Re Harvey, Irma, et al: Mourn First, Then Organize

[Note: This entry may undergo some changes in the coming days.—dbc, 8 September 2017]

On behalf of myself and the Harris County Green Party, I would like to apologize for being late to the post-hurricane party. Every group with a web presence, in Southeast Texas and elsewhere, political and otherwise, has posted condolences to the millions affected. Several of us have been busy creating yard sculptures made from waterlogged furnishings and trash bags stuffed with moldering possessions, whether our own or those of friends and relatives.

On a personal note, I have wanted to write something on this site for more than a week, but I have been busy—helping others when I could, just surviving otherwise—and more than a little emotionally overwhelmed.

At least our state co-chair Wes Gaige has posted something to point people toward hurricane relief.

Now that the rivers and bayous are mostly back within their natural banks, while Hurricane Irma thrashes the Caribbean and bears down on Florida, it is fitting that one of our group post something here. In keeping with Green traditions, it will not be just the usual "thoughts & prayers are with you" platitudes. It will be about continuing problems and too-long-deferred solutions.

Feeling the Pain, Hailing the People

Some HCGP members, including county and state Green Party treasurer David Wager, are among the millions who experienced floodwaters in their homes, seen their vehicles drowned, lost time at work or even lost jobs. As far as we know, none of our active members lost loved ones, although some had to have elderly relatives rescued. So we know first-hand the suffering that continues and will haunt this area for decades to come. Gulf Coast residents have long memories when it comes to major storms.

Beyond sympathy, HCGP applauds the efforts of everyday people to minimize their neighbors' suffering, whether through donations and distribution of needed supplies, hands-on rescue efforts, or just helping people empty their homes. The region's altruistic response to the storm has been supremely encouraging (with some notable exceptions). As just one example, after Harvey left the area, Wager's block had hundreds of volunteers helping with the cleanup of inundated houses. Crews on bass boats rescued thousands of stranded residents. Encouraging as it might be, most folks would prefer not to have bayous flowing through their homes again, thanks.

Politicize Harvey? Yes, Let's!

Natural disasters are apolitical by nature. However, Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and other tomes, has given us political animals her blessing—and indeed has challenged us—to politicize this catastrophic series of events. We Greens would prefer not to grouse about how the two corporate parties have screwed the people, but...well, actually, it's kind of second nature to us, and it's the reason we're Greens in the first place.

While temporarily stranded in South Central Houston, on my own website I posted a blog entry lashing out at the fossil fuel industries and real estate developers who actually run things here.

Klein wrote about the Big Capital's response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina in The Shock Doctrine. As that storm illustrated vividly, who suffers the most during and after such disasters is often due to political decisions driven by economic interests. In this week's Act Out podcast, Eleanor Goldfield reminds us of Big Capital's crimes against humanity and their continued impact on the Big Easy a dozen years later.

Disasters of all kinds are ideal circumstances for predatory capitalists to descend on the affected areas and impose neo-liberal "solutions." In addition to helping friends and neighbors recover, we have the responsibility to stay vigilant against corporate takeovers of vital services, such as public education, public transit, and public utilities.

Post-Harvey, affluent Texans feeling Nature's wrath may have lost treasured possessions, but they have the resources to rebuild— e.g., flood insurance. That is not as true for those in working-class and poor neighborhoods. They cannot just run out to IKEA to replace their moldy sofas. On the Upper Texas Gulf Coast, adding salt to the wound, petrochemical and refining facilities are clustered near those low-income neighborhoods; these facilities leak and burn toxic chemicals, sometimes with explosions.

Curbing Sprawl

The poor have always suffered disproportionately from these storms. The difference with Harvey, as well as the spring flood events of 2015 and 2016, is that it hit some middle- and high-income neighborhoods hard. Perhaps now the flooded out well-to-do will join their voices with their poor brethren and compel policy makers to pay attention. All the recent exurban development west of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, and elsewhere, which have received blame for causing flooding where it had seldom flooded before, cannot be unbuilt (well, not legally).

Though its breakneck development culture and lax regulatory environment have been lauded for giving working people affordable housing—and thus a shot at the American dream—many experts and residents say that the developers’ encroachment into the wetlands and prairies that used to serve Houston as natural sponges has inevitably exacerbated the misery that the city is suffering today.

“There could have been ways to have more green space and more green infrastructure over the years, and it just didn’t work that way, because it was fast and furious,” said Phil Bedient, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Rice University. Many developments were not built with enough open land or enough detention areas to take in floodwaters, Dr. Bedient said. “It’s been known for years how to do it,” he said, “it just costs the developers more money to do it that way.”

Our elected municipal and county authorities can—indeed, must—be convinced to collaborate, region-wide, on a) stricter criteria for new development projects and b) stricter flood abatement requirements for areas already developed.

This [Climate] Change[ I]s Everything

In most of the world, anthropogenic climate disruption is also apolitical. Here in the United States, as RT America's Lee Camp has observed:

Reps don't accept climate science. Dems accept climate science yet do nothing abt it. All of them pretend to care about hurricane victims.

The overwhelming scientific consensus concludes that we much stop burning fossil fuels ASAP; This Changes Everything reminds us how continuing capitalism as we know it is incompatible with reversing ACD.

Former President Barack Obama likely knew this when he dropped in at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, but he never got around to establishing the US as a leader on climate action.  Even the Paris Agreement of 2015 was mostly the work of other G20 governments shamed into action by the drowning nations of the developing world. Even then, they kicked the can down the road to start (voluntary) implementation in 2020. The Obama administration had the materials, hardware, and tools to build a big, shiny bully pulpit; the Trump administration found those materials piled up in the White House garage and burned them.

The scientific consensus also states that ACD is causing more frequent and more powerful tropical cyclones due to the warming of the oceans. Not every year will have a Harvey or an Irma, but more years will.

Green Solutions

In the current Green Party US platform, the very first subsection of the section on Ecological Sustainability is about Climate Change. In it, the Party outlines a six-part solution, consisting of

  1. [a] Strong International Climate Treaty
  2. Economic Policy for a Safer Climate
  3. Repay[ing] Our [US] Climate Debt
  4. More Efficiency and Conservation
  5. Clean, Green Energy and Jobs
  6. Clean, Green Agriculture

The Democratic Party included similar language in its national platform last year. Yet the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has a mixed record at best on combating climate change. Given the tepid response of the two previous Democratic administrations, it might have been interesting to see how much action a Hillary Clinton administration would take on this urgent issue. For all the Democrats' concern-trolling on climate, they may make vague suggestions about decreasing drilling in the Arctic, but they will not take on their capitalist donors. They wouldn't dare.

The Green Party dares. As stated in the preamble of Section III of the GPUS platform:

If we wish to have sustainable institutions and enterprises, they must fit well with the processes of the Earth. The ideology of industrialism, in both capitalist and communist countries, insists that modern society lives on top of nature and should rightly use and despoil the rest of the natural world as we desire—because any loss of the ecosystems is merely an "externality" in economic thought and because any problems can be addressed later by a technological fix. We are now living through the painful consequences of that arrogant, ignorant perspective.

That's the main reason Jill Stein and the Greens were subjected to such a propaganda storm at all levels last year, and why influential Democrats still whip out that 2015 photo of Stein at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to smear her. The Democrats not only fail to take Corporate America to task; they run interference for Corporate America, actively defending it, because Corporate America pays their freight.

We Greens know that neither Deep-State capitalism will not rescue the planet and its inhabitants any more than Big-State socialism will. It will take people, millions of them, acting en masse, acting out of the righteous anger that only love can generate, acting as if their lives and homes and families depend on it.

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