Super Typhoon Mangkhut barrels across the Philippines on Saturday. Photo: Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau
Super Typhoon Mangkhut barrels across the Philippines on Saturday. Photo: Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau

Last week as the twin monsters named Mangkhut and Florence surged across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans toward their respective landfalls in East Asia and the eastern US, a story was posted on this writer’s Facebook feed about Florence – but not Mangkhut.

I responded:

“Let’s not forget the Rest of the World – a typhoon that meteorologists say dwarfs Florence is bearing down on the Philippines. People can get out of the Carolinas and avoid the worst of it, but storms of this size can be devastating to a poor country like the Philippines.”

My Western interlocutor replied that “proximity and kinship” had always been the “keywords in reporting,” adding with reference to Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria, “Poorer folks have no voice, my friend.”

It is worth mentioning that the commentator is not someone who never ventures out of his comfy living room in a Western country, content in blissful unawareness of the Rest of the World; he is a published investigative journalist who remains keenly interested in – and highly knowledgeable about – world affairs.

And that makes his apparently off-handish comment about the plight of those not in “proximity” to himself all the more telling, in this so-called (if semantically redundant) “globalized world.”

But of course it is obvious to everyone with eyes that economic globalization is a scam. Its sole purpose is to maximize the wealth of the world’s ruling elite by driving down wages in the formerly prosperous West while exploiting developing countries’ poorer labor standards and lax regulations on such things as environmental damage. Israel-based English blogger Jonathan Cook says it well:

“Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These ‘offshore tax havens’ are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them.

“While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore ‘safe deposit boxes’ are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.”

But the question always arises (on thoughtful websites including Asia Times, if not in the mainstream): For how long will the havens of the rich or even the comfy living rooms of ordinary folk be safe from the ravages caused by climate change? Florence and Mangkhut could hardly have shouted their messages more loudly: “Not long.”

Environmentalists, as usual, are complaining that mainstream coverage of the twin storms has, as usual, been practically devoid of mention that such events are getting larger and larger, more and more powerful, because of climate change. They have a point, but from a purely journalistic perspective, it makes sense to focus on the here and now when covering natural disasters in real time. Though Trump supporters and the like may protest otherwise, the number of people who actually reject climate science is vanishingly small.

However, accepting the obvious is only a small step. The will to respond meaningfully to climate change, not just by politicians but by the people they rule over, is still nearly non-existent. This is not just about riding bicycles to work or shunning plastic straws; this is about coming to the aid of the victims of storms, wildfires, floods, droughts, and wars over the increasingly inaccessible necessities of life, such as food, clean water, and shelter.

True globalism is not determined by corporate-welfare and anti-labor clauses inserted in “free trade” agreements by lawyers and lobbyists. It is determined by the globe itself. We are all “proximate,” we are all “kin.” It’s too late to undo the damage we as a species have done to our planet. All we can do now is stop pretending, start preparing, and radically alter the “we’re all right, Jack” attitudes that have comforted the better-off nations and individuals for long.

The economic investment a single major country makes in a single war could, if diverted into something positive instead of to blowing things up, repair the damage Super Typhoon Mangkhut has done, and at this writing continues to do, to the poor in East Asia, while also aiding the less poor (for now) who are suffering in the Carolinas from Florence’s floods.

But of course nothing like that will happen, in response to these disasters or the many to come, as long as we ordinary people continue not to care.

David Simmons is a Canadian journalist based in Thailand. He has worked for newspapers and news websites in four countries, three of them in Asia. He holds a bachelor's degree in linguistics from the University of British Columbia and a diploma in journalism from Langara College in Vancouver.