The effects of climate change will increase the severity of weather, but this has been rarely mentioned as much as it should be.
We are already seeing Trump using the cover of Hurricane Harvey to push through the hugely controversial pardoning of Joe Arpaio, as well as the further militarization of U.S. police forces. These are particularly ominous moves in the context of news that immigration checkpoints are continuing to operate wherever highways are not flooded (a serious disincentive for migrants to evacuate), as well as in the context of municipal officials tough-talking about maximum penalties for any “looters” (it’s well worth remembering that after Katrina, several African-American residents of New Orleans were shot by police amid this kind of rhetoric.)
In short, the right will waste no time exploiting Harvey, and any other disaster like it, to peddle ruinous false solutions like militarized police, more oil and gas infrastructure, and privatized services. Which means there is a moral imperative for informed, caring people to name the real root causes behind this crisis — connecting the dots between climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police. We also need to seize the moment to lay out intersectional solutions, ones that dramatically lower emissions while battling all forms of inequality and injustice (something we have tried to lay out at The Leap and which groups like the Climate Justice Alliance have been advancing for a long time.)
And it has to happen right now – precisely when the enormous human and economic costs of inaction are on full public display. If we fail, if we hesitate out of some misguided idea of what is and is not appropriate during a crisis, it leaves the door wide open for ruthless actors to exploit this disaster for predictable and nefarious ends.
A little more than a year ago, Fort McMurray, the town at the heart of the Alberta boom in tar sands oil, nearly burned to the ground. For a time, the world was transfixed by the images of vehicles lined up on a single highway, with flames closing in on either side. At the time, we were told that it was insensitive and victim-blaming to talk about how climate change was exacerbating wildfires like this one. Most taboo was making any connection between our warming world and the industry that powers Fort McMurray and employed the majority of the evacuees, which is a particularly high-carbon form of oil. The time wasn’t right; it was a moment for sympathy, aid, and no hard questions.
But of course by the time it was deemed appropriate to raise those issues, the media spotlight had long since moved on. And today, as Alberta pushes for at least three new oil pipelines to accommodate its plans to greatly increase tar sands production, that horrific fire and the lessons it could have carried almost never come up.
There is a lesson in that for Houston. The window for providing meaningful context and drawing important conclusions is short. We can’t afford to blow it.
Talking honestly about what is fueling this era of serial disasters — even while they’re playing out in real time — isn’t disrespectful to the people on the front lines. In fact, it is the only way to truly honor their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.