Houston, Harvey and Climate Change

Analysis by Reporting San Diego. 

August 28, 2017 (San Diego) it is time for state and federal officials who still have doubts to see the light. Climate change is not a hoax. It is scientific fact. How many times do we need to hear the words “unprecedented event” before it sinks in? We did during Katrina. That was ten years ago. That was also described a 1000 year event. Like Harvey, Katrina strengthened before landfall because it went over unusually warm ocean water. All this was predicted by scientists who have studied the trends for decades. We know that the whole Gulf Coast is under threat from rising sea levels. Houston had two 100 year events in the last 5 years.  These individually do not mean much. It is the aggregate over the last few decades. The science has predicted much of the worsening storms and it is clear in reports from the United Nations, as well as American scientists 

Storms that are stronger were predicted by the science. They are not just an American issue.  Super Typhoon Haiyan was one of the stringers typhoons on record,  Then there are the floods in Mexico, like the 2013 one around the river Usumacinta in Tabasco.  that was very damaging. So were the severe droughts we have experienced in the recent past. The heatwaves that we are experiencing, are part of it as well as more severe wild fires. Schools let out early because of the heat in San Diego. San Diego incidentally used to have dry heat. This is just one local example. And we are also experiencing far more extreme heat days than we used to. Just this year we have experienced as least two severe heatwaves. The other was in June.

We know wilfires are more severe as well. 

We know President Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax. A week before Harvey, he rolled back a series of regulations mandating that ocean rise should be taken under account when building, as well as climate change. The New York Times reported this.

The Obama-era rule gave federal agencies three options to flood-proof new infrastructure projects. They could use the best available climate change science; they could require that standard projects like roads and railways be built two feet above the national 100-year flood elevation standard and critical buildings like hospitals be built three feet higher; or they could require infrastructure to be built to at least the 500-year flood plain. The order did not regulate private development.

Representative  Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, a Republican who sponsored legislation that would have blocked Mr. Obama’s flood standard, said he was thrilled by Mr. Trump’s decision. He acknowledged that Louisiana was inundated with catastrophic flooding last year, but called it an isolated event. The bigger threat, he said, is from costly regulations.

He estimated the rule would have increased the cost of a new home by 25 percent to 30 percent in Louisiana because most of the state would be put in a federal flood plain

Mitigation does cost money. There is no way around it. The cost of not doing mitigation is precisely what we saw in Katrina, what we saw during Sandy and right now. It is met in lives lost and infrastructure destroyed. It is actually more expensive. The cost to the national economy during Katrina was measurable, as in $250 billion. This will cost the nation as well. 

Pro-Pública ran a story last year predicting what is happening right now, it was predicated on low regulations and no mitigation. Mitigation is far less expensive than what is happening right now, long term. 

They write that these warnings started en force, from experts, after Ike missed the city. 

Many hoped Hurricane Ike’s near miss in 2008 would spur action to protect the region. Scientists created elaborate computer models depicting what Ike could have been, as well as the damage that could be wrought by a variety of other potent hurricanes, showing — down to the specific neighborhood and industrial plant — how bad things could get.

Yes, people are responding, both professional and volunteer. The Red Cross is raising funds. We are starting to see offers, like we did with Katrina and ended up accepting, of foreign aid. Long term the name of the game is mitigation. It is also realizing this is climate change planning has to be done. 

As to Houston authorities not ordering a mandatory evacuation, part of it is our collective denial that these disasters are going to be both more frequent and more destructive. This is also part of the mitigation, as disaster planning cannot happen with the what happened in the past model. Houston had two 100 year flood events in the last five years. That alone should have been a hint that this had potential to be far, far worst. However, this is a lesson for the future. 20-20 quarterbacking, in the safety of my home is easy to do. So I will not. 

They were also using the experience from Rita when people died on the road, and in the end it wasn’t that bad in Houston 

Planners at all levels need to take into account the worst case scenario and them add some. This may very well include not rebuilding some areas during the recovery phase, and changing how others are rebuilt. Yes, regulations will need to happen. Because those could help us to avoid the worst of it. 

This daily tour through the book of revelations, to use former Vice President Al Gore’s words will continue.  This is why we need to do the work needed to mitigate climate change. This should end the debate. We are aware that it will not. 

Added more  information 

Categories: Climate Change, Harvey, Mitigation, Disaster Response, Foreign Affairs

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