Stop this green gloating over New York’s floods

Friday’s flooding was bad, but it was not an eco-apocalypse.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics Science & Tech USA

Remember when a flood was just a flood? A watery calamity that might make roads impassable, homes unlivable and sometimes, in the worst cases, claim lives? Not anymore. Now it’s always a deluge, an apocalypse, a portent of the horrors to come if mankind keeps on sinfully heating the planet. Now a flood is always a lesson from on high – from a ticked-off Poseidon, presumably – warning hubristic humans to ‘reduce carbon emissions’. Floods are our fault now, like everything else.

This neo-Biblical view of floods, this pre-modern belief that gushing waters are divine wrath for human misbehaviour, was much in evidence following the flooding of New York City on Friday. Footage of flooded streets and waterfalls rushing down the steps of subway stations went viral. ‘Apocalypse Soon’, said the banner headline at the New Republic, which I guess is preferable to Apocalypse Now. This was ‘apocalyptic flooding’, cried Vox, and a violent omen of what is to come in the climate-change era. ‘The flooding on 29 September was bad. The future will be, too’, it cheerily warned.

The flooding was bad, there’s no question about that. Following torrential rain – almost eight inches at JFK airport, while more than a month’s worth of rain pelted Brooklyn in just three hours – water ran riot in New York’s streets. Apocalyptic, though? The apocalypse is ‘the complete and final destruction of the world’. And yet this morning, already, it’s reported that ‘After intense floods, New York lurches back to life’. It’s a strange apocalypse that can be recovered from in the space of a weekend.

Hacks have been trying to outdo each other in the hyperbole stakes. ‘New York City is drowning’, declared Wired. Which again, given that to drown is to die through submersion in water, is, strictly speaking, not true. New York lives. A writer for Bloomberg says the flooding was a ‘catastrophe’ and a ‘shocking disaster’ and clearly a ‘hammering [of] New York’ by a ‘weather system’ too interfered with by man. It does not detract from the seriousness and hardship of the flood to say that this is over the top. NYC has had worse floods, including just two years ago, when floodwaters unleashed by Hurricane Ida claimed 13 lives in the city.

With dire predictability, Friday’s flooding has been blamed on climate change – which is to say on that pesky, polluting modernity created by mankind. This watery nightmare is part of our ‘new normal’, said New York’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul. In fact, it’s a ‘new abnormal, says climatologist Michael Mann. The idea that big floods are ‘abnormal’ will be news to those New Yorkers who got badly whacked by water in 1913, 1972, 1996… But never mind, Mann knows the remedy for floods: we must ‘reduce carbon emissions and stop the ongoing heating of the planet’ or else these violent visitations from Mother Nature will ‘become more extreme’, he says. In short, appease the weather gods, offer up industrial society as a sacrifice, and maybe they’ll leave us alone.

There is something distinctly medieval in this view of extreme weather as nature’s rage with mankind. You see it all the time. In response to wildfires in Australia, heatwaves in Europe, big storms in the US, the same cry goes up: we’re being punished for our eco-crimes. ‘If we do not halt our emissions soon, our future climate could well become some kind of hell on Earth’, said an Oxford climatologist, crazily, a couple of years ago. ‘With raging wildfires, floods and pandemics, it seems like End Times – and it’s our own damned fault’, said a writer for the Hill. ‘Climate change is really Apocalypse Now’, he wrote. I hate to be a pedant, but, once again, ‘apocalypse’ means the end of the world and ‘now’ means at the present time. So climate change is not apocalypse now. It’s fake news.

It is a testament to the creeping irrationalism in chattering-class circles that every weather event is now interpreted as a ‘sign’, a species of heavenly punishment. Like pre-modern peasants, who at least had the excuse of having never heard of science, they’re incapable of shrugging off rain or heat or wind as perfectly normal events. No, they’re rebukes, lessons, all providing ‘a glimpse of the possible winter world we’ll inhabit if we don’t sort ourselves out’.

The idea that weather is turning more violent, and that it’s all down to climate change, is essentially misinformation. As Bjorn Lomborg points out, ever-fewer people are dying in natural disasters. Even as the human population has quadrupled over the past hundred years, deaths from climate calamity have dropped 20-fold. The risk of a human dying in one of nature’s catastrophes has fallen by 99 per cent since the 1920s. Modernity isn’t taking lives – it’s saving them.

Which is why we need more of it, not less. The attraction of the climate-change narrative to politicians like Kathy Hochul, and also NYC mayor Eric Adams, is that it lets them off the hook. Blaming the watery battering of New York on some god-like entity called ‘climate change’ distracts attention from the more mundane reality – that New York’s elites have failed to build the infrastructure that might protect the Big Apple from nature’s whims. They wring their hands over climate End Times to avoid doing the tough, technical stuff of holding water at bay. If any human beings are to blame for Friday’s floods, it isn’t you and me for driving cars and taking flights and having kids – it’s Hochul and Adams and the rest for not doing their jobs properly. The cynicism of climate change is that it naturalises political failure; it excuses the lethargy of the elites by imbuing nature with an apocalyptic power that no mere human, including politicians, could ever hope to counter.

There’s been a nauseating streak of apocalypse porn in the chatter about New York’s floods. Some on social media almost seem to relish that this mighty city, this ‘mettlesome, mad, extravagant city’, in Whitman’s words, has been ‘brought to its knees’. So determined were people to share grim images from watery New York that they ended up spreading misinformation. As Forbes reports, viral footage of New Yorkers shopping at a flooded grocery store, ‘in knee-high water during the apocalyptic flooding’, was actually a clip from New Zealand. Hey ho, it’s ‘apocalyptic’, so it will do; it will satisfy our appetite for footage of tiny mankind being pummelled by huge, enraged nature.

We also saw a lot of apocalypse porn during the orange haze that shrouded New York in June. That haze came from Canada’s wildfires. ‘Welcome to the apocalyptic haze of the new abnormal’, cried the Independent. ‘There is nowhere left to hide [from climate change]’, it said. This ‘Mars-like smog’ really feels ‘apocalyptic’, declared the Mirror. The online woke incessantly shared images of smog-hit New York. They seemed to take strange pleasure from this pictorial proof of their misanthropic thesis that humankind is more vulnerable than it thinks; that even the greatest city on Earth now finds itself smothered by the climatic consequences of our sinful industrial society. ‘Nowhere left to hide…’

It’s always New York that gets a beating from our downbeat cultural imagination. As Max Page says in his book, The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction, in literature, art, films and TV it bears the brunt of our End Times fears more than any other city. And so it is today, though now New York’s end, its ‘drowning’, is reimagined as the righteous vengeance of a planet that we plague-like humans have meddled with too much. ‘The man that hates America hates the human race’, said Brendan Behan on his 1961 visit to New York. He could not conceive of anti-Americanism as anything other than anti-humanism. I feel the exact same way about all this green gloating over New York’s troubles.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics Science & Tech USA


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