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Hurricane Harvey Must Prompt Clarity, Anger and Action

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Hurricane Harvey © Eric V. Overton

August 31, 2017 20:08 EDT

Only about half of Americans believe human activity causes climate change, and their lack of knowledge contributes to a situation where the historically largest carbon emitter fails to show climate leadership. 

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, delivering 40 to 60 inches of rain in some parts, even before its current and second landfall. We are devastated to see the struggle in our fourth biggest city and other towns for safety and access to drinking water, food and shelter. We are disturbed by the plight of more American climate refugees. But so too are we are heartened by stories of selflessness and courage and the organizing for those in need (like the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund).

Critically, we see this as a moment for clarity, anger and action.

Let us be clear: This storm was made worse by climate change, as have been so many other extreme events. And calling climate change a hoax (whether in jest) and otherwise dismissing man-made climate change threatens the beliefs — and preparedness — necessary to ensure our survival.

Let us be clear: Big oil, and those of us who depend on it, don’t win in a world of climate devastation. (Harvey knocked out a significant part of American refining capacity, and gas prices are expected to soar.)

Let us be clear: We’re all in this together, as illustrated by the two senators who voted against Hurricane Sandy funding but now seek emergency support for their own state.

Let us be clear: Those historically discriminated against and the poor are suffering more today, although every demographic suffers from catastrophic loss.

Let us be clear: Erasing climate change from the government website, grants and jobs; withdrawing from the Paris Accord; and building pipelines in no way prepares us for a phenomenon poised to cause more suffering than any other in human history.

Let us be clear: The worst — and costliest — American natural disaster is being described as impossible to prepare for. Yet “in a single year, Houston, Texas was hit by two 1-in-500-year floods and a 1-in-1000-year downpour” (from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, pre-Harvey). Climate change brings an endless flow of “improbable” events that deeply challenge our individual and collective capacity to cope.

Let us be clear: Such extreme events will result in mass migration. In Syria, 1.5 million people were displaced through climate-related drought, a principle cause of the civil war that has now displaced half the country.

Let us be clear: The US media will move on. But this will take — just as it did with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — years to rebuild, with many losing homes and lives built through decades of arduous work.

Let us be clear: Cutting taxes for the rich, while expanding the military and cutting the budget leaves us unprepared to take care of those at home.

And let us be clear: In the midst of pain and the compassion that swirl around us, so too do we feel anger.

We feel anger that crises that could have been averted through a much smaller correction — of course decades ago — has been allowed to linger through tactics of delay and obfuscation similar to those used in by other harmful industries, but with more terrifying consequences.

We feel anger because the confusion and defunding over science and the environment is deeply disrespectful to our fellow citizens. “Look,” it says, “how little your lives, your homes, and your communities are worth to us.”

We feel anger as we especially abandon the disenfranchised in a land of equality, equal rights and refuge for the “poor huddled masses.”

We feel anger because, again, we hear (and half of Americans believe) man-made climate change is not an issue. Ironically, they’re right. It’s a superfactor shaping every outcome of grave importance to humanity: food availability, war, disease, and the creation and plight of refugees.

We feel anger that an aggressive and proper response is called “politicization,” even as its lack would be an abdication of our moral responsibility to care for our fellow Americans.

As we struggle to make sense of the unfolding tragedy and to chart our course, we must act.

We must act to mitigate the climate crises.

We must act to create a boon of renewable energy jobs, a huge opportunity when our most basic right — to work for livable wages — is under great threat.

We must act to create a world of sustainability that will put at our core what our religion and our moral compass tell us to: our children, families, communities, friends and world.

We must act not out of regret for the past, but to reclaim our future.

We must act because, while much later than it should be, it is still not too late to champion a path that shows we can put America — and the world — first.

We must lead even as one more reminder rings out about our interconnection and joint fate.

We must respect the science and reality at the base of the real news that now floods our screens.

We must realize we are no longer powerless to understand the world’s greatest challenge, but empowered to tackle it.

We must — and we will — save ourselves and our world.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Eric V. Overton /

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