Why Is God Punishing Us Like This?

Kevin Drum asks the question à propos of a particularly idiotic stunt by the Romney campaign, with four more months to go before the election.

A clue in these two maps.

A recent NOAA map of the current MidWest drought (h/t Climate Progress):

An NYT map of the voting shifts in the 2008 presidential election – pink means the shift was to McCain:

The correlation is no doubt spurious, and McCain wasn’t even a climate change denier like Romney and the current GOP. Still, I think Exodus gets our underlying predicament right. Denial of livesaving truths has consequences.

Yahweh to Moses, according to Exodus 7: 2-4 (NIV) – my italics of course:

You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you

The following account of the plagues is a horrific tragedy, as they escalate from dramatic but essentially symbolic nuisances to the genocidal cull of the first born. Pharaoh’s response to each plague is initially denial, then a panicky cave-in to Moses’ demand, followed by a quick reversal and return to Business as Usual. So it goes all the way to disaster. Exodus 29:29-32 :

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested.Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.

It takes the massacre for Pharaoh really to let the Israelites go.

This pattern has been replicated in the 20 years since the first Rio environmental summit. George Monbiot (writing before the conference closed) has it right on the latest Rio gabfest. The final text even has weaker language than the 1992 declaration, and still – after 20 years of similar meetings – no action plan to get us to a sustainable world:

The draft and probably final declaration is 283 paragraphs of fluff. It suggests that the 190 governments due to approve it have, in effect, given up on multilateralism, given up on the world and given up on us.

This is why I do not share Matthew Kahn’s optimism on adaptation to climate change. Adaptation is the enemy of mitigation, that is of real change. What we need is for adaptation to fail locally and regionally so that eventually the princes of this world, the presidents, bankers, billionaires and their flattering courtiers in government, the media and academe will come under overwhelming popular pressure to

let my people go.

So I for one am forced to welcome the droughts in Appalachia as a little educational plague, say a rain of frogs. It will take a lot more than that; I suspect hundreds of thousands of deaths. Though I fear it will go all the way: in which case the one-quarter or so death rate of the Mosaic plague on the firstborn will seem light punishment.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]