American Cities Fight for Their Lives — Alone

The city of Homer, Alaska, achingly beautiful, is fighting for its life against a relentless enemy. Like several other American cities, it is losing its war. The government in Washington insists it’s not happening.

This American city of 5,000 people is under siege by an implacable enemy. Its food supply has been poisoned, its water supply affected, its main industry crippled, it loses big chunks of its territory every month or so, and several times the enemy has almost severed its only road out. The city has committed all its resources to the fight and regularly pleads with the state government for help, but the state is so besieged by other towns and cities, also under attack, that there is not enough to go around. Appeals to the national government are pointless because in the view of the national government, the enemy does not exist.

The city is Homer, Alaska, and the enemy is of course climate change. Here’s what Homer is up against:

  • For nearly a hundred years, the average low temperature in February has been 19 degrees Fahrenheit; last February it was 30 degrees.
  • Warmer winters mean more rain than snow, and rain is eroding the coast and threatening to cut the road.
  • The lack of snow means the streams run shallower and warmer, threatening the area’s billion-dollar fishing industry.
  • The warmer ocean waters in the area foster frequent blooms of toxic algae that poison the shellfish.
  • Rising water is eating away the city’s seawall, which it has no way to replace.

Many of the towns competing with Homer for state help are in even worse shape — they are sinking into melting permafrost, or sliding into the ocean’s rising waters while being battered by more frequent and ferocious storms, and threatened by wildfires that now erupt almost year-round. The state is doing what it can but it is impoverished; once swimming in oil money with plenty for everyone, it is now watching the last dregs of North Slope oil trickle away through the aged and decrepit Alaska Pipeline.  

Nor is Alaska the only state under siege. The residents of South Miami and Miami Beach, Florida, are regularly dealing with rising sea water bubbling up around their ankles in their city streets on days when their is no storm — “blue-sky flooding” is what they call it. It’s sea-level rise, caused by global warming, and for them it’s not theoretical, it’s here. Now. [Make that three years ago: see Miami Beach, October 9: Apocalypse Foretold]

Norfolk, Virginia knew it was in trouble five years ago, it was losing streets and waterfront property to the encroaching sea and was facing the prospect of more, more powerful, hurricanes. It pleaded with state government for help with the enormous costs of mitigation, and was told that any request containing the words “climate change” would not be considered.

All these thousands of people with their backs to the wall, fighting for their futures, their very survival, with an enemy toward which most of their political leaders maintain an attitude of amused disdain. There is no such thing as climate change, insist the legislators and governors of Florida, and Virginia, and South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. The President of the United States has said that climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by China to get an advantage in global trade, or something. The federal government is in the process now of defunding and dismantling the agencies and programs that research, and help fight, this enemy.  

So the people in their thousands fight on, losing ground as slowly as they can, much like the people facing the tsunamis of opioid addiction and black lung disease and failing pension funds and closing clinics and cancelled policies. Fighting on alone until they die, while their government in Washington plays billionaire games with tax breaks and subsidies for people who don’t need them, partying madly at the all-you-can-eat, free-champagne Titanic buffet.


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6 Responses to American Cities Fight for Their Lives — Alone

  1. colinc says:

    I think it would be more appropriate (and accurate) to say that the “enemy” confronting Homer, AK and, indeed, “life” in general, is “us!” More specifically, not our mere existence, per se, but our behaviors, both individually and cooperatively, which are predominantly based on illogical and irrational beliefs! It should be apparent to those with more than a few functioning neural pathways that this “war” against these behaviors, and their exacerbation of concomitant anthropogenic global climate disruption, is only going to get worse at an accelerating pace, with “us” on the losing side. I see no plausible means of “adaptation” or any method/technique of “mitigation” that has an ice-cube’s chance in hell of being “successful.” As “Agent K” once told the potential “Agent J”… A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it!

  2. Tom says:

    Great essay, Mr. Lewis – especially how you inferred a too-numerous to continue list at the end (your next to last sentence could easily have been extended as far as one wants with current disasters on any number of fronts).

    Seconding colinc’s comment, I want to add that most people are too busy trying to survive to even acknowledge how bad the situation actually is, and will continue in this mode as long as they can – until they can’t!

    Here is Gail Zawacki’s view of a “nature preserve” in Florida as a case in point.

    It All Begins to Wither

    ‘And yet, everyone is sleepwalking blindly past corroded, rotting trees and blistered foliage.
    Is it any wonder that the Florida scrub is incendiary tinder just waiting to burn?’

    Four countries, involving tens of millions of people (not to mention all the other species) are starving right now – and it’s spreading.

    The enemy is silent and works via attrition, taking advantage of neglect and denial to spread.
    Leaving behind damage to be discovered, it’s too late to do anything about this enemy but suffer the consequences.

    Humanity continues along, mesmerized by 24/7 media soothing us into a docile state of numbness, the news having long since become info-tainment, while the very lifestyle we take for granted – food at the grocery store, fuel at the filling station, electrical power on demand, and security holding it all together – is its own demise.

    By living this way, we continually deplete any and all finite resources, only to discover a ‘problem’ when it’s far too late to mitigate it.

    But now, on top of that fact of life, we have too many more attendant ‘problems’ cropping up to even begin to get a handle on controlling or adapting to them.

    This one was, again, real food for thought, Mr. Lewis. Thanks for allowing us to react and expound on the implications of your essays.

  3. marieann says:

    Thank you for this, it is scary to get a glimpse of what is to come.
    Here in the middle of the continent we have our own glimpses.
    I have lived here for 50 years. Last summer was one of the driest on record, I have lost a few cedars to the drought. The end of September brought a day of record rainfall, streets and basements were flooded including mine.
    We had one of the snowiest Decembers, broke a couple of records and then January had the least amount of snow for the month. February was the warmest on record, we had temperatures 3x the normal.
    I know this is all anecdotal, but as a gardener I see the changes and how they are affecting my planting times and my garden.
    While I feel sorry for the people in Alaska I also grieve for the plants and animals who will also suffer.

  4. Rick walker says:

    I am beginning to believe that the earth is a living organism and we
    are a virus that it is trying to rid itself of. The earth doesn’t need us
    we need it. In fact nothing on this planet needs us. We are guests
    that have outstayed their welcome.

  5. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Here in Singapore where I live the people and government routinely play the stupid game of going green and campaigning for the planet, the environment etc etc — not realising that unless and until you change the way money works, you change nothing.

    Except that to change the way money works would mean leaving completely behind a way of life — the modern industrial way of life — in which we’ve already become fully entrenched. How many of us would accept that? (Around 90% of Singapore’s food is imported, for example.)

    That’s why I find all this campaigning for the environment so bloody idiotic. People never think things through. Yes, saving the environment is indeed a terribly important thing, but do we bother to ponder what truly saving it entails? No, we don’t.

    I despair of Homo ‘Sapiens’.

  6. Denis Frith says:

    This anthropocentric discussion is misleading because it doe not identify the cause of the problems. It is the operation of the technological systems that are doing the damage. People are only making (good and bad) decisions. These aging systems are made and operate using irreplaceable natural resources, produce irrevocablw waste mateials and degrade the environment. The temporary services they provide come at an irreparable cost.