Mark Hertsgaard / The Nation & Laila Lalami / The Nation – 2017-09-28 00:33:12
Climate Denialism Is Literally Killing Us
The victims of Hurricane Harvey have a murderer
— and it’s not the storm
Mark Hertsgaard / The Nation
(September 6, 2017) â€“ The horrors hurled at Houston and the Himalayan lowlands in late August were heartbreaking — but also infuriating. How many times must we see this disaster movie — titled Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, along with many lesser-â€©known foreign releases — before we intervene and change the ending? And how long before we hold the ultimate authors of such climate catastrophes accountable for the miseries they inflict?
The tragedy of Harvey starts with the suffering of innocents like Jordyn Grace, the 3-year-old who survived the flood by clinging to the body of her drowned mother, who had prayed with her last breaths. At least 60 people died in Texas because of the storm, over 1 million people were displaced, and who knows how many survived but lost everything?
Multiply the death and destruction in Texas a hundredfold to comprehend the scale of devastation in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, where — although the news coverage has been a fraction of Harvey’s — a staggering 16 million children “are in urgent need of life-saving support” after “torrential monsoon rains and catastrophic flooding,” UNICEF reports.
What makes this so infuriating is that it shouldn’t be happening. Experts have warned for decades that global warming would increase these sorts of weather extremes and that people would suffer and die if protective measures were not implemented.
In 2008, John Podesta, soon to be Obama’s transition director, organized a war game to test the responses to projected climate disruptions. Eerily enough, the scenario chosen — and vetted as scientifically accurate by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — envisioned a Category 4 hurricane striking Houston and extreme monsoons flooding India.
This is not to say that global warming “caused” Harvey — a scientifically illiterate framing of the issue — but it did make the rains bigger, more intense, and more destructive. Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of water — “enough to cover all of Manhattan a mile deep,” noted Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press — and as much as 30 percent of it can be attributed to global warming, according to Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Many other experts have issued warnings, starting with NASA scientist James Hansen’s landmark 1988 Senate testimony that global warming had begun and, if left unchecked, would threaten the future of human civilization. Recent years have also brought abundant evidence that shifting to wind power, less meat-heavy diets, and other climate-friendly alternatives would result in lasting economic and health benefits: more jobs, less inequality, cleaner air, stronger communities.
Yet Donald Trump and other powerful know-nothings in Washington seem perversely determined to ignore the lessons of Harvey, while doubling down on making things worse. Trump has crammed his administration full of climate-change deniers while pushing full steam ahead on more oil, gas, and coal production. His EPA chief, incredibly, has urged governors to ignore the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Obama administration, aiding conservative efforts to gut the policy.
Days before Harvey drenched Texas, Trump rescinded Obama’s requirement that federal agencies take climate impacts into account before approving major infrastructure. And in a stunning insult not only to climate preparedness but the legacy of US space exploration, Trump nominated a climate denier with no scientific training to run NASA.
When the president announced in June that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, I wrote in The Nation:
“To refuse to act against global warming is to condemn thousands of people to death and suffering today and millions more tomorrow. This is murder, even if Trump’s willful ignorance of climate science prevents him from seeing it.”
That judgment grows more apt with each passing day we don’t reverse course. Knowing what we know in 2017, expanding fossil-fuel production is like Big Tobacco continuing to addict people to its cancer sticks: technically legal but, in effect, premeditated murder.
It is past time to call out Trump and all climate deniers for this crime against humanity. No more treating climate denial like an honest difference of opinion. When top tobacco executives swore to Congress that nicotine wasn’t addictive, their assertion, though laughable, did not make it true. Forty-six state attorneys general forced those companies to pay at least $206 billion for their wickedness.
Now, the individuals and institutions pushing climate denial must be called out with even greater vigor: in newspaper columns, on TV and radio talk shows, in town halls, at the ballot box, and by consumer boycotts, legal investigations, shareholder resolutions, street protests, and more.
Shedding tears for little Jordyn Grace in Houston and her counterparts in the Himalayan lowlands is only right, but it is far from sufficient. With Hurricane Irma churning toward Florida, the horrors and heartbreaks will only get worse until we change the game for their perpetrators. The first step toward justice is to call things by their true names. Murder is murder, whether the murderers admit it or not. Punish it as such, or we encourage more of the same.
Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation‘s investigative editor at large, is the author of seven books, including On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.
Natural Disasters Call for Good Governance, Not Charity
Trump promised to donate $1 million to Harvey relief efforts â€“
while dismantling the government we all rely on
Laila Lalami / The Nation
(September 6, 2017) — The map of disasters is immense, and the suffering often anonymous. As I write, firefighters are battling a blaze that has spread across huge swaths of dry land in the San Fernando Valley, 15 miles north of my home in Los Angeles. Monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Niger have resulted in the deaths of over a thousand people.
Mudslides in Sierra Leone claimed 500 lives, and many victims are still missing. And in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Harvey caused flooding and devastation on a scale rarely seen on the Gulf Coast. Faced with calamities like these, the natural human impulse is to ask: How can I help?
We’ve already seen heroic answers to that question in the aftermath of Harvey. Texans volunteered at shelters and food banks, donated bottled water and supplies, and searched for survivors in flooded neighborhoods. Several Houston-area mosques opened their doors to evacuees. Jim McIngvale, a local businessman who calls himself “Mattress Mack,” turned his furniture stores into shelters for those in need.
The Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from Louisiana, brought their boats across state lines to assist in rescue efforts. And reporters rushed into the eye of the storm to bring us the news. But while these stories inject us with hope, we must also ask why volunteer efforts are so desperately needed in the first place.
A disaster like Harvey raises important questions about the role of government and the effectiveness of its response. All of us depend on a range of local, state, and federal agencies to prepare for an emergency, show leadership as it unfolds, and provide relief in its aftermath. Unfortunately, the record of our current leadership fails to inspire any confidence whatsoever.
On the evening of August 25, for example, while Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, President Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who was accused of racial profiling and systematically violating civil rights in his jails, including an immigration facility often referred to as a “concentration camp.” In his announcement of the pardon, Trump called Arpaio an “American patriot” who “kept Arizona safe.”
Perhaps hoping to distract from this shockingly inappropriate response, Trump traveled to Texas, ostensibly to witness the devastation caused by the hurricane. Yet it seems he couldn’t help but treat the disaster zone as though it were one of his campaign rallies. He showed up in Corpus Christi on August 29 in a branded hat that he sells on his website for $40.
Standing between two fire trucks, he promised Texans that “We’re gonna get you back and operating immediately. Thank you, everybody. What a crowd! What a turnout!” At a meeting with local leaders, he joked that Harvey “sounds like such an innocent name . . . right? But it’s not, it’s not innocent.”
This performance was widely criticized, so Trump flew down to Texas on September 2 for a do-over. This time, he went hatless, met with people at shelters, hugged a few children, and vowed (via Twitter, of course) that “we will prevail in the GREAT state of Texas.” He also pledged to donate $1 million of his personal fortune to hurricane-relief efforts.
Whether any of that money will actually be paid remains to be seen. Trump has — how shall I put this? — a mixed record on charity. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported on several cases in which Trump didn’t come through on his pledges, or else paid them through the Trump Foundation — which is to say, with other people’s money.
But Trump’s financial pledge can’t make up for what he has done to the government’s disaster-relief agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had no administrator between January and June, when Brock Long was finally sworn in as the new director.
Furthermore, Trump’s proposed 2018 budget includes $667 million in cuts to FEMA grants that help cities and states prepare for disasters, as well as a 32 percent cut to NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, whose scientists study environmental phenomena such as (you guessed it) hurricanes and tornadoes. These and other budget cuts are being made in order to provide initial funding for Trump’s border wall.
Of what use is a border wall to people who are drowning? This question should be asked of all Republicans who are going along with Trump’s upside-down priorities, even though they are well aware that his “beautiful” wall is costly, inhumane, and ineffective.
As the floodwaters rose in Houston, many people rushed to help, including people targeted by Trump’s immigration plans. Alonso Guillen, a 31-year-old beneficiary of DACA (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the policy that provides relief for the children of undocumented immigrants), drowned while trying to rescue others. Jesus Contreras, another DACA recipient who was brought to the United States when he was 6 years old, continues to work as a paramedic in Houston.
But now that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have announced the “orderly wind-down” of DACA, Contreras and 800,000 other young people could be deported, perhaps as early as March of next year, many to countries they’ve never lived in.
When they return from recess, members of Congress will face the task of voting for federal relief to survivors of Hurricane Harvey. Ted Cruz, who built his career as an advocate of small government, says he hopes he can count on bipartisan support for relief to his state.
But it’s worth remembering that 23 representatives from Texas, including Senators Cruz and John Cornyn, voted against Hurricane Sandy relief in 2013. There are no atheists in foxholes, as the saying goes, and I am tempted to add that there are no small-government advocates in hurricanes.
We may not be able to prevent natural disasters, but we can prepare for them in a variety of ways, including through proper funding of scientific research and agencies like FEMA. This is the work of the federal government, which Trump and his Republican enablers seem so intent on dismantling
Laila Lalami is the author, most recently, of The Moor’s Account, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She writes the “Between the Lines” column for The Nation, and is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.
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