Mares: Hurricane Lessons

Sep 15, 2017

I watched the house I grew up in become inundated by four feet of water as Houston, the city of my youth, endured 50 inches of rainfall – and was reminded that years ago I myself volunteered on a National Guard amphibious vehicle in one hundred mile per hour winds to rescue people from another September hurricane.

Houston has long been a prime example of the wild West approach to development, where instead of six guns and barbed wire, the essential tools have been no zoning and limitless asphalt. I don't think Houston developers ever met a green space they didn't want to pave.

But many experts now contend that the impermeable surface of hundreds of square miles of asphalt and concrete was a big part of the problem in Houston. The more impervious the surface, the less absorption that takes place and the more runoff there is to manage.

Now the sixty four billion dollar question is whether voters and city planners will moderate current headlong development practices.

On a different, much larger scale, we simply can’t avoid discussing whether denial of climate change has contributed to the wholesale destruction we’re now seeing in the South and elsewhere. Some, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, say this isn’t the time to argue about causation – that first we have to focus on rescue, repair and recovery. But I think the immediate aftermath of disaster is exactly when wider issues of causation and future preparations need to be raised - not least because right now is when politicians would rather they were not.

I’m outraged that the US has pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement and also the Green Climate Fund, which has pledged one hundred billion dollars by twenty twenty to help developing countries adapt to climate change - change that emissions from America continue to help create.

Of course, we must donate to the relief of people immediately in need, but we can no longer afford to avoid or postpone taking serious measures to improve the world's future resilience to destructive climate trends and events. The mantra, "Think Globally, Act Locally" should now be "Act Locally AND Globally."

Working to mitigate every cause we can identify – large and small – will not only help those in a specific space and time, but all of humanity. And this is of a moral order altogether different from efforts to respond to individual events.