Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

It is a Human-Caused Disaster and It is Avoidable

Photo by The National Guard | CC BY 2.0

When Donald Trump heads to Texas for his photo ops this week it is a completely selfish act. It is the same after every disaster and it reflects a real bifurcation between expertise on disasters and political expedience. Harvey is no different than Katrina or Sandy in that regard.George W. Bush and Barack Obama both had their pictures taken, and there are many lessons. Trump is aware of the clear lesson: stay away. He has even pledged to hold off until that trip can be made without causing disruption in the wake of the Hurricane, but he won’t wait.

Presidential visits can divert critical resources. Trump, for example, has maxed out the Secret Service budget for the year already. Security details are only part of it and, on the whole, such visits require significant logistical planning during normal events and times. In the wake of a disaster, however, resources for the visit are pulled from other details, sometimes life and death operations. George W. Bush identified mistakes he made, and he avoided visiting too early during the aftermath of Katrina because he didn’t want to cause disruptionsBarack Obama applied these lessons in the days following Sandy. Flyovers are effective, they don’t require the volume of resources, but they don’t produce the pictures. Politicians crave the boots-on-the-ground photo with the destruction in the background.

This is just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg. A Trump visit will likely pull money from relief efforts during the time when it is most needed. Houston is literally underwater and thousands are stranded. Every detail taken from rescue efforts could be thought of in terms of families saved; delays have real consequences. There are many human-caused details, the underfunding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is another unforgivable exampleTrump wants to significantly cut funding. The adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure is very true in disasters, FEMA already has to divert funds and billion dollar disasters have increased 5% per year since 1980 but the budget has not.

Expertise on disaster management is very clear. The four most important, and controllable, details are the availability and mobilization of resources, the robustness of system strength, the redundancy of alternatives, and the rapidity of responses. Failure in any of these areas can have significant consequences. One example is the so-called snow-pocalypse that Atlanta experienced in January 2014. Two inches of snow rarely create total dysfunction, the $25 million in damages was only part of the problem, officials gambled and failed.

Another persistent truth, Atlanta 2014 or Houston 2017 or New Orleans 2005, is that disasters disproportionately impact the poor. This echoes my personal experience and observations of disasters in Sri Lanka and Haiti, but you’d expect better from a superpower than a third world country. We place large, poor, populations in flood plains and tornado alleys without effective building practicesThis is true in many U.S. citiesIt is predictable, the property values are lower. Dams and other features of infrastructure do not receive the same allocations in poor areasand infrastructure is generally failing. This is entirely human error.

It is the same with evacuations, how many busloads do you imagine are needed to evacuate those without cars in the 4th largest U.S. city? The Texas Tribune reported the State had “41,000 shelter beds available for evacuees and more than 200 buses available to transport Texans out of coastal areas such as Corpus Christi.” With 2.3 million people in Houston alone, that almost helps 2 percent of the population—that isn’t even enough to help the unemployed families. It is clear and willful neglect.

The biggest problem continues to be human caused global warming. The trend in the increase in temperatures is the same as the science that predicted the eclipse millions of people recently enjoyed. There is virtually unanimous consensus, and the conclusions are clear. The frequency and intensity of these weather events will continue to increase. There is no ambiguity in the science: an increase in temperature causes an increase in water in the atmosphere, an increase in the sea surface temperature combined with increased atmospheric water equals stronger tropical storms.

The U.S. is strong and will weather storms but we need to let this be a wake-up call. Where the poorest are hurt the most, this is the global tendency as well. Countries like Bangladesh, which has a negligible impact on global greenhouse gas concentrations, increasingly struggles with the impacts global warming is having on rainfall patternsThey experience more sporadic, but intense, rainfall. This contributes to the almost annual occurrence of extreme flooding, but also drought conditions. What would have, historically, been light rain dropping 12 inches over a week now happens in an 8-hour monsoon. Record temperatures and arctic ice melt have not catalyzed enough of a response but something needs to. Some of the 30,000 children who die of starvation and malnutrition every day live in areas that were fully self sustaining in recent decades but haven’t survived the droughts induced by climate change.

Hurricanes are as predictable as presidential photo ops, and they both have warnings; Trump knows that he should stay at home, and we know that we are causing climate change. I have a feeling that we’ll see captions about the suit or Texas cowboy hat he wears in the photos long before we call these human-caused-disasters by name. If we don’t take responsibility things will only get worse.

More articles by:
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail