If you watch the national networks’ evening newscasts, and nearly one in 10 of us adults still do, you probably have noticed what tends to be “Breaking News” of late: severe weather and mass shootings.
There’s a mass shooting at least once a week now in the United States, sometimes two. And deaths from killer tornadoes in the first three months of this year have accounted for three times the fatalities for all of 2022.
On any given night, we are liable to see footage of entire towns ravaged by wildfires, high winds, floods, heat waves and the like.
The U.S. EPA reports that the extent of acreage burned annually by wildfires has increased since the 1980s. Like the Christmas shopping season, wildfires also start earlier than they used to. The EPA adds: “Nine of the top 10 warmest years on record for the contiguous 48 states have occurred since 1998, and 2012 and 2016 were the two warmest years on record.”
So, if the AR-15s don’t get us, watch out for Mother Nature, aggravated by accelerating climate change.
While individually the chances are low that we will be affected by either deadly weather or a deranged gunman, one unavoidable consequence of these twin trends is that they are costing us all money. Schools and public places are being hardened to defend against the increased frequency of violent assaults with assault rifles. Our homes and towns also need to be made resilient against the well documented effects of climate change, such as increased flooding and storm surges along our coasts and waterways, mudslides, and drought in the heartland.
And we’re not talking chump change here. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) points out that of the 348 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where costs reached $1 billion or more apiece (calculated in constant dollars), the total price tag exceeded $2.5 trillion. That represents about 8 percent of our current national debt.
And the costs are rising. The average frequency of such expensive weather events from 1980-2022 was eight annually; the average in just the past five years was 18 each year, NOAA reports.
In my elementary school days (the 1950s), we learned to duck and cover in case the Soviets dropped the big one on us. Fortunately, they never did, and I don’t recall being particularly frightened. Kids today go through evacuation drills for what to do when a fellow American comes calling with weapons of war. This new danger has a much greater immediacy and credibility. It happens all the time, and our kids know it.
Sad to report, the equivalent to duck and cover today is “play dead.” If you can’t make it to somewhere safe and the bullets are flying, just play dead. Now there’s a life lesson for our children. We can’t protect you, you’re on your own. Try not to tremble.
What most TV news reports about killer weather and the American epidemic of well-armed predators neglect to provide is context. Why are tornadoes and hurricanes getting more intense and more destructive? Why do so many people have guns, designed to kill other human beings in wholesale lots, who clearly shouldn’t have them. Is anything being done about it?
Have you driven by an American flag flying at half-staff lately and wracked your brain as to why — which recent calamity is it lowered for? There are so many, and Old Glory is half-way more than not, it seems.
Journalists learn (or should learn) that news is not just about what, where and when, but also why. Is there more going on to forestall such tragedies besides thoughts and prayers? Is telling our children to play dead and lowering Old Glory the best we can do?
And what are we doing to mitigate climate change and prepare for the inevitable impacts already baked into our immediate future. And are we doing enough?
It’s a bigger, and more ambitious, story than just showing that another town or another school community has been devastated.
David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.