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Texas Is Flooded Because Our Democracy Is, Too

Our culture of legalized bribery makes climate disasters more likely, but there's an alternative.

Port Arthur, Texas underwater in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: SC National Guard / Flickr)

“It’s flooding down in Texas,” goes the old song. “All of the telephone lines are down.”


With apologies to Stevie Ray Vaughan, there’s a lot more down in Texas than telephone lines now. Power lines are down, homes are destroyed, and cities sit underwater. Dozens have died.


For me, this is personal. I worried intensely about friends and family in Houston and Corpus Christi.


Thankfully all are safe, but it’s been jarring to see photos of places I know underwater. Every time I check the news I recognize familiar places from the long drive from Houston to Corpus I’ve made numerous times.


There’s another unforgettable sight I often recall from that drive.


In Taft, Texas, as you’re nearing Corpus — a major refinery town — over the horizon comes a huge wind farm. What does this juxtaposition of refineries and wind farms have to do with the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey?


Two words: climate change.



The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that burning the products of those Corpus refineries pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which traps the sun’s heat and destabilizes the climate. That means more frequent and severe storms, droughts, and disasters.


To stop it, we need to wean ourselves off those refineries and rely on cleaner sources like that Taft wind farm. That’s obvious enough, so why haven’t we made more progress?


It’s complicated, but part of the reason is our political system.


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Led by fossil fuel interests, energy companies poured $172 million directly into campaign coffers in the last election cycle. That dirty coal, oil, and gas money comes with strings attached.


Fossil fuel enthusiasts in Congress serve their corporate supporters well. They distract the public by holding Inquisition-like hearings to attack climate science, while consistently voting to expand territory for drilling, subsidize dirty fuels, and cut incentives for wind and solar.


Meanwhile, President Trump has famously said that climate change is a “Chinese hoax.” He’s appointed heads of the EPA and the Energy Department who deny climate science, and his secretary of state is the former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil.


Since taking office, the administration has proceeded to undo even the modest steps taken by the prior administration to combat climate change.


It’s announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, removed the moratorium on coal leases on federal land, and reopened the Arctic to oil drilling. It’s censored science on government websites and pulled the rug out from under federal science advisory committees.


Meanwhile, it’s proposed a disastrous budget that eviscerates the EPA, eliminates funding for renewable energy research, and takes an ax to climate research at NASA.


In the wake of Hurricane Harvey — or Irma or Jose or whatever comes next — it’s unlikely this leadership will learn the obvious lessons. Only last month, Trump announced his “infrastructure plan,” which removes common sense rules requiring federally funded projects to account for sea level rise and flood risk.


An industry that’s set to make large parts of our planet uninhabitable has captured our federal government. Their goal is to make more money now, to the detriment of people and planet forever.


This makes the struggle for climate justice inseparable from the wider struggle for democracy. But as in Corpus Christi, where a large wind farm abuts oil refineries, the solution is right in front of us.


Let’s get money out of politics — and renewables in.

Basav Sen

Basav Sen

Basav Sen is the cli­mate jus­tice project direc­tor at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and writes on the inter­sec­tions of cli­mate change and social and eco­nom­ic jus­tice. Pri­or to join­ing IPS, Basav worked for 11 years as a cam­paign researcher for the Unit­ed Food and Com­mer­cial Workers.

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