terror will be the ecological collapse unfolding as we speak. 

Dig peace. Don’t bury it. We’re gonna need it.

D.R. Zing

Source for the UN predictions:
http://esa.un.org/wpp/Other-Information/Press_Release_WPP2010.pdf

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By D.R. Zing, January 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment

Hi vironmentalman,

Stunning as it seems Monty Python produced a song for
you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cNsmt2YZXA

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, January 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm Link to this comment

Damn!  This is an awesome article. TruthDig has found
another author of Hedges caliber. 

Here’s a suggestion for public investment: Build
dikes.  Produce productive pumps.  We’ll need them
around Florida, New York, the coast of Texas, etc. 

Sea levels are rising. Put an ice cube on a table. 
The whole thing doesn’t melt before it slides off.
That’s what will happen with Greenland as the planet
warms:  Its icecap will plunk off into the sea. 

If we don’t start investing in climate protection,
well, Tool’s got it right:  “Learn to swim, I’ll see
you down in Arizona Bay.”

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By Morpheus, January 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm Link to this comment

Nothings going to change if we keep talking about it and doing nothing.

FIGHT THE CAUSE - NOT THE SYMPTOM
Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )

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By me1, January 29, 2012 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yes, the violence of helping people. Don’t you
libertards have anything better to do?

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By dhaab, January 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

BIG government is the answer to our climate change problems? Really? What a horribly flawed article.

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By Matthew Rogers, January 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Although I believe the evidence for anthropogenic global climate change is
strong, this sort of article does nothing but make Alex Jone’s rants about GCC
being a plot to strip us of our freedoms seem sane and plausible.

The only solution to the big corporatism that got us into trouble in the first
place is EXACTLY “voluntary community groups, churches, anarchist affinity
groups,” and other LOCALC solutions for mutual aid that aren’t reliant on large
scale corpratism or statism, that requires a large carbon heavy infrastructure to
maintain.

Fail and badly so!

This sort of utter failure of imagination by state centralist loving liberals/progs
is the sort of thing that makes me believe that only alliance between the
anarchist left and Libertarian right will save us from the suffocating iron cage of
bureaucracy and corpratism Max Weber tried to warn us about a century ago.

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By balkas, January 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment

for me, it is painful to think about what is coming our way even in next
few decades, let alone in a century or two.

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By Anarcissie, January 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm Link to this comment

As to the title, nothing will make me love violence.

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By vironmentalman, January 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The article is premised on the idea that global warming is happening (but there hasn’t been any since 1998) that man has something to do with it, or to do about it, and that “extreme” weather events (no standards for what qualifies here; the writer sited a hurricane in an unusually quiet hurricane season that fizzled out, but what IF) are related to climate change (climate change which used to be global warming but had to be changed because it stopped warming which was changed from man-made global warming because that was just too much of a stretcher to keep up with a straight face). Slipping the climate change nonsense in as a premise isn’t very subtle but trotting it out as a right/left issue is. Don’t fall for it.

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By Miko, January 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The two largest polluters in the U.S. today are the
Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. 
The largest non-governmental polluters in the U.S. do
so with explicit governmental sanction.  Contrary to
what Parenti assumes, when climate change becomes more
serious, the people responsible (which is to say the
people in charge of those departments) are unlikely to
be hailed as heroes.

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By entropy2, January 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment

Great idea…let’s not empower individuals and communities to nimbly and effectively cope (and even thrive) under rapidly changing conditions. No, let’s have a monolithic, centralized techno-bureaucracy lurching and lumbering from one crisis to another, while, at the same time, causing the next one.

And that’s the best case scenario, assuming that we weed out the crooks, megalomaniacal sociopaths and idiots out an all-powerful state.

Yeah…that’s the ticket.

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By didactic1, January 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Little or no evidence that climate change, as defined by those now alarmed by recent temp increases globally, can be reversed by controls on power and industrial production or switch on massive basis to noncarbon based transit.

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By Night-Gaunt, January 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

Can’t reach part four, it gives a “can’t find data base” error.

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By Night-Gaunt, January 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment

The costs of the future of climate change will be our freedoms too. As things get worse there are those who would want to institute authoritarian measures an desperate people will gladly have it. That is one of the many dangers we face.

Sooner or later the gov’t as it is starved because of allocation to the war machine will toll here higher an higher. Free Enterprise will close up shop where it costs too much of their bottom line.

FEMA was originally set up as a post war logistical unit. They weren’t designed originally to help anybody in a disaster which is why they had to be altered to do so.

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By Night-Gaunt, January 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment

I can’t reach part 4. It gives me “data base error.”

If we actually lived the way the Free Market Capitalists had their way we wouldn’t be the leader of the world in many things but multiple civil wars between the states-nations an corporations. Such things as democracy would be mostly unknown.

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