We can no longer ignore why hurricanes – and earthquakes – are getting stronger

Earthquake Strikes Mexico City

“You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” Sven Lindqvist.

If you’re not Mexican and you’ve lived in Mexico City, you’ve probably lived or hung out in La Condesa, with its tree-lined avenues, pavement cafes and energetic night-time economy. My wife and I recently spent a wonderful year (May 2015-May 2016) living in a 3rd-floor apartment on the corner of Calle Campeche and Calle Cholula, above a branch of the taco chain Tizoncito. Having seen the destruction around Avenida Amsterdam, just a very pleasant three-minute stroll or two-minute jog away, I hope our former home is still standing and that everyone who was in the building is safe and sound.

I experienced three small earthquakes in my time in DF (the most common local name for the city). The first time I didn’t notice, or at least I saw belatedly on Twitter that there’d been an ‘#alertasismica’. I subsequently tried to find out if the public alarm system had actually worked, because I certainly hadn’t heard it. The second tremor apparently took place while I was in the metro one afternoon – I only heard about it in retrospect. The third one took place during our farewell party. As about 20 or so of us bounced round our ultimately oversized apartment at 3am, someone pointed out that the lampshade seemed to have joined in with the manic dancing. Sure enough, when we went to peer over the balcony, the staff and straggling customers of the taco joint were gathered in the street looking a bit chastened. Ah, chingale, we thought, and went straight back to ‘Born Slippy’. It turns out that we were immensely lucky.

By far the strongest and longest earthquake I’ve felt wasn’t actually in Mexico. It took place in Rome a few months after we’d left DF, on the eighth floor of the maternity hospital where my wife would just a few weeks later give birth to our first child. We were visiting a fellow couple and their brand new baby when the water in a plastic bottle began to shake, and then the building began to wobble. Everyone went quiet – I think that was one of the uncanny things about it. Outside, down in the street, some people were gathered in small groups and others were just getting on with their lives. It seemed to go on for several minutes but afterwards the sensation of physical distress and disorientation went on for more than a week. I immediately felt inspired to write this short piece of absurdist satire in an attempt to turn my fear into something…useful? Meaningful?

The stories I’ve read in the media and posted by friends in the last few hours are genuinely shocking. By no means do I want to make a disaster I didn’t even experience about me, but knowing those streets and recognising some of the buildings, not to mention worrying for the safety of friends who still live nearby, has been a sobering experience. There have also been reports of acts of immense courage. For all its manifold cracks and faults, I felt that Mexico City is a place in which those who share space look out for one another to a greater extent than in both London and Rome, especially given the relative absence of the State. Events like this, and those in Florida and the Caribbean over the last few weeks are not a good advert for cutting back on the provision of centrally-funded emergency services.

The courage that ordinary Mexicans display in continuing to make do in the midst of constant dangers, big and small, from disappeared daughters to bent traffic policemen, is immense. Partly by virtue of living in Condesa, we were sheltered from so many of the threats that chilangos take for granted. I hope that if I were still there I’d have the bravery and integrity to help out. It’s becoming clear now that, wherever we live, the rest of our lives now will both trigger our instincts of self-preservation and also necessitate acts of great selflessness. I pray that incidents like Brexit and the election of Trump are not conclusive evidence that the two are mutually opposed.

Although I’d be hard-pressed to compare it to dragging people put of broken buildings, it did take something like courage to investigate something I’d purposefully been avoiding: the relationship between earthquakes and the changing climate. This article, by the highly-respected academic Bill McGuire, sets out the link. It turns out that as the planet heats up (and particularly as deeply-compacted ice melts, and hurricanes hammer at the surface), the earth shifts. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read the article, which was published in an eminently reputable publication and summarises the results of some very extensive research which took place over several decades and was subject, like all significant academic research, to extensive and rigorous peer-review based on the systematic application of doubt, please do not comment below.)

It’s immensely difficult to talk about climate change. We’re neither evolutionarily equipped nor socially encouraged to take it seriously. The most powerful forces on the planet employ endless legions of trolls to shout down any discussion of its causes and effects, often in the name of (ahem) “free speech”*. Republican and Conservative politicians insist that it’s never the right time to address planetary overheating, particularly at those moments when its consequences are most visible and stark. Anywhere I post this online there will immediately attract those who, without having digested or even nibbled at its contents, will insist on screaming with spluttering toddler-like outrage that someone has had the temerity to try to feed them the C-words. Their campaign of intimidation around an almost impossibly intimidating subject has made climate change into a taboo, a heresy.

Now, in 2017, everyone – particularly politicians and journalists – who talks about hurricanes without mentioning the changing climate is being cowardly and dishonest. We also owe it to each other, and to the new generation, the one which, absolutely blameless, is already here, to face up to the fact that our failure to even discuss the dangers before us has much deeper consequences than we blithely assumed. An essential step is to get rid, by any means necessary, of those ‘leaders’ who, by means of scapegoating and by encouraging inane conspiracy theories, deny reality on our behalf. They are the sort of people who should have hurricanes named after them: #HurricaneRickScott or #HurricaneScottPruit may have had more useful political impact than #HurricaneIrma. Perhaps, given his government’s stated intention to throw limitless amounts of fossil fuel onto the fire, this particular disaster should go by the name of Enrique Peña-Nieto.

* Such people specialise in belittling the suffering of anyone with darker skin, so climate change is an ideal topic for their trolling.

Qué pasa realmente con los perros en la Condesa?

A mí me caen bien los perros; juro que nunca los maltraté ni los maltrataría, y seguramente nunca en mi vida pensaría en envenenarlos. Ultimamente he salido rayado, ya que vivimos en una zona del DF en donde nuestros amiguitos perritos abundan. Aquí en la Condesa no es de extrañar ver a un cuida-perros arrastrando por la banqueta hasta quince de ellos, y confeso que deambulando por el quartier — por Calles Tamaulipas y Michoacán, por Parque España und so weiter — paso muchos y bellos momentos observando y admirando los animalitos caninos que se encuentran en tanta variedad y abundancia.

Sin embargo, no todos son como yo. A los perros de la Condesa alguién les está haciendo mal. En los últimos meses han aparecido avisos en las farolas de esta bien iluminada parte de la ciudad advirtiendo a los ciudadanos proprietarios de perros que algun(a) malhechor(a) anda por aí dejando en los parques alimentos apetitosos que hacen muy, muy mal a los estómagos normalmente tan robustos de las pobres criaturas. La notícia se propagó como la pólvora entre los dueños, y el número de perritos que se ven por Parque México ha disminuido notablemente. Incluso se hizo noticia en los telediarios nacionales — hace dos semanas las autoridades de la Procuraduría capitalina anunciaron que habían detenido a una viejecita de setenta y tal años sospechada de ser la autora de los delitos. Sin embargo, después de un breve periodo de investigación y (hay que admitir la posibilidad) mal trato del posible responsable la hipótesis de su participación fue abandonada y se le permitió volver a casa y al presumible desprecio de sus vecinos y ex-amigos.

Quiero ser claro: esto no es una confesión. Me di cuenta, al leer el primer aviso que vi por la calle hace varios meses, que el interés de un pinche gringo gabacho por los perros locales podría parecer sospechoso en este momento a alguién buscando a posibles culpables. Quiero nomás destacar varios aspectos del caso que me parecen significativos.

Vamos a abordar, antes de todo, un posible, y (a mi juicio) peligrosa pista falsa. Un aviso que me encontré la semana pasada convocava a los dueños de perros a una manifestación en el propio Parque México el sábado seguinte. Se les pedía a los asistentes que trajieron las correas (N.B.) de sus mascotas sin el animal para expresar su solidaridad con los caninos caídos en los últimos meses. Esto, hay que admitirlo, es un paso falso. Aunque ha siempre habido rumores maliciosos contra aquella comunidad asiática tan bien arraigada aquí en el DF, no existe ningun tipo de evidencia que los restaurantes de los que hay tantos en la Zona Rosa de la cuidad hayan sequestrado a nuestros compañeros caninos para preparar sus deliciosos bosintangs o apetitosos 개고기 전골s, y tampoco tienen razón los que les apuntan el dedo con respecto a la campaña de intoxicación de los perros. Tal sugerencia taimada y (hay que decirlo) francamente racista tiene que ser claramente rechazada. Es más probable que las personas que se la plantearon estén buscando un cane espiatorio — quizá ellos se han hartado de pagar a los cuida-perros y decidido que sus animalitos son un coste que ya no soportan más?

Yo quiero delineare una teoria sobre lo que está pasando con en envenenamento de perros en la Condesa. Yo creo que hasta el momento las indagaciones han, como solemos decir en inglés, ladrado al árbol equivocado. Es que hasta aquí se ha buscado a los culpables entre la comunidad humana. Pero no son humanos los que han sido envenenados. Son perros. Si quieren saber mi opinión, es que hay que enfocar la investigación entre la sociedad perrina. Sabemos que los perros son animales inteligentes, con emociones, capables de actos inspirados por el amor, la lealdad, la bondad…porqué no la crueldad, el pique, el resentimiento — sentimientos, digamos, mas animales? En vez de mandar unidades de policías aburridisimas y effectivamente inutiles a patrullar Parque México, porqué no pedir la ayuda de Scooby Doo, Inspector Rex o incluso el siempre-intrépido Dogtagnan para olfatear el sospechoso? Así el caso de los perros envenenados en Parque México podría venir a ser simultaneamente más sencillo y más complejo que parece.