The Irony of Houston
As of this writing, over 2,000 people have been rescued from flooded areas and another 30K are expected to evacuate the US’s 4th largest city.
Harvey is being called a once in a 500-year storm. It is the third 500-year storm in to hit Houston in the last three years. And with other super storms like Sandy and Katrina in recent memory, it seems like something more than bad luck is going on. Is climate disruption responsible for Harvey? We can’t really know. But we know our activities are likely making things worse.
Penn State professor and climate change researcher Michael Mann, who led a recent study that found a human “fingerprint” on extreme weather events, wrote in The Guardian on Monday that while it’s impossible to say whether climate change “caused” Harvey, “[t]here are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding” in Texas.
While technically Exxon’s global headquarters is in Dallas, Houston boasts an Exxon Campus with over 4000 staff, with thousands more coming. Houston is often called the Oil Capital of the World, with over 5000 energy companies based in the city, the vast majority of them working on oil and gas. Exxon has been funding anti-climate disruption research for decades. Even when they knew that the science did not support them. Nor is Exxon alone, UCS found all 8 of the largest oil companies are involved in deceptive practices when it comes to reporting on climate disruption.
Here is the quote from the UK Guardian which I think is most important:
The storm ripped through the oil fields, forcing rigs and refineries to shut down, including those owned by some of the 25 companies that have produced more than half the greenhouse gas emissions humans have released since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Harvey has already closed Houston refining capacity of over 2.2 million barrels per day. Clean up will cost hundreds of millions, repairs could cost more.
But what of the irony here, that Houston is in the center of climate disruption denial and is now suffering from an unusual series of serious storms? No one deserves a climate crisis. But the corporate executives and the tens of thousands of oil company employees, who unlike the entire rest of the world denied the effect of their work, are paying the price for their lies and deception today.
Postscript: Houston itself votes Democratic in most political races (including the last presidential one), who are better than the Republicans on climate disruption issues. And none of the above criticisms are meant to discourage the current rescue efforts, which will most often benefit the economically disadvantaged in the area. And there will be lots of decisions as to what to rebuild in Houston and the area affected by Harvey. If we are unlucky or too quiet, then we will repeat the Shock Doctrine scenario, where capitalists profit and poor people are screwed over (as happened after Katrina). If we organize cleverly and apply immense political pressure, after the refinery clean ups are completed, we will focus on sustainable infrastructure and meet the needs of all the residents of the area.