Marine Reserves deliver supplies to a family in Texas after Hurricane Harvey caused unprecedented flooding in the region (photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense, Lance Cpl. Niles Lee)

Yes, It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change

By Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters

Despite what EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may think, it’s time for a serious discussion about climate change. This summer alone, we’ve seen nearly 1.5 million acres of land go up in smoke as wildfires rage across nine Western states, threatening communities, homes and our outdoor recreation economy. Meanwhile, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated communities in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, and many other places in their wakes. These extreme “natural” disasters have taken too many lives and have cost tens of billions of dollars in damage, and we know those numbers will only increase as the full scope of damage is assessed over the coming weeks. Even then, the end is distant — as we’ve seen with Katrina and Sandy, a full recovery for the impacted communities may well be a decades-long process.

Are we willing to settle for this being the new normal?

This summer, wildfires have raged in Western states (photo credit: Glenn Beltz)

Despite all of the anguish and suffering these events are inflicting on communities, President Trump continues to willfully disregard the horrifying dangers of climate change — a response that proves more and more negligent and irresponsible with every day he fails to act. His administration has done everything in its power to quickly dismantle the government’s most important tools that protect us from the worst impacts of climate change. Under the guise of “returning power to the states” and “starting a new era of production and job creation,” the Trump administration has put our communities’ health and safety at risk in favor of protecting polluters’ profits.

The president consistently peddles a false dilemma, claiming that job creation and a strong economy stand at odds with our environmental responsibilities. In fact, it is has never been more clear that a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. Utilizing clean energy and investing in renewables, like wind and solar, is critical to making our economy stronger.

Communities across southern Texas felt the horrifying impacts of climate change when their communities became uninhabitable due to flooding (photo credit: South Carolina National Guard, Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez)

When a third of a city’s houses are under water, as was the case in Houston, how can that city prosper? More importantly, isn’t it inherently worth protecting the well-being of the millions of people whose lives were irrevocably altered by the climate-boosted super hurricane? How many disasters do we need to endure before Trump and his polluter friends take responsibility for the destruction they’re enabling? When will we, the people of this country, be Trump’s priority?

It doesn’t appear that we’ll be the priority any time soon. In fact, months ago, the administration proposed dramatic budget cuts to agencies like NOAA, FEMA, EPA, and HUD, revealing that they’ve long undervalued the preparedness, response, and recovery of the communities hit by extreme weather events. We need to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for their dangerous policies. But, we also need Congress to act. They must deliver the aid these communities desperately need to recover, but they must also start a serious discussion about addressing the causes of these climate-fueled disasters.

Congress recently passed an initial $15 billion disaster relief package for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. This is only the start of what Texas will need, and victims of Hurricane Irma and the Western wildfires will need swift assistance too. And while disaster relief for our communities is of the utmost importance, this should also be a harsh wake-up call: We cannot afford to keep simply cleaning up after the fact when we can take actions today to prevent some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The New York National Guard rescued a family from Harvey flood waters in Beaumont via helicopter (photo credit: New York National Guard, Daniel H. Farrell)

The League of Conservation Voters will be working to ensure that Congress responds to these disasters with compassion, with care, and in a climate-smart manner. We must take a hard look at the way we are building our cities, how we are incorporating the latest predictions of climate change impacts, which communities we’re exposing to the greatest risks, and how can we minimize and prepare for those risks.

In particular, Hurricane Harvey demonstrated — once again — that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by these mega-storms. Often forced to live in close proximity to industrial and dangerous Superfund sites or in flood-prone areas with insufficient infrastructure, and constrained by limited financial resources, they are exposed to greater environmental risk than others. As Congress turns to relief and recovery, we must prioritize these communities and ensure they receive equitable aid and assistance.

Here’s the bottom line: We live in a reality of climate-fueled super storms, but we don’t have to be caught unprepared, and low-income and communities of color ought not be saddled with the greatest burdens of these disasters.

Congress has the power to help stitch these communities back together in an empathetic way. And empathy doesn’t just mean sending aid in a moment of crisis — it means taking measures that proactively protect us from what we know is coming. It’s not only time to talk about climate change — it’s also time to act.