Buy a Clue on Climate from Michael

Newark     Whether Trump is on the air talking about meeting with Kanye or some other distraction, the scrolls across CNN in the airport are in capital letters:  WIDESPREAD, CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE ACROSS FLORIDA PANHANDLE.  The eyebrow above the headline says simply:  Hurricane Michael.

The reports indicated that this was the worse storm to hit the Florida panhandle stretching from the Alabama border and Pensacola over towards Panama City in more than 160 years since records have been kept.  The damage from the storm surge was expected to be huge.  Early reports indicated it was at 5 feet over high tide even before landfall.  Water had risen in Lake Ponchartrain on the northern border of New Orleans several feet above normal and city services were suspended in far east New Orleans at a great distance west of the storm.  The forward edge of the front being pushed by Michael meant bumpy skies flying into and landing in Newark airport in New Jersey far to the north.  Rain and wind have meant a steady stream of announcements on delayed flights.

Michael is only one recent storm.  The death count is now over 2000 people on Sulawesi, one of the larger islands in the Indonesian chain after a fierce tsunami there.  Earlier the Philippines had also been hammered.  Puerto Rico is still a long way from recovery.  Usually in the US, the hurricane season is effectively over by October, but there is no such thing as “usually” anymore.

The recent United Nations report warned that we can expect more wildfires, worst hurricanes, and sea rising by 2040 unless something changes drastically.  2040 is only a bit more than 20 years from now, relatively speaking less than the blink of an eye in geological and atmospheric terms.

What does it take for Hurricane Michael to give a clue to the White House and the climate-resistance cabal of the Congressional Republican Taliban?  If even Exxon is trying to get ahead of the wave, how can the immediacy of the crisis and the fear of its impact not be sweeping away everything in its way?

Meanwhile recent news indicates that FEMA, the one federal agency that should know better since they are the paymaster and mop-up crew for all of the mess that climate change brings, reportedly is paying hundreds of millions to allow rebuilding in low lying and previously storm damaged areas.  One incredible example was the construction of a prison in an area where there were frequently mandated evacuations on the justification that “the sheriff wanted it.”

The new mayor in New Orleans is facing a fight over a proposal that some part of the tax revenues currently promoting tourism, the convention center and the stadium be used to upgrade the water and sewerage system.  The system needs hundreds of million in repairs potentially, and the city’s Water Plan, that includes rain gardens and bioswales, would likely cost over $6 billion. Yet, the hospitality industry in that city feels entitled to the tax revenue subsidizing private business and consumers, so the proposal may be doomed politically. As if there would be tourism in New Orleans without drastic expenditures on climate change and infrastructure upgrades?

One example of many on the refusal of government and corporate elites continuing to need a weatherman to see which way the wind of climate change is blowing, even when it is hurricane force and devastating everything in its path.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Community and Organizational Responses to Flooding

Russell Lee, flood refugees at meal time, Charleston, Missouri, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 010215-D.

New Orleans Bear with me on this, because we’re going to take some twists and turns, but trust me, these things are all connected, and the water is always rising somewhere, so it matters.

Partly of course we’re closing in on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We’re still in recovery. There are still volunteers coming in from time to time to help. We’re still trying to develop the ACORN Farm in the Lower 9th Ward. There’s still a fight to stop expansion of the Industrial Canal that flooded the area and ACORN’s affiliate, A Community Voice, is still in the thick of the fight as it has been for the last dozen years. In Paris one evening during the ACORN International staff meeting we showed a clip from the upcoming documentary, The Organizer, that told the story of ACORN’s fight to rebuild New Orleans after the storm. I’m telling the truth when I share that there were some tears in the eyes of these hard bitten organizers.

Arthur Rothstein, State highway officials moving sharecroppers away from roadside to area between the levee and the Mississippi River, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002975-M2.

I was struck reading Michael Honey’s book and oral history on John Handcox and the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, Sharecroppers Troubadour, on the plane back to New Orleans from a too long 19-day trip to Hungary, France, and Italy. The STFU and Handcox had been organizing in the Bootheel section of southern Missouri which cuts into northeastern Arkansas when the Great Ohio and Mississippi River Valley Flood of 1937, “displaced 7,000 whites and 5,000 blacks, including nearly all of the STFU’s 250 paid members in nine Missouri locals.” Like Katrina the impoverishment was devastating, except if anything worse, because the country had not found an adequate response to its peoples’ disasters then either. These were farm workers whose crops were washed away, partially when the Corps of Engineers used 200 pounds of dynamite to blow up a levee to stop more flooding downriver. Like the ACORN Hurricane Katrina Survivors’ organizations in cities throughout the south and southwest footprint, as Honey notes, the STFU “organized an Official Council of the STFU Refugees, which excoriated the federal government for having caused ‘the most disastrous flood in the history of our country.’” There were too many coincidences. The little money promised came too late. The crops recovered, but the people did not. The STFU had to also be rebuilt in the area to fight again in a last gasp.

John Handcox and Michael Honey, 1986.
Smithsonian Folkways – Smithsonian Institution

There was a story recently about the National Flood Insurance Fund in one of my daily papers, which grew out of these kinds of disasters. The fund is $25 billion in the red largely because of Katrina, Sandy in the New York-New Jersey area, and continued flooding in Louisiana from massive rains. The piece claimed that 30% of the money went to repeaters, folks whose homes just keep being flooded. A family in upstate New York was interviewed who were about to raise their house 10 feet with the insurance support. They couldn’t sell the house because of the floods. They wanted to retire and move to Arizona but they couldn’t. Poignantly, they said they knew they would be hit by another flood in the future. It was hard to not wonder, why the fund didn’t just help them get a new place?

As climate change becomes a constant concern, all of this history and these simple questions are going to be harder and harder not to answer with a more constructive and humanitarian response.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail