“When water recedes in Houston, debate over climate change and flooding must rise”.
The author notes that his own city, 777 miles away in Missouri, is still recovering from two major flooding events in the past 16 months, and criticizes the current president for just last week “erasing a 2015 executive order signed by President Barack Obama that had a simple goal: When building such projects, particularly federal ones, officials were directed to take climate change into consideration.”
The author uses his editorial power to pummel someone he shows to be an arrogant, greedy and short sighted real estate developer turned president even as the rain continues to pummel Houston, explaining that
So as people drown and die in Houston and Galveston and Corpus Christi, I’ll write about climate change and America’s love affair with bad flooding policy, because if not now, when?...
“In two to four years, Houston will still be recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
The president — or our next one — will still be talking about the need to improve America’s infrastructure. St. Louis will still be talking about building in flood plains, whether it’s a city project on the banks of the Mississippi River, or a massive entertainment complex in the levy-protected flood plains of the Chesterfield Valley or Maryland Heights, or even still, the current debate over building an ice arena in federally protected Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, by raising land so it is allegedly out of the 100-year flood plain.”
But, he says soberly,
“We will throw out those phrases — 100-year-flood and 500-year-flood — as though in the era of climate change they still have meaning.
And we will spend billions upon billions of tax dollars repeating the same old mistakes because we continue to believe the fallacy that it’s easier and cheaper to rebuild in the flood plain than it is to plan for — and around — the next flood.”
“Houston's Flood Is a Design Problem”. The subheading gives a clue to a solution. It says,
“It’s not because the water comes in. It’s because it is forced to leave again.”
There are calls for what is touted as a “new” climate mitigation and adaptation strategy: “permeable paving”. Those of us who study history know it is nothing new: Frederick Law Olmstead and his son were proposing the exact same measures even before the LA River flooded that city in 1938, but the powerful railroad and industrial lobbies ignored it and compelled the US Army Corps of Engineers to instead encase the river in concrete to try to move the water to the ocean as quickly as possible. For some reason the idea of keeping the water in place never seems to… ahem… “sink in”!.
“the impact of flooding, particularly in densely developed areas like cities, is far more constant than a massive, natural disaster like Harvey exposes. The reason cities flood isn’t because the water comes in, not exactly. It’s because the pavement of civilization forces the water to get back out again.
Under normal circumstances, rain or snowfall soaks back into the earth after falling. It gets absorbed by grasslands, by parks, by residential lawns, by anywhere the soil is exposed. Two factors can impede that absorption. One is large quantities of rain in a short period of time. The ground becomes inundated, and the water spreads out in accordance with the topography. The second is covering over the ground so it cannot soak up water in the first place. And that’s exactly what cities do—they transform the land into developed civilization.
Roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and other pavements, along with asphalt, concrete, brick, stone, and other building materials, combine to create impervious surfaces that resist the natural absorption of water. In most of the United States, about 75 percent of its land area, less than 1 percent of the land is hardscape. In cities, up to 40 percent is impervious.
The natural system is very good at accepting rainfall. But when water hits pavement, it creates runoff immediately. That water has to go somewhere. So it flows wherever the grade takes it. To account for that runoff, people engineer systems to move the water away from where it is originally deposited, or to house it in situ, or even to reuse it. This process—the policy, planning, engineering, implementation, and maintenance of urban water systems—is called stormwater management.
The combination of climate change and aggressive development made an event like this almost inevitable.”
“Accounting for a 100-year, 500-year, or “million-year” flood, as some are calling Harvey’s aftermath, is difficult and costly… it’s almost impossible to design for these “maximal probable flood events,” as planners call them. Instead, the hope is to design communities such that when they flood, they can withstand the ill effects and support effective evacuations to keep people safe. “Many planners contend that impervious surface itself is the problem. The more of it there is, the less absorption takes place and the more runoff has to be managed. Reducing development, then, is one of the best ways to manage urban flooding. The problem is, urban development hasn’t slowed in the last half-century. Cities have only become more desirable, spreading outward over the plentiful land available in the United States.”
The article goes on to explain how the federal government ended up dealing with the issue in the later part of the 20th century but with no true concern for downstream environmental and social injustices. It says:
Says the article about our current policies,
“It’s more about living with water than it is about discouraging development in areas prone to risk… Sometimes “living with water” means sidestepping the consequences. Developers working in flood zones might not care what happens after they sell a property. That’s where governmental oversight is supposed to take over.”
In fact, the Koch brothers, who are funding so much of the current politics of climate change denial, are well known to espouse the philosophy of Charles Koch’s mentor James McGill Buchanan and his successor at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen, who champion the idea that :
“ with the "rewriting of the social contract" underway, people will be "expected to fend for themselves much more than they do now." While some will flourish, he admits, "others will fall by the wayside." Since "worthy individuals" will manage to climb their way out of poverty, "that will make it easier to ignore those who are left behind."
“ His tone is matter-of-fact, as though he is reporting the inevitable. Yet when one reads his remarks with the knowledge that he has been the academic leader of a team working in earnest with Koch for two decades now to bring about the society he is describing, the words sound more like premeditation. For example, Cowen prophesies lower-income parts of America "recreating a Mexico-like or Brazil-like environment" complete with "favelas" like those in Rio de Janeiro. The "quality of water" might not be what US citizens are used to, he admits, but "partial shantytowns" would satisfy the need for cheaper housing as "wage polarization" grows and government shrinks. Cowen says that "some version of Texas -- and then some -- is the future for a lot of us" and advises, "Get ready."
But it isn’t like we haven’t had the warning signs all along.
in their 2004-OCT edition, National Geographic magazine had looked at how we were developing our landscapes and predicted the whole thing. National Geographic published an article by Joel K. Bourne titled: "Gone With the Water” that decried the loss of wetlands that have historically protected New Orleans. As illustrated on the website, “http://www.religioustolerance.org/tsunami04n.htm” “The article started with a very accurate prediction of the events which occurred during Katrina's devastation of the city one year later. The author was in error in their estimate of the number of deaths. But many other points raised in this prefix to the article were deadly accurate”.
The website notes other articles predicting and warning us of the same consequences. Of note were a Scientific American article in 2001 and even, ironically, a Houston Chronicle article from that same year. Houston’s science writer Eric Berger, wrote that New Orleans was facing a “doomsday scenario”, saying,
“It's been 36 years since Hurricane Betsy buried New Orleans 8 feet deep. Since then a deteriorating ecosystem and increased development have left the city in an ever more precarious position. Yet the problem went unaddressed for decades by a laissez-faire government, experts said.”
“In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.”
Many current so called “conservatives” who stand to gain actually claim that today’s climate change is nothing to fear because climate change is “natural” and has been occurring since the earth began. And that may be true if you have access to a private helicopter and a second or third home on dry land. Others have trepidation about the consequences of climate changes but still deny human agency, attributing it to everything from sunspots, to volcanic activity to the terraforming tendencies of space aliens, all while denying the contributions of burning fossil fuels, clearing forest land and engaging in industrial agriculture, something that is certainly convenient if you are making your money through those very activities. Follow the money, right?
Much of this is documented in the book “Historical Perspectives on Climate Change” by James Rodger Fleming, which is available from our USF library and summarized online in the article “The first American settlers cut down millions of trees to deliberately engineer climate change”. The subtitle is
“Long term, it worked, but not how they intended”. (https://timeline.com/american-settlers-climate-change-5b7b68bd9064)
Other presidents and wealthy, politically powerful (mostly white) men were in favor of human-induced climate change. The historical documents show how early presidents presiding over American colonist created global warming trends were celebrating and endorsing the changes they thought they were witnessing as America seemed to get hotter and hotter, allegedly as a result of their deliberate deforestation. The book Historical Perspectives on Climate Change notes,
“Even our most famous forefathers chimed in with benevolent compliments for the deforestation agenda. In his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “A change in our climate…is taking place very sensibly….The elderly inform me, the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do now.” In a 1763 letter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Cleared land absorbs more heat and melts snow quicker.” He added one caveat, however: More study was necessary to confirm these findings.
By 1811, Harvard-educated Hugh Williamson reported that New England snows had been more than halved over a fifty-year period. He argued that once future generations had “cultivated the interior part of the country, we shall seldom be visited by frosts or snows.” Period. “It follows, that a country, in a state of nature, covered with trees, must be much colder than the same country when cleared.”
“Contrarians reported the absolute opposite, and their voices helped fuel a 19th-century conservation movement and more rigorous climate science. It was an uphill battle, however, with prominent voices continuing to extol the merits of a utopian civilization based primarily around commercialized agriculture.
Climate hadn’t been “improving,” argued Massachusetts doctor Job Wilson, who studied meteorological records spanning 16 years. Deforestation had made the country’s heat and cold even more extreme. One William Dunbar wrote to the American Philosophical Society, “It is with us a general remark, that of late years the summers have become hotter and the winters colder than formerly.” Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, agreed that clearing trees could certainly exaggerate extremes.
But attacking deforestation science often came with its own political motivations. America wanted to attract more people to the Western frontier, where the air was dry and hot. Desert loomed for hundreds of miles. Expansionists decried deforestation, promising to plant new wooded expanses for a more pleasant and habitable West. The country’s relationship with climate was a veritable Goldilocks tale — nothing was ever just right for everyone. And the reasons had less to do with science and more to do with motivations.”
"If the quantity of carbonic acid [ CO2 + H2O → H2CO3 (carbonic acid) ] in the air should sink to one-half its present percentage, the temperature would fall by about 4°; a diminution to one-quarter would reduce the temperature by 8°. On the other hand, any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth's surface by 4°; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°." (p53)
"Although the sea, by absorbing carbonic acid, acts as a regulator of huge capacity, which takes up about five-sixths of the produced carbonic acid, we yet recognize that the slight percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere may by the advances of industry be changed to a noticeable degree in the course of a few centuries." (p54)
"Since, now, warm ages have alternated with glacial periods, even after man appeared on the earth, we have to ask ourselves: Is it probable that we shall in the coming geological ages be visited by a new ice period that will drive us from our temperate countries into the hotter climates of Africa? There does not appear to be much ground for such an apprehension. The enormous combustion of coal by our industrial establishments suffices to increase the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air to a perceptible degree." (p61)
"We often hear lamentations that the coal stored up in the earth is wasted by the present generation without any thought of the future, and we are terrified by the awful destruction of life and property which has followed the volcanic eruptions of our days. We may find a kind of consolation in the consideration that here, as in every other case, there is good mixed with the evil. By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind." (p63)
And so here is the rub:
Nancy McLean’s “Democracy in Chains” tells us how the current regime, who we should actually call “climate change responsibility deniers” are driving their agenda, and we can learn from them:
Ironically, these same threats to democracy wielded by those who believe in Buchanan’s “Marginal Revolution” , in the hands of we the people, in the hands of democracy advocates, especially those of us marginalized by the wealthy oligarchs and robber barons and elites, could be our most powerful antidote in the quest for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Decentralization is the key here. Decentralization for energy, food production, for waste and water management. Devolution of power to the local level, particularly as concerns food production systems. Federalism could let us work together at the state level to ignore government rulings that would force us back into the fossil fuel age, creating our own local green economies as California is doing. Deregulation could help us so that we can get away from stodgy bureaucratic rules that were intended or inadvertantly keep us dependent on fossil fuels and fertilizers, rules that keep us from producing our own electricity and fuels and that keep us from turning our front lawns into permaculture plots, and that keep us from treating the organic residuals from our toilets and kitchens on-site and turning them into sources of local wealth. As for privatization ,we could be saying, on our private property, with our shotgun legally in our hands "hey, you don't get my shit. Literally. You don't get my banana peel, or the parts of the banana that passed through me. That shit is MINE. "