Somehow – no doubt largely due to the vigilance and timely warnings supplied by our political and media guardians – we have managed to survive another apocalyptic winter storm that actually closed down most of the city of New York before a single flake of snow fell. The Manhattan subway system was completely shuttered for the first time in its history – mainly over what Mayor Bill De Blasio called “a consensus” of meteorological reports that predicted over two feet of snow. (Ultimately, the snowfall in The City that Never Sleeps totaled 5-8 inches.)
The classic “nor’easter” hugging the Middle Atlantic coast did, however, drop over two feet of snow on Massachusetts. While noteworthy, this is not unusual for the Bay State – located, as it is, in the northeastern corner of the country. Storms of this magnitude are common there. I retain a vivid memory of a newspaper photo showing the Mass-turnpike in the wake of one of those monster storms in the 1970s. Thousands of cars had been left – parked bumper to bumper on the highway – with snow piled up to the hood of each car. These things do happen.
Notwithstanding Mayor De Blasio’s dire warnings that this week’s storm could be the worst in New York’s history, the city has seen some real whoppers over its history. The famous Blizzard of 1888 – which my grandpa often spoke of – dropped 55 inches of snow in some areas, with 85 mph wind-gusts leaving snow drifts as high as the second story of some city buildings. Untold numbers of horses froze to death where they stood, and were buried in the drifting snow. Some 400 people died during the storm, including 200 in New York City alone. The subsequent thaw revealed a massive public health problem when hundreds – perhaps thousands – of frozen horse-carcasses had to be removed and disposed of without delay. The storm also caused a major urban re-planning effort involving the placement of electrical and telephone wires, water mains, and commuter train systems. Post-Blizzard, officials decided to place all of these systems underground to prevent similar disruptions in future. (There was evidently no mention of a political effort to halt climate change.)
As a result of this massive logistical effort – augmented by the cheerful determination of redoubtable New Yorkers – the old city managed to cope with numerous significant storms throughout the twentieth century. Only now – during the second decade of the 21st century – have both media and political figures joined in characterizing winter storms as “apocalyptic” or “the worst ever.” The chorus of doom is almost incessant. Yet anyone with some knowledge of weather-history can see that the claim is false. Even a cursory study of the legendary Blizzard of ’88 – as well as others within my own lifetime – clearly shows that we are not really in an era of worsening weather. Indeed, the winter of 2014 featured far worse weather than the current winter. Why, then, is it suddenly so important to call every new storm “the worst in history,” and to scare people into huddling pitiably in their homes, waiting for the possible end of life as we know it?
One radio talk-jock recalled that the big snowstorms during his childhood were joyfully regarded as “sledding days.” These were fun occasions when the whole city – Washington, DC, in his case –took a day off to throw snowballs, slide downhill, and drink hot chocolate by the fire. I remember snowy days during the 1940s and ‘50s in the same way. Mayors did not go on the radio, warning citizens to stay inside. Only people who absolutely had to get somewhere tried to drive in the snow. But today, the mayor of New York makes a production of warning people that this storm could be the one that kills you. ‘Only we can save you,’ he seems to be saying. ‘Without our warnings to stock up on food and abandon your car now, you’ve had it…’
As the bruthas in the ‘hood like to say: “What’s up widat?” Ebonics or not, the question is a good one. Why is every new storm the one that will finally overwhelm us? – the one we won’t be able to cope with? Is weather really getting apocalyptically worse? What is going on here?
I see the answer in three parts. The first element is simply media hype, of course. Cable and network news outlets – now going full bore, 24/7 – have an insatiable need for new, sensational stories to hold viewers’ attention. Intrepid reporters, dressed in fashionable parkas, are filmed standing out on snow-covered streets, with snow whipping around them, breathlessly reporting that this could be the Big One. Comely weather-gals trace the storm’s path on giant maps. And “scientists” explain how global warming and climate-change are producing storms of increasing intensity. Catastrophe sells – as even schoolchildren know. There is no way to stop Big Media’s incessant drumbeat of “Doom! Doom! Doom” except to turn off the TV set and read a book.
Political opportunism is the second piece of the answer to “what’s up widdat?” Activist politicians like Mayor Di Blasio find advantage in using storms – either severe or hoped to be severe – as scenarios for looking like they are actually doing something for the people of their cities or states. Even presidents have been known to use hurricanes as important political opportunities for posing as “hands-on” leaders who really care about the suffering of people – as President Obama did in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in October 2012. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s loss of New Jersey is widely attributed to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s friendly embrace of President Obama during the latter’s visit to the storm-ravaged state. In fact, that storm-visit and bi-partisan embrace was a two-edged sword, as political analysts believe it dealt a severe blow to Mr. Christie’s future presidential ambitions.
But media hype and political opportunism are mere bit players in the modern drama of “worsening storms.” The lead role is really climate activism, and the stars are environmental activists. In the curious, upside-down world of climate politics, an alarmist 1970s campaign warning of global cooling and a possible new Ice Age morphed into a hysterical campaign to stop “global warming,” during the 1980s, ‘90s and early 2000s. And then, when all but the most stubborn warming-believers could see that warming was no longer occurring, the greenies’ cause changed again into a righteous crusade to halt the climate change that they believed mankind was causing by its cars, industrial activity, and consumption of fossil fuels.
Thus, every new storm is branded as the “worst ever” and heralded as fresh evidence that anthropogenic climate-change is responsible for increasingly severe weather. Numbskulls who “don’t know much about history” believe this specious claim, as well as politicians’ promises that they can halt catastrophic change in our climate if we will simply agree to pay more taxes and higher prices for fuel, electricity and other commodities. Hard-core environmentalists – in league with Western racists and seekers of industrial hegemony – oppose industrial development in continents like Africa, whose suffering populations yearn to break free from the shackles of poverty, hunger and disease, and move into the ease of modern life.
But the secret goal of the “primitivists” – a goal which they dare not reveal – is to drive all of the great industrial nations – particularly the USA – back to a primitive state in which a non-industrial human race, much diminished in numbers, shivers in grass-roofed huts, cooking and heating with fires of dried buffalo crap, and scratching a romantically primitive existence out of the ground with sharpened sticks.
What a blessed relief it will be for those lucky people not to worry any more if their street has been plowed or if their cars will start. What a happy day! O that we might see its advent soon!