Sometimes life deals you a better hand than other players at the table. Here in the Northeast, we’re feeling pretty lucky just now.
Our homes weren’t pounded by a hurricane. Nor are we just beginning the tough task of rebuilding from the devastation of a 1,000-year flood.
So beyond feeling relief, what are we supposed to be doing?
Since mid-August, when Harvey formed as a tropical storm, we have been tracking and worrying about cyclones. As we have enjoyed the comfort of late summer in the Northeast, nature has pummeled first Texas and now Florida. Most of us have friends and loved ones in one place or the other. If we’re empathetic at all, we’re conscious of how different our situation is from theirs.
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Harvey created the heaviest rainfall in recorded U.S. history, leaving destruction that could total $180 billion, the costliest natural disaster America has ever seen. Millions of people fled their homes in fear as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida after devastating Caribbean islands. It could yield up to $200 billion in damage.
And Hurricane Jose still may have something to present to the United States, too.
President Donald Trump on Friday signed the $15.3 billion emergency disaster aid package Congress sent him — a reversal from the $876 million cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency his administration planned before Harvey. Unless Washington is willing to allow the nation’s second and third most populous states to spiral into economic turmoil, tens of billions more will be needed.
That sort of helping hand doesn’t arise from geography or political affiliation; it’s the way we all hope we will respond when our neighbors are in need.
Yet appropriations from the federal government are only a piece of what we need to be weighing now.
First, of course, we must praise the volunteers who step forward whenever there’s a natural disaster. In Texas, thousands of people with boats and big vehicles rolled into place to help others, including an informal network of good Samaritans from Louisiana who call themselves the “Cajun Navy.” That sort of helping hand doesn’t arise from geography or political affiliation; it’s the way we all hope we will respond when our neighbors are in need.
Second, this is a chance for us all to support organizations that aid displaced people in need. You might contribute to your favorite religious charity, or perhaps to the Red Cross. Some employers are matching workers’ donations.
Or your aid may take a different form. If you’re hoping to add a dog to your home anytime soon, consider the four-pawed refugees of the storms. If you buy stuff online, consider giving a boost (and extending some patience) to vendors whose usual revenue streams have been disrupted by the storms.
And, importantly, we need to recognize that the storms’ impacts will be long-term. We shouldn’t underestimate the effect on mental health of those slammed by the storm, and we don’t yet fully understand the ecological damage that may have been done because of the concentration of petrochemical industries around Houston. Care for the affected communities must take many forms for many years to come.
Is it wise to rebuild in the same way in the same places, with population growing one generation after another?
Our most important task, though, may be to look forward to doing some things differently in years ahead, and encouraging change elsewhere.
Both Houston and Florida have experienced rampant growth on land that is only habitable as a result of massive drainage and paving, making residents more vulnerable when disaster strikes. Meanwhile, most residents have remained in a state of denial about their peril. Is it wise to rebuild in the same way in the same places, with population growing one generation after another?
That’s an especially relevant question as we look toward a future of rising seas and more frequent vicious storms — undeniable results of human-influenced global warming. Plenty of politicians and talk radio hosts dispute this, but virtually no scientists who actually study climate do. As you look at the storms’ devastation, ask yourself if you can in good conscience support any federal or state official who fails to commit to an aggressive fight to reduce the effects of climate change.
So, yes, in the lucky comfort of our homes away from the storms’ wrath, with our eyes on Texas and Florida, there is much we can be thinking and doing.
Contact Mr. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.