Houston Is A Lesson

Let me start this post with the caveat that the massive Houston flooding is a tragic humanitarian crisis and the pain, suffering and property damage occurring in the nation’s fourth-large city transcends anyone’s immediate personal political views right now.

Having said that I don’t think it’s unreasonable as the nation’s attention is riveted on the daily images of the tragedy to simply observe that conservative ideology—the embrace of fossil fuels, the denial of global warming, the promotion of urban sprawl and the dismissal of regulations, for example—is the overall and underlying cause of the disaster.

I recognize that some people will think it’s wrong to politicize the ongoing crisis as the death toll mounts, but I believe now is exactly the time for people to take a logical and reasonable look at how it all happened. If not now, then when? My argument isn’t given in an I-told-you-so spirit or as way to try to turn Texas into a blue state, if that’s even possible, but the flooding in Houston needs to serve as a wake-up call for both conservatives and liberals in a way that didn’t really happen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Fossil Fuels. Is there any place in the world, with the exception maybe of the Middle East, that symbolizes the world’s addiction to fossil fuels than Texas? The “drill, baby, drill” philosophy, a tenet of the conservative agenda, has created the need for machines—cars, trucks, etc.—that burn the fuels, which then releases carbon into the air. Texas, an extremely conservative state with the exception of Austin, and Houston itself are at the epicenter of fossil fuel adoration at the expense of public transportation. This accelerates global warming, which intensifies major weather events. (I address this later.) It also contributes to sprawling cities like Houston in which just about everyone 16 or over is driving on roads that cannot absorb water, leading to water runoffs and overburdened stormwater management systems.

Global Warming. I believe there’s a direct link between the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey and global warming. As NOAA has pointed out, 2016 was the hottest year on record. Warming seas because of global warming help create storms that carry tremendous amounts of moisture. The fact that a hurricane struck Houston is not unusual. It was the amount of water in the storm that is unusual. I realize one must also use the caveat that any single weather event can’t be tied to global warming, but how much more evidence do we need from the scientific community before conservatives will accept that global warming is a fact, not an argument. Hurricane Harvey should be addressed immediately as a likely result of climate change. Yet some prominent conservatives, such as Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, still call climate change a liberal “hoax.” Let’s stop the false equivalences. Global warming is a scientific fact that most likely increased the moisture levels of Hurricane Harvey. Which city will be next?

Urban Sprawl. The white flight from our nation’s larger cities in the 1960s and 1970s was primarily a racist movement helped along by conservative ideology. We have seen this racism appear openly again under the Donald Trump regime, which has emboldened white supremacists. White flight also created urban sprawl, which does two things that undoubtedly contributed to the disaster of Hurricane Harvey. It put more cars on the road that burn gasoline and it created more pavement. Fossil fuels helped create urban sprawl. They have a symbiotic relationship. As I stated earlier, carbon emissions from cars accelerate global warming increasing the severity of weather events, and cities built around the automobile lack sufficient green space to absorb water.

Weak Regulations. Another tenet of conservative ideology is that our country is over regulated. We’ve heard the mantra over and over from Republicans for decades. In fact, Trump just signed an executive order ending new regulations that hadn’t gone into effect yet that would have made the federal government consider flooding risks when helping to rebuild after disasters. Houston is notorious for its lack of zoning laws and its massive developments, both based on conservative principles. A better designed city, taking into account existing wetlands as a way to help control water, would undoubtedly have mitigated the damage caused by Harvey.

All of this is not new information and each component is simply indisputable. Under the rubric of conservatives principles, Houston became a major city in the world. Yet those same principles have now led to a disaster that will take years to overcome, and it’s doubtful Houston will ever overcome it entirely, at least in this generation. Once the rain stops, for example, where is everyone going to live? Expect a mass exodus greater than what happened after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Could this be perhaps the largest population displacement in the history of the country?

What needs to happen after Harvey is that more people need to support the development of public transportation, renewable, clean energy sources, efforts to combat global warming by reducing carbon emission, laws and incentives that decrease, not increase, urban sprawl and tougher regulations dealing with building near coastal areas.

It’s just a fact that basic prevailing conservative political ideology stands against this sensible logic.

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