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:

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail