Hurricanes Impact People Unequally

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Originally published on RedGreenandBlue.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a U.S.-based non-profit solidarity organization that funds the social, political, and humanitarian projects of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

At TruthDig, where she is a regular columnist, she writes — Demanding Climate Justice in Hurricanes’ Wake:

As the floodwaters from two devastating back-to-back hurricanes recede in Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and several Caribbean islands, it is tempting to think that Mother Nature, supercharged by global warming, has impacted Americans of all races and classes equally.

The mainstream media certainly seem to think this is the case: The New York Times, for example, headlined a story about Hurricane Harvey in Houston with the words, “Storm With ‘No Boundaries’ Took Aim at Rich and Poor Alike.” Celebrities and billionaires like Richard Branson lost mansions on their private islands. President Trump’s 11-bedroom villa on the island of St. Martin called Le Château des Palmiers, which boasts marble flooring and tennis courts, barely managed to withstand Hurricane Irma, while his Florida resort and “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago, had to be evacuated. Right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh, just days after criticizing the media for creating what he considered undue hype over climate change and hurricanes, was forced to flee his Palm Beach home. And Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose tenure launched a virtual ban on the phrase “climate change,” at state agencies and who oversaw defunding the protection of wetlands that guard against flooding, was forced to appeal for federal funds to help rebuild his state.

One of the Trump administration’s chief climate deniers, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, went even further, saying he found it crass to discuss the actual cause of the devastation. “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,” he said, adding that it was, “very, very insensitive” to Floridians to bring up climate change. Such sentiments are reminiscent of the reactions from the National Rifle Association and gun-proliferation activists who gasp in horror at the mention of lax gun control in the wake of mass shootings, as if discussing the most direct causes of events in order to prevent future tragedies is the greatest insult to victims and survivors.

It is tempting to hope that when climate change impacts wealthy elites — who most benefit from industries that fuel both their bank accounts and the world’s greenhouse gases—they may rethink the price we are paying for a fossil fuel-powered civilization. But climate denialism is a phenomenon so persistent and well-funded that we cannot rely on the self-preservation instincts of the rich. Right-wing former Breitbart columnist, white supremacist and misogynist poster child Milo Yiannopoulos, falsely said, as “a joke,” that he had lost his home in Florida. Ann Coulter made light of people in the path of the hurricane, tweeting “Residents at risk of dying from boredom.” (At least 12 people died because of Hurricane Irma.) The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, wasted no time in trotting out its standard denouncement of links between extreme and unpredictable weather and global warming.

Those elites who deny the existence of climate change are the same ones who refuse to see the pervasive inequality underlying these disasters. After all, capitalism combined with structural racism is exactly what drives inequality and environmental injustices. Vulnerable communities pay a disproportionate price for climate-related disasters, just as they do in other aspects of life. In Houston, people of color were, unsurprisingly, hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Unlike billionaire Richard Branson, most poor Americans on coastal communities do not have an underground wine cellar in which to ride out storms, or unlimited private resources to rebuild their homes. Even if the storms impacted all Americans, certain Americans are able to survive climate disasters and recover from them far better than others. And this may be precisely the fact that the rich are counting on to tide them over through the next decade. The idea of climate justice is anathema to the wealthy elites who prop up our oil-soaked economy. They prefer Darwinian outcomes. […]

Reprinted with permission.

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