Watching History from the Sidelines


As the lights go out, the government shrugs its shoulders. "Nothing to do with us. El Niño did it!" Apparently that Cuban Cloud-zapping Ray wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The opposition, needless to say, is livid. "It’s not the weather! It’s the underinvestment!" The political ping-pong starts. It’s easy to see that only insults will follow.

Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the El Niño phenomenon is striking more and more frequently. It may be strengthening too.  The science is far from settled, but some climate models suggest a link between rising global temperatures and more frequent and/or stronger El Niños.

In the rest of the world, a multi-level debate is underway: a serious set of deliberations along a series of interconnected axes. It is, at once, a scientific debate about the impact of atmospheric composition on climate patterns, a policy debate about emission-limitation strategies, and a separate policy debate about adaptation: what do we do to mitigate the impact not just of the climate change we may (or may not) see in the future, but about the impact of climate change right now. Climate change of the type made manifest through things like an intensified El Niño cycle.

None of these debates seem to permeate through into the Venezuelan public sphere. Here, what we find is a miniature scale, bizarro-version of the controversy, one carried out in terms that are ideological meaningful to Venezuelans, but which the rest of the world processed, got over and moved on from decades ago: socialism vs. capitalism (if you’re a chavista) – the inefficiency of the state vs. the dynamism of the private sector (if you’re not).

The penny just hasn’t dropped.

Ocean levels are rising and likely to continue to rise. What’s the government planning to do in coastal areas prone to flooding? What’s going to happen to Maracaibo? Cumaná? Puerto La Cruz? What are likely to be the impacts on the Orinoco-Apure watershed, by which we mean not the now-forgotten utopian fantasies of Jorge Giordani, but the actual river system that dominates the South of the Country?

And what about those more frequent El Niños, and the increased incidence of drought they carry? Has anybody thought through the implications not just for Guri and the electric system, but for acquifers and drinking water supplies and irrigation and agriculture in general?

These questions are massively important to the livelihoods of millions of Venezuelans, but because they don’t fit neatly into the conceptual categories around which the ideological trenches have been dug in the Chávez era, they’re entirely absent  from the Venezuelan public sphere. The government sees no reason to investigate them. The opposition doesn’t seem to have noticed they may become a problem.

As for the fact that the public purse is desperately dependent on exports of a fuel that, when burned, may be wreaking havoc with the weather in our own country…that one’s far too intense a thought, too grave a proposition, for anyone, government or opposition, to face up to.

And so, Venezuela watches the Climate debate as though through a screen. Cut off. Consumed with the clapped-out re-run of 20th century ideological battles that goes by the name of 21st Century Socialism, the Venezuelan public sphere treats the premier global challenges of the 21st Century as though they were something that’s happening somewhere else. Something that happens in Africa, or the arctic, or anyway somewhere very very far. Not, por Dios, something that could imaginably affect us. Our daily lives. Our children’s future.

Esos son problemas de musius…

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