Good morning, readers. At this hour, most of the western half of the continent is probably still asleep, including Acalpulco, where Hurricane Manuel closed highways and caused a devastating landslide in the mountain village of La Pintada earlier this week. Once day breaks there, I’m sure crews will be at work right away, digging the town of the mud. In a village of around 800 people, 68 are missing and presumed dead.
We’ve been absorbed in our own catastrophes in the United States this week, between the shooting at the Navy Yard here in Washington and the flooding in Colorado. but another disaster has been unfolding south of the border. A week ago, hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel struck Mexico’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts within hours of each other. The number of confirmed deaths as a result of the two hurricanes, not including those buried in La Pintada, has already exceeded 100.
Whenever something like this happens, there’s a always question whining in your ear like an angry gnat: if it weren’t for anthropogenic carbon dioxide, might some of those people still be alive? Would the rain have been less intense? Might that hillside above La Pintada have remained stable? There’s almost no way to answer those questions, of course — attributing any one bout of heavy rain to climate change is a particularly difficult problem for scientists — and they’re fundamentally the wrong questions to ask, since they’re a distraction from the overwhelming scientific evidence that more extreme droughts and storms will become more frequent as global temperatures rise.
At the same time, it is important to pay attention to storms such as Manuel and Ingrid, because they reveal how prepared various societies are to deal with the consequences of climate change.
The Mexican government, it appears, is not ready, as Eduardo Verdugo reports:
All week in Mexico City, editorials and public commentary said the government had made natural disasters worse because of poor planning, lack of a prevention strategy and corruption. … Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre publicly confirmed that corruption and political dealings allowed housing to be built in dangerous areas where permits should have been rejected.
This kind of commentary will likely become more common worldwide as climate change intensifies. Areas closer to the equator are generally more vulnerable to climate change, from South Asia, where changing monsoon patterns threaten farmers’ livelihoods, to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, where dependence on imported food exposes people to global shortages. Many equatorial countries are still developing, and they lack the robust, transparent political institutions that are necessary for effective planning in advance of extreme weather and for an effective response afterward.