Home Climate justice Reviews | 5 years after Hurricane Maria, we treat climate reality like a game

Reviews | 5 years after Hurricane Maria, we treat climate reality like a game


Ricia Anne Chansky Sancinito is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, a senior climate justice researcher at the Humanities Action Lab and co-editor of “Mi María: Surviving the Storm, Voice of Puerto Rico.”

A friend recently texted me a picture of an arcade “game” she and her son stumbled upon while taking a break from back-to-school shopping: Hurricane Simulator.

Its description promises that players can “enter and be blown away, regardless of physical danger.” It lets people “feel winds up to 75 mph” while a 42-inch LCD screen displays “physical destruction animations”. People can experience a storm safe from the “danger of flying debris, rising tides, horizontal rain.” Its promoters promise that the simulator is “all for fun”, which equates to “a big profit for the operators!”

The friend who sent the photo is from Puerto Rico, a survivor of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall five years ago this month. Just like his son. Like me.

It’s strange for us to imagine the person who wants to enter a hurricane simulator and watch destruction animations. It’s hard to imagine community trauma — shared by the 3.3 million people who lived in Puerto Rico when Maria struck — functioning as amusement. But I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the game exists – and that it makes money.

For a company to present disaster as entertainment makes sense when you consider the widespread effectiveness of climate change deniers, who have underestimated the impact of corporations on the environment, largely by decoupling disaster from its human costs.

The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been described by António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, as a “red code for humanity”. Why is such a statement, on such a huge crisis, not enough to inspire more people to act?

George Marshall, co-founder of Climate Outreach and author of “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change,” says that while the science has long been clear, scholarship is not enough to persuade people to take it seriously – because scientific data “does not galvanize our emotional brains into action”.

Paul Slovic, president of Decision Research, suggested that motivating people is difficult because many cannot conceive of how climate change will affect their lives. “The question is often ‘Do I feel vulnerable?’ he told Time in 2018. “For the most part, we don’t, and it shapes our behavior.

Seen in this light, the hurricane simulator is an apt metaphor for the separation between abstract notions of climate disasters and their tangible real-life results. The ‘game’ is a ‘single attraction’, a seemingly harmless thrill – so much easier to step into a box than to confront the true stories of hardship, courage and survival like the ones I’ve recorded over the past five last years. For instance:

Carlos Bonilla Rodríguez, a farmer in San Sebastián, watched from a neighbor’s house as Hurricane Maria ripped the roof off his house. “When it all blew away…and I knew we had nothing,” Carlos said, “the only thing to do was cry.” Although this is the second time Carlos’ home has been destroyed – the first time during Hurricane Georges in September 1998 – he has received no government assistance. As he said, “not even a nail”.

Belle Marie Torres Velázquez, the only doctor in the island municipality of Culebra, was forced to deliver a premature baby in a supply closet because nearly two months after the hurricane there was still no electricity and the closet was the only space close enough to plug into a generator. “This baby was arriving in very poor conditions – with no access to special equipment, no transport and no possible communication with an obstetrician,” she recalled, adding, “All those same feelings of despair are still with me.”

The hurricane simulator is not the problem. The game is a symptom and reflection of a larger crisis, built by individuals, corporations and governments that failed to address a global emergency caused by human degradation of the environment.

In contested spaces like Puerto Rico, this is an emergency whose consequences are compounded by existing inequalities, systemic racism, colonial practices and predatory maneuvers such as “disaster capitalism”, which enriches the profiteers. deprived at the expense of the rest of us.

As Puerto Rico prepares for the height of the 2022 storm season, our recently privatized power grid is frequently failing, leaving many people without power. Thousands of houses have not been rebuilt. Access to medical care is extremely difficult. And schools, roads and health facilities remain in a deteriorating state. What happens if we find ourselves in the path of another Category 5 hurricane?

This is not a simulation. It is not an exercise. But for the many stakeholders who find climate issues too remote from their own experiences to care about, or too inconvenient to care about when there are corporate profit margins to consider, this global crisis will remain. simply a game – until it’s far too late for any of us to win.