It’s outrageous, of course, that this Texas flood has forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Houstonians — not to mention another six figures’ worth of Louisianians, Mississippians and Alabamans who await Hurricane Harvey’s wrath over the next couple days.
Unlike most of the outrage Americans have been feeling these last few years, though, when it comes to the weather it’s difficult to find someone to blame.
Yes, we can cite infrastructure deficiencies like the antiquated flood-control system in place along the Gulf of Mexico, or the out-of-commission pumps in New Orleans that could spell real trouble when the rains come down. We can ridicule our president for his imbecilic remarks upon landing at the epicenter of the flooding — “What a crowd!” he said to an assembled throng of wet and shivering evacuees in Corpus Christi. “What a turnout!”
Or we can point to the proliferation of these disaster-level weather events in this new century as evidence that the earth’s climate is indeed changing, and that maybe we should stop arguing about the cause and instead concentrate on the effect.
But in the here and now we’ve got flooding down in Texas after a monster storm hovered over the eastern wing of the massive state for a week; the people swimming to safety have more pressing needs than blamestorming, which will certainly be sorted out in due time.
Like a cold snap to an old car, disasters like Harvey — and Katrina before him — reveal fault lines and fissures: stress points where the systems we’ve built cannot handle the new normal.
But they also make clear our inborn compassion for our fellow human beings. As it was after Katrina and Matthew and Sandy and even 9/11, once again hundreds if not thousands of Americans converged on the disaster area. To help.
It’s too early to properly politicize this storm, which is forecast to rage through the week, hitting the Carolinas on Sunday. But it’s right on time to recognize the collectivism that’s fundamental to the great American experiment: We are in this together, no matter how polarized we’ve become.
So as a new high-water mark gets set in the Gulf states, the best those of us on high ground can do today is show compassion for our fellow Americans who have become climate refugees.
We can’t control the weather, but we can control what we do about it.