Some people are arguing over whether politicians and the media hyped the hurricane. Was the coverage of Irene too intense, were the predictions too doom-ridden?
But these are the wrong questions. It’s a given that politicians will ask people to stay off the beach and then try to take credit for saving lives, and that the mainstream media — especially TV crews — will milk a disaster story for all its worth. News is much easier to gather when it’s in your face, and what could be more in-your-face than a hurricane?
The potential for disaster really was there. Everybody knew Irene would be a bitch, but no one knew for sure if she’d be a full-fledged monster. Try telling the people of Vermont that Irene wasn’t a monster.
A better question is why don’t politicians and the media put the same amount of energy into covering the economic disaster that’s still in progress?
… Put simply, millions more homes will have been lost to bank repossessions than have been damaged by Irene. The storm caused some flooding, but much greater degradation has been inflicted on the US coastline by last year’s BP oil spill. A few days without electricity is challenging, but the blow to clean energy prospects posed by the state department’s recent approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas coast is more worrying.
A real state of preparedness for natural catastrophes anywhere is only possible for a general population protected by fair access to decent housing, good universal healthcare and robust environmental regulations. Preparing for the worst means addressing both what causes or aggravates natural disasters – like climate change and poverty – and how the damage they inflict can be minimised by a strong social infrastructure. Like Britain, the US is headed further in the opposite direction. Piling up sandbags and stocking up on masking tape will not then save anyone from disasters to follow …
The question answers itself. Elected officials of both major parties would rather remain silent, or close to it, than acknowledge the extent of the problem and risk offending their corporate masters in order to try to solve it.
And the media? Forget it. Foreclosures aren’t happening at 100 mph, ripping roofs off houses and uprooting trees. Lives are being torn apart all over the country, but the victims don’t make much noise — they are often in denial about the extent of their troubles — and the banksters who kick them to the curb never do so in person.