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Breakwaters

SoVaNow.com / August 30, 2017
Horrifying as the images have been from Hurricane Harvey, it’s important to keep in mind that the miseries of the Gulf region are only just beginning. East Texas and Louisiana are now in the crosshairs of the tropical storm, much of Houston remains underwater, and we’re now starting to hear about secondary, potentially deadly impacts from Harvey, which landed at the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane and has dumped unprecedented rainfall over the region since. Say a prayer for the people of Texas; they surely need it.

Already, we’re hearing plenty about the ways in which we can all help the people of the Gulf region bounce back. Recovery will take years, obviously, and there will be many seemingly intractable hardships along the way. There’s a fine article at Slate.com by business reporter Daniel Gross (The U.S. Might Not Have Enough Construction Workers to Rebuild Houston After Harvey") about the difficulties that Houston will face once the floodwaters recede. Many local church mission groups and civic organizations are notable for sending construction crews to stricken places in the U.S. and around the world. Very soon, Texas and other areas will need all the help of this sort they can get.

Until then, one of the best ways to help is by giving cash. The American Red Cross is the obvious go-to provider of relief assistance, and you can donate at the website (http://www.redcross.org), via cellphone messaging (text 90999), or you can send a check to the local office at P.O. Box 1774, Halifax VA 24558. (Denote “disaster relief” on your checks.) Alternately, you may want to consider other, on-the-ground organizations: http://www.feedingtexas.org, which coordinates supplies for Texas community food banks, has a Donate To Hurricane Harvey flood relief link on its website. At http://www.gofundme.com/hurricaneharvey, the crowd-sourcing website has put together a curated list of verified campaigns that are providing disaster aid at the grassroots level. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, the Salvation Army, the United Way, major church associations — all are worthy of your charitable giving, and the list goes on and on. (The Texas Tribune has a good rundown of relief groups here.)

In the scramble to do everything possible to help folks in Texas and Louisiana get back on their feet, some of this relief money and effort will no doubt go to waste. And Harvey may yet have some surprises in store that could wipe out the initial burst of assistance — but an overabundance of early help is far preferable to none at all, so if you can, please give. If cash donations aren’t in the cards, you can send bottled water, toiletries, clothing and other needed items to the affected areas via God’s Pit Crew in Danville. There's more here on local groups that are pitching in to help.

***
My lone visit to Houston took place more than two decades ago, for the wedding of a college buddy. Great town, fun people. The weekend was pretty much what you’d expect: college friends reuniting over beers and too much ZZ Top, with marital rites thrown in the mix. I’ll spare you the details.

Even in the brief span of a weekend, however, one thing about Houston stood out: the crazy-quilt pattern — if pattern is a word you really want to use here — of its street-level development. Houston famously has no zoning. Cruising down the highways, the city’s anything-goes mindset was plain to see. Now, as Houston wallows underwater, the wages of this disdain for urban planning and regulated growth are equally plain to see.

So, too, is the impact of global warming on the intensity of deadly storms such as Harvey. Yes, I know: Here we go again. More argumentative heave-hoeing on the validity of human-caused climate change — yippee! So be it. On one side of this debate you have virtually all of the world’s scientists, and on the other you have right-wing politicians, fossil fuel industry denialists and gullible fellow travelers who would take our understanding of the natural world back to the times before the Enlightenment. This ought to be a ridiculous mismatch — empirical science versus ignorant, self-interested bullspit — but somehow it’s not. History will long note those who sided with the forces of greed and deceit.

If you’re like me, you’re probably stuck between being transfixed by the news of Harvey and not having nearly the time to take in all there is to know about the storm. The New York Times has done stellar work throughout the crisis (their climate desk is one of the best things going in the day-to-day journalistic world) and Texas and Louisiana newspapers have distinguished themselves with their stalwart coverage of the hurricane’s impact. (The aforementioned Texas Tribune has an almost unbelievable number of stories up on their homepage.) Last year, the Tribune and ProPublica collaborated on“Hell and High Water,” a deeply-researched series on Houston’s vulnerability to floodwaters that I hope to read through in its entirety when I get the time. Climate writer Joe Romm, who does a terrific job blogging at ThinkProgress.com, also is worth the time to read. He offers a characteristically sharp description of climate change’s relationship to Hurricane Harvey. Some excerpts:

Like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace. Global warming is juicing storms — a key reason Harvey is the second 1-in-500-year superstorm in 16 years (and fourth 100-year rainstorm since spring 2017). And like a baseball player on steroids, it’s the wrong question to ask whether any given home run is “caused” by steroids.

Every stage of Harvey — the rapid intensification that makes for a forecasting nightmare, the brutal storm surge, and the unprecedented rainfall — were worsened by global warming. In fact, there’s been so much rain, the National Weather Service had to update their color maps to cover it all ….

While we aren’t seeing more total hurricanes, we are seeing more of the Category 4 or 5 super-hurricanes, the ones that historically have done the most damage and destroyed entire coastal cities. We’re also seeing a sharp rise in the most damaging storm surges, whereby even a Category 1 hurricane (such as Sandy) can cause unprecedented damage.

On our current path of unrestricted carbon pollution, NOAA researchers have determined that parts of the East Coast would see Sandy-level storm surges every year by mid-century.


Go read the entire thing at thinkprogress.org.

Finally, another notable climate writer is David Roberts, who has a new piece up at Vox.com (“Climate change did not ‘cause’ Harvey, but it’s a huge part of the story,” Aug. 29.) I was taken by this snippet from Roberts’ piece, attributed to an Obama Administration official, on our choices in dealing with the challenges of climate change: “We will end up with some mix of prevention, adaptation, and suffering; it is for us to determine the ratio.”

Indeed it is. And how we should choose among those options is definitely a question that should loom over the United States as we witness the epic destruction in the Gulf region in the days and weeks to come. Say your prayers, and think about the choices that lie before us as a people and a nation.



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