FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When the Rains Came to Houston

by

Photo by The National Guard | CC BY 2.0

Harvey continues to strike my city, making swaths of the metropolitan area uninhabitable. I write this from far away in North Carolina, talking to everyone I know daily, sometimes hourly to make sure they are safe. My heart beats for the H. I was born and raised on the Southwest side, from Mission West where I started in pampers to them suburbs in Katy where I finished high school. I got connections all over, from the Woodlands in the North to Third Ward in the center, even all the way off to Galveston Island. When I say home, that’s where my mind goes, the images home propagates in my head. I write with tears in my eyes for the city I love.

When this storm finally stops, upwards of 50 inches of rain will have fallen. To put this in perspective, Houston gets 50 inches of rain annually. So, in one week, the city will be hit with its annual rainfall. Scientists are saying it is a once-in-500-years flood, and that even in some places, if they get 60 inches of water, a once-in-a-million years event. It is hard not to see the connection between the increasing frequency of these flooding events and anthropogenic climate change. According to the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change, while some places in the globe are experiencing more severe droughts, Houston is seeing more and more precipitation. As the IPCC states, “Basic theory, climate model simulations and empirical evidence all confirm that warmer climates, owing to increased water vapour, lead to more intense precipitation events even when the total annual precipitation is reduced slightly, and with prospects for even stronger events when the overall precipitation amounts increase.” In layman’s terms, as it gets hotter the rains get stronger.

Yet, President Trump declares climate change a hoax, and his administration rolls back key regulations that would help to ameliorate its effects. Reuters reports on August 15th, 2017, the Trump Administration “rolled back rules regarding environmental reviews and restrictions on government-funded building projects in flood-prone areas as part of his proposal to spend $1 trillion to fix aging U.S. infrastructure.” Considering the events ongoing in Houston, such as the Tax Day flood of 2016 or the Memorial Day flood of 2015, why would the Administration slash “an Obama-era executive order aimed at reducing exposure to flooding, sea level rise and other consequences of climate change”? It is as if the Trump Administration is actively working to make damage from anthropogenic climate change even worse. In both prior cases of flooding, major flooding occurred that led to upwards of half a billion dollars in damage.

The Trump Administration is not alone in enacting foolish policy concerning ecology and development. Harvey’s destruction is really a play with many actors that make its impact even worse. The city is already prone to flooding, compounded by developer greed. ProPublica and Texas Tribune report that “local officials have largely rejected stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over acres of prairie land that once absorbed large amounts of rainwater.” Such greed-driven insanity is the norm across the country. Jason Allen, a doctoral student in sociology at North Carolina State University, finds that in North Carolina, the Coastal Resource Commission panel charged with enacting policy to mitigate sea-level rise, instead actively pursued policies for economic development. People’s lives are ruined, but this is unimportant to the short-term interests of profit-maximization.

And what is the level of destruction? Well, Harvey is throwing off tornados in Cypress, Sugar Land, Needville, and the tornado watches and warnings continued through Saturday night into Sunday morning. Those tornadoes damaged 50 homes in Sienna Plantation, and even more homes on the Northwest side. As Sunday goes on, tornado warnings continue throughout the city and surrounding area. People are constantly having to huddle in fear, wondering when it will stop, when Nature will decide to finally move on.

Schools are closed, hospitals are re-scheduling surgeries, nursing homes evacuated, the Medical Center is flooding, Ben Taub hospital is being evacuated, prisoners are being evacuated, and the emergency continues unabated. The death toll is now at six, and sure to rise. As I write this, Buffalo Bayou is going to swallow bridges in Downtown Houston. George R. Brown Convention Center has been turned into a shelter, as have many other places. ABC-13 is maintaining a list that people can use to find places if they need to evacuate. The list shifts, as places that were shelters are themselves flooded as the rain continues.

As with all things in a grotesquely unequal society, the poor and People of Color will bear the brunt of the cost. Only around 15 to 20 percent have flood insurance, which means many people will be without a home and stuck with mortgages that they will be forced to pay for a shelter that no longer exists. People will lose their jobs as places of work are left in shambles. Going forward things will be even worse as the Federal Government looks to push more and more of the cost for these disasters onto already cash-starved municipalities and states. Tie this into Trump’s proposed cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program, and we have a recipe for even more disasters. Don’t think that a privatized infrastructure plan will resolve any of this either, instead it will be like pigs feeding at a trough of public money.

I remember Tropical Storm Allison’s flood in 2001. The rain just never stopped, it just kept coming over days. I was 13 at the time. The city was submerged, and even after that, no real adjustments have been made. If anything, as ProPublica and Texas Tribune report, the situation has been made worse. That means within two decades, the city has been submerged in water four times, including Harvey, with no actual plan to address the causes. Texas overall leads the country in floods, and yet nothing. The city and state are woefully underprepared for these natural disasters.

There is a bleak, sardonic irony that Houston, an oil refining capital, would be visited with such destructive furor by Nature. The same fossil fuels that have powered the city’s economy, are also increasing the temperature. Increasing the temperature leads to heavier rain fall. The same economy built on oil pushed development that paved the city’s prairie’s making it more difficult to absorb water. All of our actions have ecological consequences, and flooding is the consequence for Houston. These things are inextricably linked, and in our hubris we ignore them. As storms continue to increase in potency due to anthropogenic climate change, these scenes, as if written by Noah, will continue to happen. For now, we must come together. If you can volunteer, do so. Do anything you can to help Houston, Corpus Christi, Rockport, and all communities along the Texas Gulf Coast.

More articles by:

Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail