Post-Harvey, Renewed Debate over Climate Change and the Politics of Natural Disaster

Post-Harvey, Renewed Debate over Climate Change and the Politics of Natural Disaster

Responding to the nation's worst natural disaster in a critical Red state could force Trump to abandon some of his ideological predilections.

Hurricane Harvey is barely a week old but what’s shaping up as the nation’s worst natural disaster ever is generating important policy debate — and could also present new challenges to Donald Trump and the GOP.

One of those debates concerns climate change.  Some scientists believe that global warming has helped to fuel – or at least to worsen — hurricanes and tropical storms for decades.  The issue was fiercely debated – inconclusively — in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.   It arose again in 2012, when Super Storm Sandy failed to head out to sea, as predicted, and then devastated New Jersey.

But now scientists say they have the tools and technology to put the hypothesized relationship to a real test and to arrive at a statistically defensible conclusion.  That’s likely to be bad news for climate “deniers.”

Some leading climate scientists, like Penn State’s Michael Mann, have already weighed in.  “Climate change has worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey,” Mann declared in a widely-circulated Facebook post.

In a more recent op-ed, the managing editor of the Houston Chronicle concurred, noting:  “It’s clearly too late to stop the Category 4 hurricane that led to the millennial flooding in Houston. But it may not be too late to save the planet if we heed Harvey’s hard lesson here in Texas.”

Predictably, Harvey is also generating fresh debate about the politics of disaster preparedness.  During Katrina, New Orleans’ vaunted levees didn’t hold, and a far less powerful storm compared to Harvey ended up triggering devastation from which the city may never fully recover.  Nearly 2,000 people died.  Moreover, Katrina’s disproportionate impact on poorer Black residents in the flat lands exposed the profound social and economic inequalities that still characterize urban life, especially in the South.

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