Hurricane Harvey: The Climate 9/11

We will never forget.

August 25, 2017–the day Hurricane Harvey hit Texas–will be remembered as a day of infamy and injustice. The horror America experienced that day–and in the days afterward–will be remembered for generations to come. The anger Americans justifiably feel towards those who ignored the advanced warnings of this crisis will never subside.

We knew this day would come. We had been warned about it for years. Lyndon Johnson warned us. Jimmy Carter warned us. George H. W. Bush warned us. Bill Clinton warned us. Even though he did virtually nothing about it, even George W. Bush warned us. And of course, Barack Obama warned us.

Six Presidents knew what was coming. Sadly, their warnings were ignored. The warnings of climate scientists such as James Hansen and Michael Mann were ignored. The warnings of business and military leaders were ignored. Even the warnings of conservative economists were ignored.

When warnings are ignored, peril always follows. George W. Bush ignored that August 6, 2001 memo warning him that Osama bin Laden was determined to violently strike the United States. For decades, we ignored the warnings that the consequences of carbon pollution would violently strike the United States–even after Hurricane Katrina, even after Superstorm Sandy.

No longer. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey–in the aftermath of this death and chaos–we are all climate hawks now. We are all woke now.

Denial was the first casualty of Harvey. Yes, the fossil-fuel-funded fools will still show up on Fox News to shuck and jive for the Koch Brothers and all the others, but no one with any common sense will listen to them.

Harvey has inflicted psychological shock upon this country–yes, the same sort of psychological shock we experienced after September 11, 2001, though for obviously different reasons. This time, as Walt Kelly famously put it, we have met the enemy and he is us–“us” being the savage fossil-fuel industry and the politicians that industry purchased.

Former Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman nailed it going away a decade ago:

By every measure, the U N ‘s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises the level of alarm. The fact of global warming is “unequivocal.” The certainty of the human role is now somewhere over 90 percent. Which is about as certain as scientists ever get.

I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.

As I noted last week, Harvey has deprived Republicans of excuses for inaction on climate. It was easy for them not to care when it was just the polar bear. It was easy for them to ignore rising seas when the victims were overseas. Now, just as right-wingers could no longer ignore the insanity of the “War on Drugs” once the victims of that quagmire became suburban as well as urban, so too can the right no longer turn a blind eye, a deaf ear and a cold heart to the reality of human-caused climate change, now that their own voters are facing execution at the hands of carbon pollution.

There is no hiding place for the right. As The Police said four decades ago, truth hits everybody–and the inconvenient truth of the climate crisis is hitting Republicans hard. Al Gore wasn’t lying when he said the planet had a fever. Now, Republicans will inevitably have to swallow some bitter medicine–acknowledging that they were wrong to deny the science and recognizing the need to implement “market-based” steps to reduce emissions (presumably, the only steps they’d ever be willing to take).

For Republicans, this is a new time for choosing. 53 years after their hero Ronald Reagan’s speech, they once again have a rendezvous with destiny. Now, they have to ask themselves the same question Reagan posed (under obviously different circumstances): will they preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or will they sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.