Hurricane Ida has barreled through New York and New Jersey in the United States killing scores of people. White people. A decade or so ago I was talking to Facebook’s energy czar, who had previously been Google’s energy czar.
He, a white man, told me that when Hurricane Katrina hit the US nobody cared because it was black people who got killed, but when Hurricane Sandy struck downtown Manhattan, people looked up and took notice because white people could have got hurt.
It has been two decades since I moved to Silicon Valley. Since then I have worked in clean energy, but much of that time has been spent being unemployed. A college friend asked me in 2000 what I did. I said I worked with power utilities. He told me that my career was dead. I was all of 30.
Over the next six years, I founded and built a smart energy meter business that grew to be over $300 million in revenue. I should have been set in my career. But utilities put a crimp on smart meters. They refused to tap into their full value. Further controversies such as the safety and security of smart meters erupted. The nascent industry went into a steady decline. Today few people talk about smart meters anymore.
I started writing on clean energy. A few of my articles got published in mainstream American media but soon enough the appetite for them dropped off. A major American newspaper agreed, in writing, to carry my article on power sector reform, but then didn’t carry the piece. They claimed that people did not like to read articles about clean energy. I turned to writing books on green energy, but met with a similar response. Literary agents, publishers and editors all told me that there was no market for such books. I felt crushed. I felt that I had both the writing nous as well as the experience in the industry.
As I was driving today for a job as a host in a steakhouse, a job that would pay me $12 an hour and barely cover my rent, I wonder if I could have done something differently with my career. And the answer always comes out to be this: I should not have worked in energy. There is no logic to the energy world. Ok, you can brush off wildfires by saying that they are caused by underneath brush. But how about these massive hurricanes and cyclones that are tormenting the entire globe? I live in America, but I am neither Republican nor Democrat. The other day I was watching the TV show of a popular American comedian. He had invited the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Donna Brazile, to his show and one other guest whose name I don’t recollect. Maher told his panel, let’s talk about climate change. Brazile said oh no, and put her head in her hands. Maher laughed. The topic instead became private planes. Both Maher and Brazile said that they were very happy to use them. Maher mocked the idea of carbon offsets when using private planes. The third participant seemed to be a tad reluctant to participate in their mockery of global warming, but Maher and Brazile corralled him along as well. I was left wondering that if Democrats who so espouse climate action make fun of it in public, how are we going to get anywhere on this issue?
Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez is a famous American politician. One of her major claims to fame has been her Green New Deal. One day I thought I would look it up. I was used to reading 1000-page energy bills, but Cortez’s proposal was barely 15 pages. It just listed aims and ambitions with no idea on how to achieve them. I was completely underwhelmed.
Will Hurricane Ida and the devastation it has wrought make any difference in Americans’ attitude toward climate change? I doubt it. White lives have been lost this time so there will be more crocodile tears shed, but that would be about it. Joe Biden will continue stressing the need to take action against climate change, but when his own party men and women find it to be a losing cause, what chances are there of Republicans supporting his agenda?
Ida barreled through us. Now we are barreling towards a future that is certain to devastate us but one that we believe will never come along. The UN has warned that the situation is code red for humanity, but who really cares about what the UN says. One thing is clear. Katrina killed blacks; Ida whites. Climate change doesn’t discriminate. It is colour blind.
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