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As Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, I got up from a bout of sleeplessness to check on the news. It was about 1:30 a.m. here on the West Coast, and I found Chris Cuomo on CNN, his rain gear flapping in the wind, repeating the mantra that had been repeated for days about the historic magnitude of the impending storm while telling viewers that his cable news network had correspondents much like himself stationed throughout Florida in places the hurricane would most likely do the most damage.

disaster voyeurism

As he boasted about the extent of coverage, graphics behind him showed the faces and names of other intrepid reporters in places other than Naples, the site from whence Cuomo was saying: "so please stay with CNN, and please, please, please be safe."

I guess he thought it would never occur to Florida viewers to try to be safe were they not urged to do so by a guy standing out the wind and rain.

The anchorman seemed utterly oblivious to the irony and the incongruity. For that matter, the very word "anchorman" began to seem dubious as the storm winds were ramping up and unanchored media folk like him were in danger of being blown away, quite literally, should they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Which, of course, is where, in pursuit of ratings, they were lining up to be.

This month has been defined by disaster news. Two huge American storms threatened two major American cities, commanding the attention of the news media for the weeks, with a few brief diversions to an enormous earthquake in southern Mexico and incidental mention of much bigger storms in India, where many more people were left homeless and many more died. They weren't Americans, however, so little was heard about that.

Meanwhile, we had the spectacle of Donald J. Trump, the guy who leads the nation, and the guy who still believes that manmade global warming is a hoax, popping in and out of Texas and Florida for photo ops.

Meanwhile, we had the spectacle of Donald J. Trump, the guy who leads the nation, and the guy who still believes that manmade global warming is a hoax, popping in and out of Texas and Florida for photo ops, his wife in high heels on one notable occasion, letting American taxpayers know he and Melania were on the case.

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But on the ground where the disasters struck, millions of people were out of their homes, fleeing the storms on the congested roads. When Irma had finished its ravages, the devastation had run through the Caribbean, through Florida and the Carolinas. Estimates of the damage ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, Hurricane Harvey had made a similar mess of Houston and environs. And, if all that wasn't quite bad enough, two more storms were building force in those warm tropical waters south of the American mainland.

Closer to home, fires were burning throughout the American West, with Oregon being particularly combustible. And though we're all used to long and scary fire seasons, those fire seasons have grown longer and even scarier.

We were told this was coming, warned that the planet was warming, that the pace of warming would prove catastrophic in the ways it is proving catastrophic. And since those early warnings in the '90s, and before, the acceleration of the problem has been dramatic. All the predictions have been borne out, or exceeded. The cost of having done little or nothing is adding up fast, and the future looks far worse.

When I began writing a weekly column for a small town newspaper in the foothills of Northern California, I often found myself at odds with another local columnist who was a fervent climate change denier. His name was Dick Little (local liberals had a good deal of not-very-clever fun with his name) and he wrote dozens of columns in which he said the same things over and over again—that manmade climate change wasn't real, that it was yet another liberal assault on capitalism, just more left wing troublemaking designed to make it ever more difficult for the rich to make money.

I met him once, joining him for coffee at his invitation. We agreed on nothing, but he was a nice enough fellow, though none too bright. And I wasn't bright enough to understand, then or now, how it made sense to argue against a less polluted environment, even if climate scientists were all wrong in their dire predictions.

I'm still not bright enough to understand the basis for resisting environmental protections. If the climate scientists are right—as they so clearly are—then the consequences of doing nothing constitute an unfolding and ever-escalating disaster. But what was Dick Little's argument against renewable energy sources created from non-carbon-based fuels? As I recall, he had no such arguments.

Neither does another none-too-bright fellow, the current occupant of the White House, who is also a disaster of steadily escalating dimensions.

jaime oneill

Jaime O'Neill