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Hurricane Harvey, Climate Change Denialists and the Wrath of the Right

Photo by Zachary West | CC BY 2.0

Natural disasters that are exacerbated by industrialization really bring out the best in people. Especially climate change denialists.

As the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast drowned in the floods of Hurricane Harvey, Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe in hopes of capturing higher ratings and Ann Coulter, who needs no introduction, took to her Twitter account to express sympathy for the victims. Okay, of course she didn’t, instead the Queen of Darkness blasted out that God’s hatred of homosexuality is more credible than climate science.

What does Coulter believe then? That Harvey is nothing new? Actually, it is, no matter what Coulter tweets. Harvey is now the heaviest rainstorm in US history and was made worse by our warming climate. There’s little scientific doubt about it. As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and many others point out, as the world warms, evaporation of water increases, which means there is more water vapor in storms and more rain to dump compared to 70 years ago. In basic terms, warmer air is able to hold more water and hence more rainfall is likely to occur. Hurricane intensity in the future is predicted to increase as our climate warms.

The Gulf of Mexico’s surface temp increased almost 5 degrees Fahrenheit as Harvey was building last week. These waters, one of the warmest ocean surfaces on the planet at the time, along with warmer air temps, allowed Harvey to turn from a tropical storm into a cat 4 hurricane almost overnight. Even Coulter’s God couldn’t stop it.

Coulter and her fans probably wouldn’t want the floods to dry up anyway, because when crisis hits there is money to be made and victims to rip off. As Ken Klippenstein first reported, a Best Buy in Cypress, an unincorporated suburb of Houston in Harris County, began selling packs of bottled water for $42.96. Best Buy later apologized in response to the report, but the Texas AG’s office as of August 29 had received over 550 consumer complaints of price gouging. It’s safe to say Best Buy is just the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, disaster capitalism is the least of concerns for many Houston residents that are losing everything. Survival is their most pressing struggle. As the flood waters recede, far more deaths will likely be recorded — more victims of capitalism and carbon. Sadly it’s a trend that’s going to continue.

No doubt the worse is yet to come for Houston and the surrounding area, even when the rains end. ExxonMobil admits that Harvey has caused damage to two of its massive Houston refineries, releasing hazardous pollutants. The company’s Beaumont refinery, which is the second largest in the country, released at least 1,312.84 pounds of sulfur dioxide after Harvey hit. Many other chemicals also leaked when the sites were forced to shut down. These refineries sit in largely poor, minority neighborhoods that have long been victims of environmental racism — injustices that will continue unabated if Donald Trump has his way and destroys what’s left of the EPA’s Environmental Justice Program.

“Any release of carcinogens (like benzene, 1,3-butadiene) adds to the increased cancer risk for those living near these plants,” said Luke Metzger, director of the group Environment Texas. “[Nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide] and other respiratory irritants adds to the respiratory problems people in the area suffer from at high rates.”

In short, Harvey is bad for Houston’s air too, especially for those that reside near these refineries.

There’s more. Harris County is home to a dozen federal Superfund sites, more than any county in the Lone Star State. Currently over 30% of the county is flooded and the EPA admits that as water levels rise, risk of contamination from the sites increase. A chemical plant in Crosby, southeast of Houston, is in meltdown mode. There have been reports of explosions at the plant that is six feet underwater. The facility produces peroxides, harsh compounds that are used in construction and pharmaceutical products. Inhaling fumes from the plant can be very dangerous and the EPA states that peroxides can cause skin and liver damage.

While the impacts of Hurricane Harvey are unprecedented in the US, these types of extreme storms are becoming the new norm, not only for the Gulf Coast, but for many areas of the globe. All the climate change skeptics, especially those with the power to regulate the oil, gas and coal industries, are certainly culpable in the death and destruction these events bring with them.

Right now in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, over 41 million people are being affected by massive, uncontrolled flooding. Over 1,200 have died thus far and millions more have been forced to flee their homes. These monsoon floods are unlike anything they’ve seen, and similar to Houston, are being made worse as temperatures around the world continue to rise.

It doesn’t really matter if Donald Trump believes global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese or if Coulter thinks God’s wrath is more legitimate than climate science. More and more people are finding out that shit’s getting very real and will only get worse as carbon and methane emissions increase in the years ahead.

Perhaps the silver-lining of the unfolding Texas catastrophe is that it will wake up a few climate change skeptics and transform them into advocates for a future free of fossil fuels.

One can hope, anyway, but I’m not holding my breath. I will leave that to all those still underwater in Houston.

If you have the means, please consider dropping a few bucks to help out the Houston Food Bank.

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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book, co-authored with Jeffrey St. Clair, is Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

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