Industrial facilities, lack of protection clustered in low income areas

Excerpt from Think Progress, By Jeremy Deaton, 1 Sept 2017

“Oftentimes, low-income communities and communities of color don’t get the necessary protection when it comes to flood control,” said Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston. “That pattern is playing out now.”

Poverty is a risk factor when it comes to extreme weather. (“Authorities Urge Louisiana Residents To Evacuate Dangerous Lower Income Brackets,” read a recent headline from satirical news outlet The Onion.)

“[Houston] is a southern city. Generally, the way that the city has grown and the way that the housing and residential patterns have emerged have often been along race and class lines,” Bullard said. Discriminatory housing policies have “restricted or, in some cases, confined poor people and people of color to less desirable areas when it comes to flooding and other kinds of land uses,” he said.

Bullard says Houston spends more on infrastructure in wealthier neighborhoods. That means bicycle lanes and jogging trails but also embankments that keep floodwaters at bay. Low-income communities tend to lack these features. And, as Houston political activist Tawney Tidell explained, “Some of the only subsidized housing in the area was built in one of our many 100-year floodplains, designated as high risk zones for flooding by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

In Houston, these tend to be communities of color. A history of red-lining and economic inequality have conspired to make it one of the most racially segregated cities in the country.

ON THIS MAP, EACH PERSON IN HOUSTON IS REPRESENTED BY A SINGLE DOT SMALLER THAN A PIXEL. EACH DOT IS COLORED ACCORDING TO THE RACE OF THAT PERSON. DATA COME FROM THE 2010 US CENSUS. WHITE PEOPLE TEND TO LIVE ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE CITY, WHILE BLACK AND HISPANIC PEOPLE TEND TO LIVE ON THE EAST SIDE. CREDIT: DUSTIN CABLE, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA WELDON COOPER CENTER FOR PUBLIC SERVICE

“If you go into some areas, low-income areas, there are no sidewalks. There are no drainage systems other than very crude, open ditches,” Bullard said. “When it floods in a lot of low-income areas, it just runs into open ditches, and the ditches overflow. The other areas have more sophisticated flood control.”

The flood data have been overlaid on a map illustrating social vulnerability by census tract. People are more vulnerable to natural disasters if they are poor, elderly, disabled, don’t own a car or can’t speak English. The Social Vulnerability Index, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounts for these variables and more.

RED AREAS REPRESENT THE MAXIMUM OBSERVED FLOODING DURING HURRICANE HARVEY. EACH SHADED SECTION OF THE MAP REPRESENTS A CENSUS TRACT, COLORED ACCORDING TO ITS RELATIVE VULNERABILITY. DARKER AREAS ARE MORE VULNERABLE. CREDIT: NEXUS MEDIA

Disparities will only become more exaggerated when the storm is over. In the eight counties hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey, less than one in five homeowners have flood insurance, according to analysis from the Washington Post. The National Flood Insurance Program, which provides insurance to homeowners in high-risk areas, has not kept pace with climate change. It has underestimated the risk of flooding in many areas. Many low-income families without flood insurance will struggle to rebuild their homes. If that sounds bad, it gets worse.

“It’s not just the flooding. It’s also the industrial pollution,” Bullard said. “When you have something like Harvey, it elevates the risk of shutdowns, accidents, spills and explosions.”

The city’s poorest residents are also more likely to live near oil refineries and petrochemical plants. This map from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that accident-prone facilities are concentrated on the east side of the city, in communities of color. Harvey delivered floods that cut off power to chemical facilities in these areas, shutting down cooling systems. Several chemical containers overheated and caught fire.

THE RED DOTS REPRESENT SERIOUS ACCIDENTS AT INDUSTRIAL FACILITIES IN HOUSTON BETWEEN 2012 AND 2016. ACCIDENTS TEND TO CLUSTER AROUND LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE CITY. CREDIT: UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS

“When it comes to the elevated and disproportionate risk, it is immoral, unethical and probably illegal if you’re talking about tax dollars being used in way that is discriminatory in effect,” Bullard said. The problem is not unique to Houston or New Orleans, which saw similar inequity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“The Katrina response was not some isolated incident,” Bullard said. “We like to say that some communities don’t have the complexion for protection.”


Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media

**

Excerpt from Clean Technica, by Steve Hanley, 1 Sept 2017

The cleanup of Houston is projected to cost more than $100 billion and that number could go much higher. In theory, those billions should have been factored into the flood insurance premiums people and businesses in the area pay, but they were not. Now, Americans in Oshkosh, Ashtabula, and Ocala will pay for the mess feckless politicians created.

It’s just one way in which the United States has become more of a criminal enterprise designed to shake down the public rather than a protector of the citizenry. The wonder is that so many people are cheering while corporations put a gun to their head and rob them blind.

The Causes Of A Disaster

The technical explanation for Hurricane Harvey is that warmer water in the depths of the ocean provides more power to storms like Harvey. Think of that warm water as a turbocharger added to an internal combustion engine. Warmer air is capable of holding more moisture than cooler air. Climate scientists claim that higher air temperatures today mean the air can hold 3% more moisture today than it could 50 years ago.

But there is one more factor at work, according to Bloomberg. The upper-level winds — often known as jet streams — that encircle the globe have shown signs of altering their behavior in recent years. In March of this year, climate scientist Michael Mann published a paper he co-authored with several colleagues that examines that behavior. He believes those changes may have contributed to the drought in Texas (how ironic!) in 2011 and flooding in Pakistan in 2010. Mann does not say there is a positive connection. He says the data suggest such a connection and that further research should be undertaken.

Meteorologists say the upper atmosphere winds that normally would have steered Hurricane Harvey away from Houston have been stalled lately. Once the storm made landfall, it stayed in place for days while it continued to drop torrential rains — as much as 6 inches an hour — on the land below. More powerful storms, more moisture in the atmosphere, more rain over land, and nowhere for the water to go — a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.

What is most instructive about the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey is that climate scientists have been warning of just such a storm for decades. The Obama administration in 2015 issued an executive order mandating that all new federal infrastructure projects take into account global warming, rising ocean levels, and stronger storms. That mandate was thrown into the trash bin by Trump just a few weeks ago.

Replacing Regulations With Political Payoffs

Trump’s rationale for his decision — which he slipped virtually unnoticed into his Charlottesville “There are fine people on both sides” speech — is that there is too much government regulation already and that the new rules will streamline the approval of construction projects. That may be so, but several critics argue it will cost taxpayers bigly in the future, as those federally financed structures come under attack from rising sea levels and intensified flooding. “This is climate science denial at its most dangerous,” says Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

The federal government under Trump is akin to a criminal enterprise. It is designed to fatten the wallets of wealthy campaign contributors rather than protect its citizens. Trashing the standards means America will continue to build in flood plains and stick taxpayers with the bill.

Put it all together and you have a country that choses to stick its head in the sand — or flood waters, if you prefer — and invest a trillion dollars of taxpayer money into risky infrastructure ventures that ignore the effects of climate change completely. It’s similar to Ronald Reagan ripping out the solar panels Jimmy Carter had installed at the White House. Crony capitalism has completely replaced governance in the world according to Trump.

Politicizing Hurricane Harvey

The EPA said this week that liberals are trying to politicize Hurricane Harvey. Nothing could be further from the truth. Liberals and progressives would like to see their government not do things that increase the likelihood of disasters like Hurricane Harvey occurring — things like not encouraging building in flood plains or paving over hundreds of square miles of swampland so rainwater has nowhere to go. They want the government to promote climate research so the factors that contribute to such disasters can be better understood. They want climate action via quicker uptake of cleantech so that such disasters are avoided more in the future.

Weuker Hurricane Harvey cartoon

Matt Wuerker, a well known satirical cartoonist, has penned a cartoon recently published by Politico. Many people found it offensive and Politico has since removed it from its Twitter feed. But satire is supposed to have a barb hidden in its tail that stings us. Otherwise, it is just mawkish. Wuerker is channeling Ronald Reagan, who first popularized the mantra, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” That meme has gained currency over the past 40 years, and today there is an unfocused rage against the government that surpasses all known boundaries.

Faith-Based Thinking

Trump’s position is that climate change is a hoax, an idea long championed by the right-wing institutions funded by the Koch brothers and other oil interests. He prefers to operate on beliefs handed down from others rather than on facts.

Faith-based thinking is nothing new. Plenty of people believed Columbus would sail off the edge of the world into the abyss. Race engineers once believed it was absurd to make tires wider because it was impossible for any automobile to exceed 1 G of lateral acceleration. Hitler believed Jews were inferior to Aryans and should be exterminated. J. Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology, made a name for himself by performing genital surgery on black women without anesthesia because he believed blacks were incapable of feeling pain. Followers of James Jones believed that drinking the Kool Aid would guarantee them instant access to the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s like believing 2 plus 2 equals 14.765 because Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or some preacher said so. Government based on faith in legends is no government at all. Instead, it is a recipe for colossal failure. Civilizations that refuse to learn from experience are predestined to fail as other groups that heed those lessons profit from that experience and flourish. Trump isn’t making America great again. He is making America dumber and greasing the skids for a total national collapse. America may soon become little more than a footnote in the annals of history.

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