What was the contribution of climate change to these two disastrous hurricanes which ravaged our infrastructure and led to the very unfortunate loss of life?
Now, not everyone is entertaining this exact or variants of the stated question. With every explanation, there will exist deniers who just do not want to entertain the facts which science lay out and seem to explain certain phenomenon. Undoubtedly, the current hurricanes are increasing in severity due to climate change. The exact contribution from us (humans) might not be quantifiable, but that does not mean that the contribution is not real.
Furthermore, as both geographical regions in the United States start the process of rebuilding their regions, urban planners along with government employees would be well served to consider climate change in future planning efforts. Otherwise, future storms will bring more havoc on local, state, and federal resources. Lets review briefly what the two hurricanes brought to local, state, and federal resources - briefly - below.
Climate Change Is Not Partisan
Contrary to popular belief, climate change sees no partisan borders. Whether a person, region, government is rich or poor, well established or new, weather patterns are what they are. And part of the existing situation is attributed to the past. This might seem debatable to either side. Although, I would suggest looking at photographs of recent floods and the increase in severity of each and try to convince me that change is not on the horizon.
Hurricane Harvey did considerable damage to the Houston area. Remember that President Trump voted to defund FEMA and Flood mapping research a few months ago. Here is a short video from an article out of the Washington Post titled "The cruelest insult to Harvey and Irma’s victims" which sheds light onto potential issues pre-Hurricane Harvey:
After viewing the short video, I cannot help but wonder the following questions:
1) Why was Houston not equipped with stronger weather infrastructure to avoid potentially rising sea levels or handle large amounts of rain?
2) Why were so many chemical industries and oil industries allowed to locate to a 'flood plain' which amounts to a potential disaster in the event of rising sea levels or power outages?
Who allowed the build out of Houston? Some one knows the answer to these questions. There are city council members with information which could answer these questions. I wonder what those city council members are thinking right now? I wonder how many of them were displaced due to Hurricane Harvey? I wonder how many of the original designers/builders still live in the Houston area? Probably not many.
Unfortunately, asking such questions now makes little sense. What does make sense is to think globally as time moves forward and the rebuilding phase commences. As Eugene Robinson writes in the Washington Post article cited above, the time to think wisely is now:
This is precisely the moment when scientists at the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, NASA and other agencies ought to be laser-focused on climate change. They should study the characteristics and impacts of this season’s hurricanes to better understand what changes global warming has wrought thus far. And I’m confident they will do so — unless their work is hampered by political hacks.Climate change never should have become a partisan issue in the first place. There is no red or blue spin on the fact that humans have burned enough fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent; or that carbon dioxide traps heat; or that global land and ocean temperatures have shot up; or that Arctic ice is melting; or that sea levels are rising. These things are directly measurable and true.Global warming cuts no slack for political affiliation — as Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida now should humbly acknowledge.
The time is now. Unfortunately, our energy secretary (Secretary Rick Perry) is an ardent climate change denier feels differently as shown in the following excerpt taken from a CBS news article:
"We can line up scientists on both sides of this," he told CBSN's Stephanie Sy, but "this is not the time to be having this conversation." At this moment, he said, it's time to focus on helping victims recover from the damage wrought by Harvey."Everyone wants to run to the climate change debate, but that is very secondary at this particular time," he said.
Energy Secretary has a track record of ignorance on climate change and pushing agendas which are counter intuitive toward the direction in which science is headed. I wrote a blog post discussing his qualifications recently which should be read after finishing this article. His ignorance is pretty serious considering the amount of people who are without power and those who lost their lives during Hurricane Harvey. I am astounded to say the least and disappointed.
Another critical agency which has seen changes in funding due to our current President is the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Director Scott Pruitt also has a track record which prevents him from serving the nation effectively. Therefore, as we have seen during both storms, loss of life and damage beyond repair is starting to appear. Further, EPA Director Scott Pruitt holds the same view as Secretary Rick Perry on discussing the subject of climate change during a storm search and rescue along with recovery. Basically, both hold the position that climate change is not directly related and can wait until a later time to come into play (or discussion).
These views might hold up under fire except that both of these Administrators are hell bent on defunding their agencies -- taking money from the public (Federal agency) and rerouting the funding to the private sector. Both of these men are heavily backed and supported by industry. One of the critical issues among many are the construction permitting and building licenses which are issued by these agencies.
The EPA and DOE play a large part in ensuring that corporations practice safe and reliable services through enforcing regulations set by the government. Many residents feel like regulations are "job killers", but the reality is that the industry mantra is to profit at the cost of safety of the consumer (bluntly said). Members of the Trump Administration refuse to discuss proactive measures -- like disaster preparedness and consumer safety. What is more preferred is to discuss "job killing regulations".
Federal Funding Is Critical For Disasters
After two hurricanes, one would think that government officials would be willing to discuss the devastating effects of natural disasters and their potential causes. One of which is climate change. A contributor to say the least -- in elevating the severity of the storm -- not the main cause of course. With the President looking to defund federal agencies, the money available to be proactive in future disasters remains limited.
Further, research into potential solutions to future storms is out of the question. Not to mention (as I did above) the ability of the federal agency to regulate corporations to practice safety in the workplace (for workforce) and provide high quality products (consumer safety). In order to change the current direction of the Trump Administration, the first step is to stop denying the existence of climate change and accept it -- in order to move forward. Below are two excerpts which drive home the need to move forward and stop letting climate change become a "partisan" issue.
Here is an excerpt from the Mayor of Miami -- Tomas Regalado:
Miami’s Republican mayor called on President Donald Trump and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Friday to acknowledge that climate change is playing a role in the extreme weather that has slammed his city and the continental U.S. this summer.Speaking from Miami’s Emergency Operations Center in downtown, where the city’s senior public safety and political authorities will ride out Category 4 Hurricane Irma this weekend, Mayor Tomás Regalado told the Miami Herald that he believes warming and rising seas are threatening South Florida’s immediate and long-term future.“This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the EPA and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change,” said Regalado, who flew back to Miami from Argentina Friday morning to be in the city during the storm. “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”
On top of that realization, 'Politico Energy' tip-sheets include the following regarding the mixed views of politicians in Washington D.C. in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma:
ALL QUIET ON THE CLIMATE FRONT: Even as the double whammy of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma offers the U.S. an up-front glimpse of the types of devastation the world faces due to a warming climate, Democrats are largely holding their fire on Republicans, Pro's Emily Holden and Elana Schor report . Instead, they appear to be heeding the warnings of several of President Donald Trump's Cabinet officials that discussing climate change with large swaths of land still underwater would be insensitive. "The response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma thus far has been more muted, likely in part because of a desire to keep the focus on immediate disaster relief," said Trevor Houser, former energy adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Democrats say there will be opportunities to explore the linkage between extreme weather and manmade climate change moving forward. "We have a lot of time to make that point, and I think we also have a lot of legislative opportunities as we look at reauthorizing flood insurance and funding the disaster relief," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse , one of staunchest climate hawks, said. Environmental advocates have hit Trump's inaction on climate change online, but have shied away from criticizing Democrats. "The truth is, I'd settle for politicians not talking about climate at all, and instead actually doing something," Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said.
Tone shift at the White House? Tom Bossert, Trump's homeland security adviser, told reporters Monday that the cause of both devastating hurricanes is "outside of my ability to analyze" but he acknowledged a need to bolster flood and coastal defenses threatened by rising seas and powerful storms. "We continue to take seriously the climate change, not the cause of it, but the things that we observe," he said. "What President Trump remains committed to is making sure that federal dollars aren't used to build things that will be in harm's way later or that won't be hardened against the future predictable floods that we see." While those words may offer hope to some, ME would note Trump has erased climate considerations from government processes, nixed flood standards for federal projects, withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, pulled back a regulation to limit carbon dioxide from power plants and halted funding to help poor nations adapt to new weather extremes.
More money needed? Asked if the administration would put more money into agencies like FEMA and EPA, Bossert expressed openness to requesting additional funds - "We'll put money in as money is needed to address the need," he said - but added "right now we have plenty of resources to get through this."
Irma could've been even worse: Even as millions lost power during Hurricane Irma, the head of the state's largest utility said outages could've been even worse if Florida Power & Light Co. had not spent $3 billion to improve the energy grid, POLITICO Florida's Bruce Ritchie reports. "With this kind of storm what I can tell you is, we would be facing a much longer restoration" without the work, FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said Monday.
Again, the politicians are missing the big point. The following points need to be highlighted by the news for future disasters:
1) President Trump voted to defund FEMA, which included funding research for flood plane proned areas.
2) Senators have voted "no" for disaster relief funding -- even, in some instances for their own state -- to stand on principles (i.e. no increase in debt ceiling).
These are critical issues which affect large (hundreds of thousands) amounts of U.S. citizens still today. Just because the rebuilding and restoration of both Texas and Florida are not covered by the national news does not mean that the geographical areas are not in serious need of assistance. There are houses still under water and areas without power along with areas covered in toxic chemicals which the EPA refuses to acknowledge.
Here are two aftermath effects of ignoring climate change and defunding Federal Agencies along with reversing Obama era environmental regulations:
Checking in on Texas: EPA reported late Monday that 35 of the 2,238 drinking water systems affected by Harvey remain shut down, while 35 of the 1,219 wastewater treatment plants in affected countries also remain inoperable. The agency further said it had "directed potential responsible parties or has independently started collecting samples at the 43 Superfund sites to further confirm any impacts from the storm" and said additional assessments continue at two sites - San Jacinto Waste Pits and U.S. Oil Recovery. In addition, Reuters reported federal officials are cleaning up spills of oil and chemicals spilled from a dozen industrial facilities in the aftermath of Harvey.Yikes: Water testing arranged by The New York Times from two Houston neighborhoods showed alarmingly high levels of bacteria and toxins. Tests from the Briarhills Parkway in the Houston Energy Corridor showed levels of E. coli at levels four times of what's considered safe, while Clayton Homes public housing development downtown showed concentrations of E. Coli more than 135 times healthy levels, as well as elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. The EPA said Monday that 40 of 1,219 waste treatment plants affected by Harvey were not working.
EPA LAUNCHES PROBE INTO ARKEMA INCIDENT: Officials at EPA have requested information from Arkema to help them ascertain whether the chemical company properly followed Clean Air Act safety regulations before Hurricane Harvey. EPA asked in its letter , obtained by ME Monday, for a response from the company within 10 calendar days of receipt. Among the information sought is what the company did before the storm to prepare for potential flooding and loss of electricity, as well as the quantities of chemicals stored on site. Several chemical containers at the Crosby, Texas, facility caught fire after the hurricane deluged it with water.
Unfortunately, the actions by the EPA is only in response to the popular news coverage of the disasters brought by the two devastating Hurricanes recently. Furthermore, the Clean Air Act which was enacted by the Obama Administration has been ignored and not enforced by the Arkema chemical plant. Which resulted in the release of large amounts of volatile chemicals when hurricane harvey hit Texas. EPA Director Scott Pruitt should be ashamed of himself for standing up in front of the public on television and stating the the EPA has everything under control. With 40 waste treatment plants not working and exceedingly high levels of bacterial organisms in the water, people are at high risk of disease.
Not to mention the Superfund sites which are another source of extremely high levels of chemicals -- some of which are unknown. The result is complete chaos brought to you by the Trump Administration.
When a nation is reversing the course of decades worth of environmental regulations enacted to protect consumers and our resources, the result is chaos. Which is were we are at presently. At any given time, a natural disaster can occur in this great nation and the implications of a lack of federal funding will be completely apparent. Why do the great people of the nation believe that the President cares about their safety? With the direction of giving money to big corporations while defunding federal agencies, you get the present situation -- a lack of preparedness. Over time, this will get worse if nothing is changed. The excerpts above clearly show that the issue of climate change is becoming a partisan issue when the issue should not be.
Now with the devastation caused by yet another Hurricane - Maria in Puerto Rico, the time has come to ask ourselves where we would like to be as a nation. Currently, the crops that were destroyed are not recovered in Florida much less the newly destroyed land in Puerto Rico. There are areas which are not being covered by the news which remain ravaged and without resources. How prepared are you for a disaster? How do you feel about federal funding? Do you follow FEMA status or updates on a daily basis? There is an app you can download to get FEMA updates on various parts of the nation where disasters are occurring and where relief is being directed.
Regardless of your position on climate change, the effects of climate change are real and noticeable. In the future, the storms will worsen and the frequency will become greater. Talk to your local representatives and ask them to consider climate change to be real and the need to study the effects in a given geographical area. This is an ongoing discussion here on this site and in national news, so stay tuned.