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Hurricane Harvey

Naomi Klein: We Are Seeing the Shock Doctrine in Effect After Hurricanes Harvey & Irma

Naomi Klein interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, September 18, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Increasing climate chaos has driven a number of celebrities to warn of the dangers of global warming. Tuesday night’s "Hand in Hand" hurricane relief telethon kicked off with a message from Stevie Wonder, who called out climate deniers ahead of a rendition of the classic song "Stand By Me."

STEVIE WONDER: As we should begin to love and value our planet, and anyone who believes that there is no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent.

AMY GOODMAN: The music legend Beyoncé also called out the effects of climate change during the "Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief" telethon.

BEYONCÉ: The effects of climate change are playing out around the world every day. Just this past week, we’ve seen devastation from the monsoon in India, an 8.1 earthquake in Mexico and multiple catastrophic hurricanes. Irma alone has left a trail of death and destruction from the Caribbean to Florida to Southern United States. We have to be prepared for what comes next. So, tonight, we come together in a collective effort to raise our voices, to help our communities, to lift our spirits and heal.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Beyoncé. And we’re spending the hour with Naomi Klein, author of the new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. The book just became a finalist for a National Book Award, or Naomi did. So you have Beyoncé, Naomi. You’ve got Stevie Wonder weighing in. But you have the networks, not—I’m not even talking about Fox—MSNBC and CNN hardly mentioning the word "climate change" when it comes to these horrific events, when they are spending 24 hours a day on these—this climate chaos. One of your latest pieces, "Season of Smoke: In a Summer of Wildfires and Hurricanes, My Son Asks 'Why Is Everything Going Wrong?'" well, CNN and and MSNBC aren’t letting him know. But what about not only what President Trump is saying, but this lack of coverage of this issue, and also the lack of coverage of the connections between this terrible—these hurricanes, past and the coming ones, with the fires, the storms, the droughts, and what’s happening in the rest of the world, which make the number of deaths in this country pale by comparison—1,300 in South Asia now from floods?

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, and Nigeria. And I think this really is the moment to explain the connections between these events, because what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades is that a warmer world is an extreme world. It’s a world of extremes that is sort of ricocheting between too much and not enough, right? Too much precipitation, these extreme precipitation events, not just rain, but also snow—you know, if you remember these bizarre storms in Boston, where you’ll have these winters with very little snow, but then you’ll have these massive snow dumps—and then not enough, not enough water, and those conditions creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to burn out of control, right? But fire is a normal part of the forest cycle, but what we are seeing is above and beyond that, which is why we’re seeing record-breaking fires, largest fire ever recorded within the limits of the city of Los Angeles, for instance, a plume of smoke that a couple of weeks ago reached from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the entire continent covered in this plume of smoke, which didn’t receive that much coverage, because it happened as Irma was bearing down on Florida.

So, this is the extreme world—we’re catching a glimpse of it—that we’ve been warned about. And we hear this phrase, "the new normal." And it’s a little bit misleading, because I don’t think there is a normal. You know, it’s precisely the unpredictability that we have to understand. And I think what a warmer world means is that there are, you know, fewer and fewer breaks between the extreme events.

Report Back from Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

By Redneck Revolt - It's Going Down, September 12, 2017

Houston’s political economy and geography needs to be understood if we are to understand the social impact of Hurricane Harvey. Houston is a “boomtown”, leading in petrochemical, technology, medicine and shipping; in the abstract, certain economic trends such as recession have sometimes not affected Houston as greatly, multinational capital continues to pour into the city, while it’s being pulled out of older Midwestern states, all as a part of a slow but very noticeable process. However, this doesn’t prevent Houston’s prosperity from being concentrated in one class; with some of the cheapest housing and lowest wages, calls for Houston to be emptied as “uninhabitable” leaves locals wondering where else even those who are making decent wages could afford to go. In a lot of places, the water has nowhere to go, and neither does the poverty.

Houston is also a city with a long history of white supremacy since its inception. It is one of America’s most segregated cities. There are well over a hundred languages spoken in Houston homes. Houston is the home to the first private prison, meant to house immigrant detainees, a model which replicated across Texas, the nation, and whole prison industry. It is a vast, sprawling metropolis (the area size as cities twice its population size) and is a driving city with poor public transportation, which despite expansions in recent years, routinely fails the black and brown poor that use them the most. This means that in these neighborhoods, the poorest grow up sometimes never leaving their neighborhood, maybe sometimes for work if they are lucky, or jail if they are not. These are often “food deserts” in these areas, and also as a city known for it’s great “job creation” track record, these jobs don’t reach out to these places.

We were all safe as the storm passed, and although there were scares and close calls, the storm managed to mostly spare the local from impact. We were in constant contact as the storm came, making sure each other were safe. We had decided as a local upon our recent founding that we would be growing BASH (Bayou Action Street Health, a local street medic collective) alongside Houston Redneck Revolt as somewhat of a sister organization, therefore working through BASH made a lot of sense for us. We are a little over a month old, however we have quickly grown on each other. We knew we could count on being able to support BASH, while we figured out what role Redneck Revolt would be able to play in this.

We began our efforts before Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi. Before we were able to leave our houses, we had begun gathering contacts from inside and outside of town, and consolidating local efforts between groups on social media. Members of Redneck Revolt made a Facebook group that is sympathetic to our politics and contained most of Houston’s heavy lifters in terms of organizers, and that continues to be pretty effective as a center for information with quality control. We tried our best to network rescue efforts early on as well, sometimes with people we did not know, in order to circulate information, as all emergency lines were busy. Some also began doing very careful navigation of the streets in order to try to provide care on the ground in places that had not experienced flooding but might have some people walking around. Overall, Houston Redneck Revolt did not participate directly in a rescue experience, however we did our best to support others in this.

As relief volunteers began coming in from out of town in the middle of the week, we immediately got into food and supply distribution as well as housing members of other organizations. Members of Redneck Revolt from outside the city in outlying rural areas came into town, and committed to staying for a long period. We attended conference calls and had to have a lot of conversations very quickly on political questions, and which alliances we would build. We jumped right into prepping hot meals for hundreds of people, and directed supplies to shelters that were being neglected by the cross and tried to stay as knowledgeable as possible. Groups we did this alongside of, and with the help of, were Black Women’s Defense League, Phoenix John Brown Gun Club, Red Guards Austin, Revolutionary Association of Houston, and the Serve the Peoplenetwork, and several others.

The lessons of Katrina that haven't been learned

By Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky - Socialist Worker, September 12, 2017

MANY IMAGES coming out of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey conjure up images of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans--in particular, the rooftop rescues of people stranded in floodwaters and a Convention Center turned into a shelter packed with thousands of people displaced from their homes.

But in fact, the similarities between Houston in 2017 and New Orleans in 2005 run far deeper than mere images--though thankfully it appears that the death toll from Harvey will be far lower than the 1833 people who died during and after Katrina.

One critical parallel between Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina is that, at their root, both were human-made disasters. Of course, each calamity was triggered by weather event, but human actions and societal decisions are the reason for everything from climate change to infrastructure deficiencies that made people were more likely to be left behind to face their possible deaths.

In this sense, both Katrina and Harvey can be called "unnatural disasters." As Tulane history professor Andy Horowitz reminds us, "There is no such thing as a "natural" disaster, because who is in harm's way and the kind of harm they face is a product of human choices."

Climate chaos and the capitalist system

By Paul Fleckenstein - Socialist Worker, September 11, 2017

WE ALL witnessed two catastrophic storm events in the past two weeks, and a third, Hurricane Irma, is heading through the Caribbean toward southwestern Florida, where I used to live.

The weather catastrophe that got the least attention in the U.S. was the extreme rainfall in South Asia over the last several weeks as a result of the worst monsoons in decades. One-third of Bangladesh is underwater, and there are over 1,400 reported deaths in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. And this is just the beginning. Millions face a longer-term crisis of hunger and lack of access to drinkable water.

In the U.S., Hurricane Harvey produced record rainfall in Houston (50 inches), caused more than 60 deaths, flooded 100,000 homes and forced 100,000s of people to flee floodwaters.

As Houston resident and SW contributor Folko Mueller wrote, "It will take weeks, if not months, for the city to recover. We can only guess how long it may take individuals to heal from the emotional and psychological distress caused by having lost loved ones or their homes."

The Houston area is home to 30 percent of the oil refinery capacity in U.S., along with a heavy concentration of chemical plants. There were massive toxic releases from industrial plants into air and water--even by the standards of industry self-reporting, which means systematic underreporting.

Explosions rocked the Arkema plant in the Houston suburbs that produces stock chemicals for manufacturing. It will be many years before we know the full magnitude and effects of this and other releases that took place during the disaster.

We Must Protect the Workers Who Will Rebuild after Hurricane Harvey

By Kathleen Rest - Union of Concern Scientists, September 5, 2017

Storm waters in the greater Houston area are subsiding and the scale of devastation and destruction is staggering. The personal loss, pain, and suffering of families and impacted communities are immeasurable.

As the immediate crisis of saving lives and providing emergency aid and shelter to many thousands winds down, the daunting task of recovery, cleanup, and rebuilding of homes, businesses, and essential infrastructure begins. And, with my 25-plus years of work and experience in occupational health and safety, I am all too aware of the myriad hazards, exposures, and risks workers will be facing in this long-term effort.

Safeguarding workers’ health and safety must not be an afterthought.

The work: dirty, dangerous, and risky

Post-disaster recovery, cleanup, and reconstruction operations present a panoply of risks and dangers—with workers on the front lines.

Some workers will be tasked with the highly hazardous task of getting the area’s oil refineries and chemical plants back on-line. Start-up operations can result in uncontrolled releases and explosions that place the workers and surrounding communities at grave health and safety risk. The US Chemical Safety Board has issued a safety alert, urging caution and providing a checklist for evaluating systems, tanks, instrumentation, and equipment before start-up.

Other workers will be working in and around the 13 highly contaminated Superfund sites that have flooded and sustained storm damage. As of this writing, the EPA reports that 11 additional Superfund sites remain inaccessible to response personnel, so the extent of damage is unknown.

And many if not most workers in the greater Houston area will be doing jobs that, at least in the short term, only compound the well-recognized hazards, exposures, and risks they generally encounter.

Hurricanes and super storms like Harvey, Sandy, and Katrina just pile on additional hazards, including mold, mold, and more mold; water contaminated with chemicals and waste; working in and around unstable structures; and carbon monoxide poisoning due to the use of generators in poorly ventilated areas—an all-too-common event in post-disaster work. These are all on top of the falls, cuts, burns, amputations, and machine and musculoskeletal injuries that are all to frequent in today’s workplaces.  And silica, asbestos, and lead just add to the mix of dangers involved in demolition operations that will be ongoing in Houston. (You can also read my prior commentary on workplace injury, illness, and fatality tolls.)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established protective health and safety standards for many of these hazards, and they remain applicable even during disasters.  Employers remain responsible for complying with these protections.

In the early days of a disaster, OSHA rightly focuses on compliance assistance (outreach, information, and training for employers and workers). But it should shift to enforcement as the immediate crisis passes. We have seen, for example, the consequences of a lack of enforcement of required respiratory protection after 9/11, leading to the illness and death of workers exposed to toxic dust.  Federal agencies have resources and information about these general hazards, as well as disaster-focused resources and information for employers, workers, and the public (including here, here, and here).

While helpful, information on a website is not enough; workers, communities, and the impacted public will need resources and action on the ground. And this will surely strain the capacity and resources of agencies that must continue to meet their existing responsibilities at the same time.

As Hurricanes Intensify, So Does Resistance to Big Oil in the Gulf

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, September 10, 2017

As a longtime environmental justice activist and resident of Port Arthur, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey recently flooded neighborhoods and several large oil refineries, Hilton Kelley has a lot on his mind.

When Truthout reached Kelley on Tuesday, he had just finished posting a crowdfunding appeal for people affected by Hurricane Harvey and was turning to the next task at hand: his own flood-damaged home. Like his neighbors up and down the street, Kelley's belongings were spread across the driveway as he waited with his granddaughter for FEMA officials to arrive and assess the damage.

"I'm right in the mix of this thing," Kelley said. "I rushed to come back here to assist others and also to check on my home that had two feet of water in it."

Kelley was in "survival-first mode," with food, water and a dry place to spend the night among his top concerns. Then there are the troubled refineries working to restart production under the protection of a state waiver ordered by Texas Governor Gregg Abbott in response to the hurricane, which protects facilities from facing penalties for spewing toxic pollution.

A day earlier, the Valero refinery in Port Arthur released 6,116 pounds of sulfur dioxide gas into the air as it restarted operations in the middle of the night, according to state records. Sulfur dioxide causes burning in the nose and throat and is particularly harmful to children, the elderly and people with asthma.

"When it comes to the environment, there's a shutdown [at the refinery], you have smoke coming from the derricks along with some fire, the smell and pungent odors," Kelley said. "Where I'm at now, I don't smell it, but when I go to the west end where the refineries are, it's very apparent."

The Valero refinery would go on to belch thousands of pounds of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and gases into the air as it lurched back to life over the following days, a practice known as "flaring" that occurs when aging refineries abruptly start up, shut down or malfunction.

When combined with emissions from neighboring refineries and other facilities in the region, the numbers are staggering. By August 31, the refineries and petrochemical plants in south Texas had released 5 million pounds of pollution in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, including 1 million pounds of seven particularly dangerous toxic chemicals, such as benzene, hexane and toluene.

While some emissions were the result of storm damage, most were caused by standard procedures involving flaring. Flaring has become routine during major storms, and environmentalists say the oil industry has consistently been unwilling to spare the resources necessary to operate safely in emergencies, even as fossil fuels disrupt the climate and warm oceans, making hurricanes like Harvey more destructive.

"These facilities are located in a part of the world where there are terrible storms, and they are simply not prepared," said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group that tracks petrochemical pollution in Gulf communities.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Association, a group that represents the industry, did not respond to a request for comment from Truthout.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma was brewing in the Atlantic, on its way to becoming one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in that part of the world and leaving a path of destruction across the Caribbean. At the time, there was no way to know whether Irma would turn up the Atlantic Coast or head across the Gulf toward Texas. (The storm is now forecast to move up Florida's Gulf Coast.)

"If that's the case, I'm going all the way to Dallas," Kelley said. "I'm done, I'm tired."

Harvey: Working class people unite to help each other

By Sean O'Torain - Facts for Working People, September 6, 2017

Harvey. Trade unionists and working people unite to help each other. 

Hundreds of thousands of people are facing terrible hardship due to the storm in Texas and Louisiana. These are mainly working class people like ourselves. We the organizers of the Blog Facts For Working People appeal to all to recognize the following reality and take the following concrete steps. 

We must recognize that the manner in which the working class people in the Texas/Louisiana area are working together is an inspiration and an example to all. This must be recognized by all working people and conclusions drawn. There is no thinking about should somebody be helped or not helped because of the color of their skin or their gender. The united effort of the Texas/Louisiana working people shows that not only is working class unity possible but that it actually exists in the struggle to handle the Texas/Louisiana catastrophe. This example must be recognized and built upon. 

From the Gulf Coast to South Asia: solidarity for flooding and rainstorm victims!

By the Steering Committee of Solidarity - Solidarity, September 6, 2017

Torrential monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal have already taken 1200 lives, and left millions homeless and internally displaced in South Asia. A third of Bangladesh is under water; Hurricane Harvey has slammed the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts, where it has continued to rain, resulting in the worst flooding in Texas history and the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. Much of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city, is still flooded.

What is happening in Houston, like what happened to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, has powerful lessons to teach us about race, immigration, class, gender, poverty, the crisis of climate change and the environment, government, and private “security.” In South Asia, echoes of previous recent monsoons and other disasters (Cyclone Sidr in 2007 for example) haunt those living in marginal hazard-prone areas.

Flooding has submerged twenty districts out of 64 in Bangladesh. Multiple forms of marginality intersect, compounding hardship and increasing the vulnerability of people to the whims of government, industry, and NGOs. Nature might not discriminate, but systems and institutions do. In North America, South Asia and throughout the world, “disaster capitalism” profits.

Of course, capitalism itself is a disaster for humanity. Moments like this show just how brutal capitalism is--today more than ever. The warming of the oceans adds to the ferocity of storms, as evidenced in Harvey’s rapid unforeseen development to Category 4 hurricane status and in phenomena like the weakening of the jet stream that kept it hovering in place day after day. “Climate change” are the forbidden words unspoken by the corporate media, including the ostensibly liberal ones.

Uncontrolled sprawl resulting from “free market” policies have exacerbated the conditions in Houston. In the leadup to the hurricane, immigration checkpoints left many undocumented people in Texas, most notably South Texas, trapped between the threats of the storm if they stayed or of deportation if they tried to leave.

Immediately, the people of the Texas Gulf Coast and the people of South Asia need our assistance. A list of grassroots efforts engaged in Gulf Coast relief appears below. Please donate directly and support them generously.

To respond to the disaster in South Asia, Solidarity calls on members, sympathizers and well-wishers to contribute via our website--see the "Make a Donation" button on the right hand side of the page. In Bangladesh, we are working with the Communist Party of Bangladesh-Marxist-Leninist (CPB-ML) and the Krishok Federation (a peasants’ organization). Please be sure to indicate the donation is for Bangladesh hurricane/storm relief. This is part of an international appeal.

Because of climate change we will continue to see an ever-increasing frequency of deadly storms. These are one aspect of a dim future we are headed in if the working people of this planet cannot stop the fossil fuel industry and enact a just transition. This is the nightmare “new normal.” The future really is ecosocialism or barbarism.

The flooded landscape of 21st century capitalism

Fred Magdoff interviewed by Michael Ware - Socialist Worker, September 6, 2017

IS THERE reason to believe that global warming made Hurricane Harvey more intense than it would have been?

YES, ABSOLUTELY. The oceans are warmer, and the Gulf of Mexico in particular has warmed significantly--this year is the warmest of all.

The warmer the water, the more easily water can evaporate, and a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, so you have that aspect as well. Storms in general have been getting more intense--not just this particularly intense storm.

There's another factor as well: The poles are warming faster than the middle of the earth, causing less of a gradient between the temperatures in both places. This affects the atmospheric transfer--that is, the jet streams. One of the predicted effects of this is that weather patterns will slow down--things won't move as fast as they normally would.

This is one of the factors that made Harvey so devastating: it stuck around. It moved a little bit, but in a circle, and it made landfall again and again. I wouldn't be surprised if this is part of the reason why it stayed so long before it started moving out toward the Northeast. That's also an effect of human activity and global warming.

But the major factor is that there's more evaporation from the large bodies of water, the atmosphere holds more water, and we have more intense storms in general.

Welcome to Houston (This Is Not Katrina)

By staff - It's Going Down, September 4, 2017

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many comparisons have been made to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans 12 years ago. Sensational news coverage and dramatic visuals of flooding and water rescues—coupled with memories of the multi-faceted Katrina disaster and a fundamental misunderstanding of Houston’s sheer size, population, and environmental hazards—have shaped people’s reactions. With this misperception about the on-the-ground reality here, communities and individuals across the country began mobilizing people and resources, ready to pour into an imagined ghost-town disaster area in extreme crisis, a la New Orleans circa 2005.

This communication is meant to educate anyone interested in helping with autonomous relief efforts about what happened and did not happen here, as well as what is and is not needed here right now.

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