As Houston begins a recovery from Hurricane Harvey that is likely to last several years and cost many billions of dollars, the threat of extreme weather events around the country and the globe are illustrating the impact of climate change—and the damage being done by right-wing politicians including President Donald Trump who have refused to heed repeated warnings from scientists and other experts.
Author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben summed up the current state of affairs in a number of major U.S. cities, juxtaposed with Trump's decision earlier this year to withdraw from the 2016 Paris agreement on climate change:
Houston: slowly draining— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) September 4, 2017
LA: on fire
Miami: worrying about Cat5 Irma
Paris: climate agreement would be 'bad for America.'
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has warned that the damage done to the country's fourth-largest city could cost the government $180 billion—more than Hurricane Katrina cost in 2005. Aside from rebuilding costs, Houston-area residents may pay in other ways as well: as Common Dreams reported, the Center for Biological Diversity finds that "Oil refineries and chemical plants across the Texas Gulf coast released more than 1 million pounds of dangerous air pollutants in the week after Harvey struck.
On Monday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said there is an "increasing chance" that the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys will see "some impacts" from the rapidly-approaching Hurricane Irma, and that "rough surf and dangerous marine conditions will begin to affect the southeastern U.S. coast by later this week."
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, firefighters spent the weekend fighting what Mayor Eric Garcetti called "the largest fire in the history of" the city, covering about 7,000 acres and forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate. The wildfire, known as the La Tuna fire, broke out amid temperatures in the hundreds, and the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted that climate change is "fueling the frequency of wildfires" throughout the state in recent years.
As Andy Rowell, writing for Oil Change International, wrote in a column on Monday, Harvey's damage in Houston and across the region "should also be a wake-up call to the climate-denying president that unless he acts on climate, there will be more Harveys."
It is a wake-up call to the media to accurately report the disaster, including how climate change fuelled its intensity. It is also a wake-up call to the oil industry in so many, many ways.
On a national and international level it shows how our continuing dependence on fossil fuels will drive more extreme weather events. On a regional level it shows how ill-prepared the fossil fuel industry—and wider petrochemical industry—were to an event like this, despite decades of warnings.
Instead the fossil fuel industry's complacency, malaise, self-regulation and capture of the political system are all to blame too. They have led to a system of peril.
Writing for Common Dreams on Monday, Randall Amster refers to it as the "new normal of destabilization"—a world in which climate-related disasters are happening more often and with escalating costs.
"In just the past week," he writes, "we've seen record-breaking rainfall and wildfires plague parts of the United States. Globally, such extreme events appear to be increasing in frequency and magnitude. Droughts, floods, fires, and more can be seen as warning signs of impending ecosystem collapse at the planetary scale, with impacts felt in locales and regions around the world. While no single event may be able to draw a causal line directly from climate change, the cumulative correlation indicates escalating destabilization."
Meanwhile, Trump and his cabinet remain reluctant to discuss the causes of disasters like Harvey as they strike. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt declared it was "misplaced" to discuss the storm's link to climate change last week.
But that view was specifically countered by journalist Naomi Klein who said that it is in the midst of these climate-related disasters when the conversation about global warming and its impacts is most important.
"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," argued Klein at The Intercept. "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."