By Robert A. Vella
One and three-quarters centuries ago in America, a private security agency known as the Pinkertons arose in the wild, wild west to protect large business interests in developing regions where government authority was extremely limited or altogether nonexistent. While the positive image of them defending stagecoaches from robbers over vast stretches of remote lands is certainly engrained in historical lore, the agency also elicits very negative reactions in people who knew the Pinkertons as brutal henchmen for the rich and powerful who specialized in suppressing labor uprisings and populist discontent against the established order.
But, aren’t the Pinkertons long gone now? Even if they’re still around, what does that have to do with climate change?
In a comprehensive report years in the making which is probably setting President Trump’s hair on fire right now, the Environmental Protection Agency has quantified the costs of unmitigated climate change.
By the end of the century, the manifold consequences of unchecked climate change will cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars per year, according to a new study by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Those costs will come in the form of water shortages, crippled infrastructure and polluted air that shortens lives, among others, according to the study in Monday’s edition of Nature Climate Change. No part of the country will be untouched, the EPA researchers warned.
However, they also found that cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and proactively adapting to a warming world, would prevent a lot of the damage, reducing the annual economic toll in some sectors by more than half.
These costs will trigger serious social unrest which will increasingly destabilize our modern civilization. Exacerbating the problem is a political culture in the U.S. and elsewhere determined to weaken democratic governance through privatization and corporatization schemes which would create similar conditions to those that gave rise to the Pinkertons in the mid 19th century.
After the disastrous hurricanes Maria and Harvey struck Puerto Rico and Texas in 2017, it became apparent that the damage exceeded the capabilities of both the private insurance industry and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Consequently, the Pinkertons saw an opportunity. This brilliant exposé from The New York Times details their new venture.
Now over 150 years old, having long outlived its reputation as Andrew Carnegie’s personal militia, the agency has evolved into a modern security firm. Over the last decade or so, Pinkerton began noticing a growing set of anxieties among its corporate clients about distinctly contemporary plagues — active shooters, political unrest, climate disasters — and in response began offering data-driven risk analysis, in addition to what they’re more traditionally known for. Dressed in an untucked powder blue oxford and round, rimless sunglasses, Paz Larach, the firm’s senior vice president in charge of the Americas, paused before affecting a look of brutal candor. “You’re going to turn to desperate measures,” he said. Everybody will. The other Pinkertons nodded.
For Pinkerton, the bet is twofold: first, that there’s no real material difference between climate change and any other conflict — as the world grows more predictably dangerous, tactical know-how will simply be more in demand than ever.
You could be forgiven for assuming that the Pinkertons were relics of the past. Like the stage coaches the company once protected, the name Pinkerton summons up sepia-tinted images of the American West — black-hatted detectives pursuing train robbers, or rooting out labor agitators from coal mines. And indeed, Allan Pinkerton organized his agency in response to the lawlessness of the frontier.
The best outcome for these new data-driven Pinkertons is that this century lapses into the kind of lawlessness and disorder that makes it look more like the 19th — which many scientists and economists think it could. Since 1980, a period that includes all 20 of the warmest years in recorded history and 18 of the 20 most intense hurricane seasons in the satellite era, losses in the United States from storms, wildfires and droughts topped $1.6 trillion — nearly a third of which occurred in just the last five years. And this exponential destruction is just the beginning of what David Wallace-Wells, in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” calls the Great Dying: a worldwide economic decline, sharply deteriorated living conditions, disruption to basic government functions and widespread hunger.
In other news
A federal appeals court in California took action Friday that would temporarily allow the Trump administration to return asylum seekers to Mexico.
The decision is in response to the Trump administration’s emergency motion filing from Thursday asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco to stop a nationwide injunction that would bar the government from continuing its policy of forcing migrants to wait in Mexico as their asylum cases play out.
In response to the judge’s decision Friday evening, Judy Rabinovitz, who argued the case for the ACLU, said, “this is just an interim step while the court considers the government’s stay request.”