When humans go to war with nature, hubris isn’t the word. Suicide is the word.

What can one person do?

Alone, probably not much can be accomplished.

But as part of a movement — people coming together to make a difference — much can be done.

We thought of this when Nadia Raza reached out to our newspaper last month. She owns a Pakistani restaurant in Altamont.

She had been visiting her family in Islamabad when the floods came. “We didn’t even know,” she told us. “I woke up one morning and I had text messages from the entire Altamont community.”

Heavier-than-usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers combined to put a third of Pakistan under water, affecting 33 million people and causing losses of over $40 billion.

“I don’t think that it’s getting the amount of publicity and the amount of help that they should be getting,” Raza told us.

We think she is right. We did a podcast with Raza to spread the word locally and included information on a reputable charity that her family donates to: sabsaath.org. “Sab Saath” means “all together.”

“This is actually like a country that’s bleeding,” said Raza. “And, because it’s my country, I can be vocal about it. I would hope that the community would come together, even if they can contribute a very small, minimal amount, it’s going to go a long way.”

Many of us feel overwhelmed with bad news from around the world and in our own country. We watch up-close scenes of people suffering on our phones and on larger screens in our homes.

But, unlike for most of humanity’s time on this planet, when you could help the people you saw hurting — they were right there in front of you — now they are all over the country and all around the world. In our digital era, we can see more suffering in a day than most people, before the age of electronics, saw in a lifetime.

Many of these disasters — like the floods in Pakistan and the hurricanes that have since devastated Florida and Puerto Rico as well as the fires that have burned in large swaths of the United States — are made worse by climate change.

“I’m not saying that we should reach out to other countries and be a Band-Aid for everybody else around,” said Raza. “But I mean this was probably one of the worst natural disasters in the history of disasters and I just don’t think that they’re receiving as much help as they possibly can.”

These climate-change disasters are not entirely natural. They have been made worse — more severe and more frequent — by human activities. We therefore have a moral imperative to help.

Pakistan, as a nation, does not contribute a lot to the problem of global warming. Much of the country is rural, farmed by age-old methods that don’t pollute the atmosphere.

The United States, on the other hand, is one of the largest contributors to the greenhouse gasses that are warming the seas and causing the once life-giving monsoons to instead become overwhelming destructive forces.

In August, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $100,000 in immediate relief to Pakistan and $1 million to “build resilience against natural disasters” as “we continue to work together to mitigate future impacts of the climate crisis.”

“Lives r at risk, thousands homeless. Int’l partners need to mobilise assistance,” tweeted Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Climate Change, in August. She called it “a climate catastrophe of epic scale, bringing in its wake the humanitarian crisis.”

By mid-September, Pakistan’s National Flood Response Coordination Centre had estimated economic losses and damages of over $40 billion. The contribution from the United States will barely make a difference in meeting this great need.

The United States wouldn’t need to pay aid — and individuals like Raza wouldn’t need to donate to charities — if we cut back our emissions.

Since we interviewed Raza, both Puerto Rico and Florida were hit with hurricanes. Similar to the extreme monsoons — Pakistan got 190 percent more rain than its 30-year average between June and August — warmer water has made fiercer storms on this side of the globe too.

Climate change has heated ocean waters. “Rising amounts of greenhouse gases are preventing heat radiated from Earth’s surface from escaping into space as freely as it used to,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Most of the excess atmospheric heat is passed back to the ocean. As a result, upper ocean heat content has increased significantly over the past few decades.”

This not only melts glaciers and causes the sea level to rise but it also strengthens and sustains storms. Warmer air holds more moisture. The number of the worst storms, labeled as categories 4 and 5, have increased dramatically since satellites began tracking hurricanes in 1980.

Last year, NOAA counted twenty billion-dollar hurricane disasters, totaling over $152 billion in damages. Other billion-dollar disasters counted in 2021 by NOAA included a drought, a wildfire, four cyclones, and 11 storms — and those were just the ones that reached the billion-dollar mark.

Many pundits pointed out as Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, was calling on President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for federal aid to help with the emergency in Florida that DeSantis in 2013 was one of the 67 Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote against the $9.7 billion federal flood help package for the New York and New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Yes, of course, DeSantis called for help now and Biden answered that call as he should; elected representatives, regardless of party, should work together to aid United States residents caught in a disaster.

But the past vote that we find more telling, which has gotten little notice in the midst of the outpouring of hurricane aid, is this summer’s vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, which is to invest $369 billion in climate solutions and environmental justice, putting the United States on a path to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

Not a single Republican voted for that bill.

Spread out over a decade, the IRA calls for spending under $37 billion a year to quell climate change. Compare that to the billions and billions spent each year in the United States on aid after disasters spurred by climate change. As noted above, NOAA calculated damages totaling over $152 billions in just one year, 2021, from hurricanes alone. 

The old adage applies here: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — or more.

And that’s not even figuring in the incalculable loss of human life or the suffering that can linger for years — whether it’s the drowning of cows a Pakistani family depended on for its livelihood or the ruin of a Florida business that sustained a family for generations.

Currently, less than a quarter of electricity generated in the United States comes from renewable sources. The sooner we move away from fossil fuels, the better are our planet’s chances of surviving.

Getting away from our dependence on oil would also free us from the global politics that have fueled inflation. As was made clear this week with the decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, to cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day, the United States cannot control its own economy with such outsized influence from OPEC.

The faster we invest in building our own renewable energy sources, the sooner we’ll be free to control our own destiny.

“Our world is in big trouble, said Secretary-General António Guterres, addressing the United Nations General Assembly late last month. “Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider. Challenges are spreading farther.”

As he spoke, the picture of a ship, the Brave Commander, carrying wheat from Ukraine to the Horn of Africa, was projected behind him, flying the United Nations flag. “This ship is a symbol of what we can accomplish when we act together …,” Guterres said. “It navigated through a war zone, guided by the very parties to the conflict …. to bring desperately needed relief to those in need.”

Guterres went on, “There is another battle we must end — our suicidal war against nature.” He correctly called the climate crisis the defining issue of our time and said it must be the first priority of every government.

“We have a rendezvous with climate disaster,” said Guterres. “I recently saw it with my own eyes in Pakistan — where one-third of the country is submerged by a monsoon on steroids. We see it everywhere,” he said, naming drought in China and the United States, famine in Africa, and Europe’s worst heat wave since the Middle Ages.

“Once-in-a-lifetime climate shocks may soon become once-a-year events,” he said. “And with every climate disaster, we know that women and girls are the most affected. The climate crisis is a case study in moral and economic injustice.”

He noted that G-20, comprising 19 of the world’s wealthiest countries and the European Union, emits 80 percent of all greenhouse gasses. “But the poorest and most vulnerable — those who contributed least to this crisis — are bearing its most brutal impacts. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns.”

“Polluters must pay,” Gueterres said as he called on all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies.

Those funds, he said, should be redirected to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices.

He is right. Nadia Raza wouldn’t need to be making personal pleas to Altamont residents to help her homeland if we more heavily taxed fossil fuel companies and spent those funds to help the people we harmed.

And, here in the United States, Floridians might not be dying in such numbers, their homes destroyed, if we’d moved more quickly to renewable energy.

We need to do so before climate-change disasters overwhelm us.

“Let’s develop common solutions to common problems — grounded in goodwill, trust, and the rights shared by every human being,” Guterres concluded. “Let’s work as one, a coalition of the world, as united nations.”

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