Yvonne Abraham

A perfect storm of troubles in our world

Hurricane Irma, a storm of unprecedented strength, has barreled up the Atlantic, bringing death and destruction in its wake, including to St. Martin (above).
Jonathan Falwell/Associated Press
Hurricane Irma, a storm of unprecedented strength, has barreled up the Atlantic, bringing death and destruction in its wake, including to St. Martin (above).

It feels like the end-times.

It started with a rare and stunning solar eclipse that had much of the country stopping to peer up at the sky on a glorious late summer afternoon. Then Hurricane Harvey brought a flood to Texas that should happen once in a thousand years. Hurricane Irma, a storm of massive strength, has barreled up the Atlantic, bringing death and destruction in its wake. Jose is right behind. Katia comes next. There are huge wildfires in the West. Mexico was just hit with its strongest earthquake in a century. The worst monsoon in years has crippled Mumbai and killed 1,200 people in the region.

And that’s just nature. We’re also contemplating nuclear attack — thanks to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, with an assist from our own hot-headed president. We’ve seen terrifying images of neo-Nazis marching on US streets. Hackers have stolen personal information from credit reporting agency Equifax that put half the country at risk of identity theft. For some devotees, the fact that the demigod New England Patriots were humiliated at home on Thursday night only adds to the sense that time is out of joint.


It’s all crushing and (Pats aside) terrifying, but moments like these have a way of unifying us. Or at least of making what divides us less potent. North Korea has turned many more of us into doomsday preppers, more alert to the nuclear threat all too easily put out of mind. Most (but not nearly enough) of us pretty vehemently condemn white supremacists. We joined to stare up in wonder at the eclipse on Aug. 21, putting our terrestrial disputes on hold for a few minutes to contemplate something marvelous, and far beyond our control.

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The pictures coming out of Texas have been gut-wrenching and catalyzing. People all over the country mobilized to send help: Thousands lugged bags of diapers and toiletries and blankets to donation centers at Boston City Hall and other spots, then helped load the trucks headed south. In the next few days, Americans will watch in horror as folks in Florida and elsewhere contend with winds and floods, and they will help again.

It took an act of God, but even Congress managed to achieve something, agreeing Friday on a deal to send $15 billion in aid to Texas and Louisiana. Remember when they did that kind of thing all the time?

Nature’s might is one of the few things we don’t argue about. Unless you happen to be Rush Limbaugh, the irresponsible radio ranter who denies not just climate change, but the weather itself: The scaremongering profiteer told his gormless listeners that Hurricane Irma’s threat was being trumped up to boost bottled water sales and belief in global warming. Then Limbaugh himself fled his Florida home as Irma closed in.

Because of people like him, who make their fortunes by misleading Americans, this country will almost certainly move on from this spate of awful but unifying events, and return to the dsputes that make us more vulnerable to them.


A sane society would regroup after a season like this, ask how we became so vulnerable to storms, and what we must do to keep future generations safer. Climate change is settled science: Warmer oceans make hurricanes more severe, the rains they bring heavier. But EPA chief Scott Pruitt, an enemy of the agency he leads, refuses to talk about any of this, especially now.

“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people . . . is misplaced,” he told CNN, as if those two things were mutually exclusive.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal terminates four NASA climate-related missions. It nixed a rule requiring that federal projects be designed to account for climate change. And protecting Americans from future storms requires an investment and ambition on infrastructure for which this administration has little appetite.

The president himself has called climate change a hoax. But it’s as real as the storms wreaking havoc today. We see those storms with our own eyes, and together, we rush in to help their victims. But when it comes to protecting our future, and theirs, we’re as divided as ever.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter@GlobeAbraham.