Hurricane Harvey: Shh don't mention the 'c' word!
04 September 2017
August has been full of examples of extreme weather : from the monsoon flooding across the Indian subcontinent killing more than 1,500 people, to Typhoon Kato in Southern China that killed six people, to Hurricane Harvey in Texas USA. All of them shocking evidence of climate change exacerbating seasonal weather. Except that, hearing the news in the US, you wouldn’t know that. Because President Trump doesn’t like to use the ‘c’ word, and nor does his administration. Earlier in the month, Trump’s US Department of Agriculture ordered all staff to stop using the term ‘climate change’ and not to talk about ‘reducing greenhouse gases’. A climate change denier and disaster capitalist, once the flood waters subside, Trump will see Hurricane Harvey as an opportunity to enrich himself and his cronies in the private sector with contracts to rebuild the area. For him, this extreme weather disaster is just another opportunity to push a neo-liberal agenda.
But it’s not just the President that doesn’t like to talk about climate change. As George Monbiot reported last week, in 2016 the US suffered a series of climate disasters, yet climate change was give a total of 50 minutes air-time in the main US TV channels - ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News – over the entire year.
It seems that in the US, to talk about climate change when reporting Hurricane Harvey, is to ‘politicise’ it – and that would not be appropriate just now. But of course, as climate justice campaigners we know that climate change is highly political. It is hitting the poorest people, first and hardest – not just in the global south, but in the US too. As Naomi Klein has observed, climate apartheid was obvious after Hurricane Katrina. The people who didn’t have a car, or were too infirm to leave, or didn’t know what to do, were the ones forced to stay in New Orleans when the storm hit. These were mostly the poorest residents, and overwhelmingly African American. Many were forced to camp out in the Superdrome for five days without food and water. And when, out of necessity, they took provisions from the abandoned food stores, police and white vigilantes threatened to shoot these ‘looters’ on the spot.
After the flooding had subsided, Naomi Klein reported, the disaster capitalists moved in and ‘wasted no time pushing for a fully privatized school system, weakening labour and tax law, increasing oil and gas drilling and refining, and flinging the door open to mercenary companies’
Vice President Mike Pence, then chairman of a powerful Republican Committee who came up with a list of pro-free market responses to Hurricane Katrina, was one of the architects of Katrina’s rebuilding. He is in an even more powerful position now to oversee a similar free market vision for Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
So what can we do, as onlookers in Scotland? How can we show solidarity with people in the US, and in Bangladesh, Nepal and China, who have lost their homes and worse due to intense storms and flooding? And how can we stand up to Trump and his climate-denying administration?
We already have a long history of resistance to Trump and his golf courses. How do we continue resisting this climate denier and all he stands for? How do we support the movements of resistance that have risen up in the US since Trump’s inauguration, and have been so heartening to see from abroad?
Well, one thing we can do locally at the moment, is to ensure that the Scottish government commits to doing all it can to meet the ambitions of the Paris climate agreement, that commits nations to keeping global warming to well below two degrees centigrade. Trump pulled out of the Paris accord in June, although a number of US states have vowed they will uphold the Paris agreement, despite the President’s position.
A new Scottish climate change bill is planned for the New Year, but the targets our government are suggesting lack ambition, and would not be enough to give a sufficient contribution to keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees - the stated ambition of the Paris climate agreement. In fact, the current proposals would mean doing almost nothing extra between now and 2030 to cut our emissions.
That’s why we are calling on the Scottish government to raise the bar, and commit to greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 77% (on 1990 levels) by 2030, and zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Resolving to keep the Paris accord, despite the absence of the US, and to transition to a low carbon world, is exactly the positive vision that Trump doesn’t want to talk about. So let’s make sure we are talking about it, taking action on it, and standing up to Trump.
Picture courtesy of the Texas Military Department