BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Some two weeks shy of 12 years ago, I referred to hurricane Katrina for the first time. It was, unsurprisingly, in the context of environmental negligence and destructiveness with which we have behaved.
Here we are, a dozen years later bearing the bluster of hurricane Harvey, and we have not yet learned to stop messing around with our climate. But this time, there is delicious irony in the mix. Houston is one of the guiltiest cities, from the perspective of the fossil fuel industry, carbon producing, and attendant climate altering havoc they wreak. It is one of the world’s epicenters of the oil and gas business. I write this with not an ounce of remorse, but all I can say is – too bad the parts of Houston and environs that have been most impacted are the suburban/middle class, river (called bayous locally) proximate, and poorer areas of the region. The guilty parties (oil companies and their executives) seem to be getting off relatively easily and avoiding the worst rainfall and flooding.
Here, the right wing, climate-change-denying, reality-disconnected members of our Armenian nation and communities may well be fulminating. That froth coming out of their mouths is likely accompanied by thoughts to the effect of “how inappropriate to ‘politicize’ a natural disaster” (one of the standard right wing talking points) or “what’s this have to do with Armenian issues, and why does it appear in an Armenian publication?”
Both of these are terrific sounding, but ultimately utterly unfounded arguments. Regarding politicization, when hurricane Sandy struck the east coast some five years ago, the Republicans in both houses of Congress were very miserly in their approach to disaster relief funds. While the underlying cause was clearly political – the northeastern U.S. leans predominantly Democratic, and that was an opportunity to inflict pain on their political adversaries, all kinds of “principled” excuses were bandied about. Claims were made by Republican legislators that money in the disaster relief legislation was “pork” (i.e. money to be spent on pet projects of legislators in their districts) unrelated to cleanup and reconstruction after the hurricane. These were fact checked and turned out to be untrue.
Now, for example, with the shoe on the other foot, Texas’ senators, both of whom voted against Sandy relief funding, are out asking for money! Of course this is legitimate. But if I were the vindictive type, I would advocate opposing that funding, to teach these unscrupulous, hypocritical, scoundrels a lesson. But what would be the point? Those who would suffer most are those who share no part of the blame for the global warming that exacerbated the effects of Katrina, Sandy, and now Harvey. However, it might make sense to insist that the reconstruction portion of the funds be conditioned by the requirement that safer building approaches be implemented – from the location of housing to the materials used and even the density and types of buildings (re)constructed. Also, it should carry the requirement that climate change impacts be factored in rather than avoided as was done 2009, 2011, and 2013 when state level legislation was squelched in legislative committee and prevented, by then governor Rick Perry (later presidential candidate and now, ironically, U.S. Secretary of Energy), from being discussed.
Republicans and right wingers are also arguing that this isn’t the time to discuss climate change. Why not? It’s because they are afraid that more people in the U.S. will realize the reality and severity of the problem. This is a “teachable moment” not unlike taking a child to see a meteor shower rather than just telling her/him about streaks of light in the sky; or explaining how erosion works by going out during a rainstorm to an exposed, unvegetated hillside; or observing how a building is built from the foundation to the installation of fancy faucets. That’s how people learn and understand. That’s exactly what climate change denialists who are in elected office fear the most – that people in Republican leaning states will turn against them and vote for candidates who recognize the urgency of addressing the problem rather than pretending it doesn’t exit, is naturally occurring, or is still unproven. The last argument was used by the tobacco industry to fend off restrictions, legislation, and lawsuits over the damaging health effects of smoking. It is the “science hasn’t proven it 100%” argument. It’s the strategy of sowing doubt and fear. It’s the same strategy Ankara uses regarding its murderous past.
Well, given that science is an accretive process, the 100% certainty point takes time to reach. But, given our experience with the scientific method over the past few centuries, when we see the direction of the accumulating evidence, doesn’t wisdom require that we act as soon as possible? We have been aware of the threat of climate change since at least the 1970s. More and more documentation has piled up that the threat is real and the longer we wait, the more damage we will suffer. So even if we have “only” 90% certainty today (or 80 or 70) seeing the damage these super-sized storms are wreaking, or the deaths that heat waves in Europe are causing, or the worsening drought striking Africa, shouldn’t we act now?
As to the Armenian angle, it is terribly obvious. Just as over the course of my roughly half-century of awareness the severity and impact of storms in the U.S. has steadily increased, similarly, we have signs of increasing problems in Armenia (the parts under both Armenian and Turkish control). The best example is the recent, severe, fire in the Khosrov Preserve. That has been protected land for some 17 centuries! Had we ever heard of such a disaster in any part of Armenia? We are also being warned of the potential for desertification in Armenia. The Turkish government is building more and more dams in parts of occupied Western Armenia, in small part to address water needs because the countryside has become so denuded of tree cover over the centuries of their misrule and now the impacts of climate change – increasing temperatures and changing patterns of rainfall.
It’s well past the time to get VERY serious about stopping climate change by first, radically changing our sources of energy by shifting to solar and wind power (the technology now exists in all its necessary aspects) and second, modifying our agricultural and horticultural practices. Advocate with and support your legislators in implementing enabling laws to achieve these human-civilization-critical changes.