Texas has never seen anything like Hurricane Harvey, according to FEMA administrator Brock Long. Nor, for that matter, has any other state.
“This is a landmark event,” Long said. “We have not seen an event like this. You could not dream this forecast up.”
Half of the rainfall Houston usually gets in a year has fallen in the last couple of days, and the other half is on its way. You’ve seen the images of stranded nursing home patients chest-deep in water, and with anxiety continuing to rise, Clyde Cain of the Louisiana-based rescue outfit Cajun Navy told CNN, “We have boats being shot at if we’re not picking everybody up. We’re dropping an airboat right now to go rescue a couple of our boats that broke, and they’re kind of under attack.”
On the ground — or what used to be ground — it’s right that, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “all of our attention is focused on saving lives.” (And there will be many fewer lives in danger because the Houston mayor essentially countermanded Abbott’s panicked advice to evacuate the fourth-largest city in the country.)
The many who have risked their own safety to bail out neighbors, the governor said, show “what Texas is all about.” The rest of us will pitch in any way we can, too, and show what our country is all about.
But with extreme weather events occurring ever more frequently across the globe, we can no longer afford to pretend that “never before” won’t become the new normal.
Or feign surprise at the wildfires raging in Greenland — yes, Greenland — this month, or the record droughts in a number of countries, or the third straight year of record global heat. Global average carbon dioxide concentrations have now exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 800,000 years.
And instead of simply doing away with references to “climate change,” as the Trump administration is doing, we have to reverse course and address the effects that climate change is having right here and right now.
Vernon Loeb, the managing editor of the Houston Chronicle, posted this account on his Facebook page Monday morning: “The work week dawns in Houston, 600 square miles of concrete poured on the prairie hit by a storm the likes of which America has never seen before. Bush airport recorded 16 inches of rain yesterday, twice the record. Many parts of Houston got more than 30 inches over the weekend. And as the rain lets up today, we’re going to be inundated by rivers and bayous overflowing their banks.
“The political blame game has begun, of course. But nothing could have been done with this much rain. What we’re really looking at here are the effects of climate change — a hotter planet with much more extreme weather events. … A National Weather Service meteorologist has used the words unprecedented, catastrophic and epic to describe this.”
Harvey is also just the beginning, and the most compassionate thing we can do in the wake of this disaster is to recognize that reality.