The Earth is “Illin”

Emergency Management Once Removed

December 19, 2023

By Jim Mullen

Last May the Associated Press reported that a study by the international Earth Commission (our planet’s annual “wellness check”) suggests that Planet Earth has entered the danger zone with respect to climatic impacts on “phosphorus and nitrogen contamination of water from fertilizer overuse, groundwater supplies, fresh surface water, the unbuilt natural environment and the overall natural and human-built environment” – happily (I guess!) the study concluded that air pollution has not quite reached a similar danger point.

The study reflects the conclusion of reputable scientists, whose conclusions are based on education, observation, and peer review of their research as opposed to the ravings of conspiracy theorists of dubious expertise.

The clash continues between those who choose to ignore mounting evidence (remember summer 2023’s boil-over!) and climate action advocates who argue we aren’t taking the proper preventive measures to forestall or even modify the gradual acceleration of deterioration of our global climate. The encroachment of the sea on coastal cities, the increasingly devastating weather conditions that resulted in fires and destructive wind events that cause displacement, economic hardship and stress emergency response and recovery agencies  are all issues that will not subside of their own accord.

If we wish to alter how this slow-moving disaster scenario unfolds, we must return to a posture of respect for what science tells us. The practice of “covering one’s ears” during the COVID pandemic led to far too many people  neglecting or just refusing to wear a mask in public, or disregarding readily available vaccination opportunities, thus risking  passing that fatal  disease on to others. Far too many thumbed their uncovered noses at scientific realities, vilifying those scientists who dared to recommend reasonable safety measures that they believed  “encroached” on their freedoms.

It can be asserted credibly that the failure to “mask up” or get vaccinated despite the urgings of people with actual expertise in epidemiology accounted for a significant portion of the million-plus Covid fatalities in the US – that memory alone should be persuasive as we consider the health and safety issues a rapidly deteriorating global climate presents (think back once more to this past summer’s lethal heat wave).

Not that long ago the simple use of the phrase “climate change” in a public forum could get some state emergency management directors fired. That has changed somewhat, but climate denialism has not died, Despite emergency managers’ reflexive aversion to wading into political “hot button” issues, their crisis and consequence management responsibilities put engagement with climate change’s likely consequences squarely in their laps.

And it’s not just emergency managers – this is a job for decision makers in all sectors of our society. The solution to this looming public safety crisis won’t hinge on taking a vaccination or even putting  a mask on – instead some folks simply need to take their intellectual blinders off, and the sooner the better.

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

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