Hurricane Irene made me think about Hurricane Katrina. I imagine I'm not alone in this. It made me wonder: how have things changed? How have they stayed the same? How have they improved? How have they gotten worse?
Have a listen to the three great tracks below - by Mos Def, Public Enemy, and the Legendary K.O. - made in the aftermath of Katrina. Check the lyrics. These are songs that gave voice to widespread anger and outrage over the Bush Administration's non-response to the tragedy that befell New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in August 2005. But they also speak, powerfully and timelessly, to backward national priorities, institutional racism, poverty, police brutality, anti-war sentiment, and other pressing issues that continue to receive scant attention in the post-Bush era.
Intelligent people (but few in positions of power or influence) wrote and spoke insightfully at the time about Katrina's extreme strength and destructiveness as symptoms of climate change. Six years later Hurricane Irene is a manifestation of the same. Though disaster preparedness may have improved, the discussion about climate change has been largely left out of the vocabulary of those who govern and report.
Hurricane Irene coincided with a weeks-long mass mobilization of environmental groups in front of the White House. Hundreds of people from around the US are lining up to be arrested (over 500 arrests as of this writing) to raise awareness of the Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that will carry highly toxic oil from the Alberta tar sands (an environmental catastrophe in and of itself) in Canada, through fragile ecosystems in the US, to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico for global export. The State Department has signed off on the project and it is up to Obama to make the final decision of whether or not the Keystone XL is in the national interest. Climate scientists and environmentalists have declared loudly and clearly that the mining of the tar sands is an enormous "carbon bomb" and is absolutely counter to the urgent need to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Obama, remember, has signed deepwater drilling permits in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. His administration stacked a seven-member advisory panel on gas hydrofracking with insiders from the energy industry. He is a recipient of large campaign contributions from the nuclear industry, and a zealous supporter of it.
It is certainly curious. One could see the racism, hatred and deceit of George Bush and his administration unmasked, not only in the whole of his years-long, bloody war on terror, but also in moments like the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since he entered office Obama has been cultivating his own hatred and deceit, with his bloated war on terror, his ever-expanding drone bombing programs, and horrifically malfeasant energy projects. His refusal to deal honestly with climate change and his willingness to sign off on one environmental disaster after another begs the question: is there anyone he doesn't hate?
(Post script: have a look at this article from the New York Times, about the devastation from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene to communities in Upstate New York and Vermont. It is also typical of the reporting I listened to on NPR over the weekend: devoid of any mention of climate change. It's like reporting "bombs dropped on houses" but failing to mention who dropped the bombs. Oh but I guess they do that too.)