The United States is facing one of the worst hurricane seasons it has had in decades. With the triple threat of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria (with Jose on the way as well,) damage levels are already stacking into the billions. Even now, Puerto Rico’s power grid has been decimated, and thousands are in need, while Trump bumbles into an argument with the NFL.
Half of the problem is the complete denial of a problem on one side of the political spectrum. Every time a natural disaster hits, Republicans come out of the woodwork to somehow defend what has happened, either by saying that climate change activists “shouldn’t politicize a tragedy” or outlandish claims like “Houston’s first lesbian mayor caused flooding, not climate change”
These tactics, however, betray their hidden nature. Acknowledging that climate change is a real threat to our world would mean a response must be made. And it would become clear, as it has been for decades, that private industry must be regulated to save our planet, which is just too much interference for small-government big-business types. They’d rather watch the world drown, and count their billions until breathable air becomes more valuable than gold.
Let’s examine Exxon Mobil: they conducted state of the art research on anthropogenic climate change, which confirmed that humanity was causing destabilization of our climate, and proceeded to do nothing to warn us, even going so far as to attack researchers and scientists that came to the same conclusions. It’s the same tactics cigarette companies employed when they discovered their products were undeniably linked to cancer and lung disease. Public messaging is turning from corporate talking points on the issue, and they’re afraid.
This hurricane season will not be the last to devastate our coasts, and by taking a look at the damages caused to Houston, Texas, it is clear that our cities are woefully unprepared for the coming storm. Numerous experts have made reports stating that over development and under-regulation made for poor urban design in Houston, which allowed Harvey’s unprecedented flooding to wreak havoc on the city. Since 2001, Houston’s population increased by 23%, and over 360,000 new buildings were constructed. The Houston metro area is now larger than the state of New Jersey.
Not only that, but Houston lacks almost any zoning law, which is incredibly dangerous for a city sitting on a floodplain. Thousands of buildings were constructed in flood-prone areas without following proper storm safety protocol due to lack of basic standards. Because of this, the region lost vital wetlands and prairie that previously held back strong floods. A Texas A&M study discussed the growing threat of flooding to Houston, which has lost over 30% of its wetlands since 1992. “Loss of wetlands on this scale means a substantial loss in the ability of the landscape to detain and remove pollutants from stormwater,” the report warned. “The results are increased flooding and degraded fishing grounds in downstream bayous and marshes.”
The unchecked growth in Houston has led to real consequences for its environment and its people. Houston is one of the largest cities in Texas, and the fourth largest city in America. We need to confront the issues at hand: our wanton disregard for our environment, unregulated development driven by greed, and urban sprawl driven by unsustainable growth. We can no longer say that we haven’t been warned, the time to act is now, before our fate has become written in stone.