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Hamstrung by hubris: How bravado keeps the U.S. locked in a cycle of devastating mistakes

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Alan Freeman writes at iPolitics:

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence visited the Houston region Thursday and vowed that the U.S. government will back the population as it recovers from the disastrous damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

“We will be here every day until this state and this region rebuild bigger and better than ever before,” he told a crowd at a damaged church in Rockport, Texas.

Bigger and better. Not smarter. Not smaller. What Pence is promising Houston and Texas is a continuation of the calamitous policies that have helped create the situation in the first place.

This may have been a once in a 500-year event, or as some experts are now saying, the third such 500-year event in just three years to hit Houston. (Interesting arithmetic.) But it’s undeniable that the devastation caused by Harvey’s torrential rains was exacerbated by irresponsible land-use planning and flood mitigation measures that has accompanied Houston’s uncontrolled expansion in recent decades.

Like some sort of cancerous growth, the city has spread across hundreds of square miles of land in southern Texas, paving over the prairies that used to soak up the excess moisture that inevitably drenches the area, even before the impact of climate change. With these fields replaced by tracts of housing and multiple-laned highways, the water has nowhere to go, quickly clogging up canals and bayous and ending up in people’s living rooms. In 2009. In 2015. In 2016. And again this week.

Not as if Houston shouldn’t have seen this coming.

In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism entitled “Boomtown, Flood Town”, published last December, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune predicted that decades of irresponsible planning decisions would lead to a Harvey-like catastrophe.

“Climate change will bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to cities like Houston,” the report said. “But unchecked development remains a priority in the famously unzoned city, creating short-term economic gain for some while increasing flood risks for everyone.” It noted that in Harris County, 30 per cent of fresh-water wetlands were lost to rampant development between 1992 and 2010.

In a truly frightening interview, the head of the local Flood Control District said he had no plans to study the impact of climate change and accused scientists and environmentalists of being “anti-development.”

Of course, it will cost the U.S. government tens-of-billions of dollars to rebuild public infrastructure and help desperate homeowners salvage their homes. But what are the chances that the U.S. will learn from the experience, accept the impact of climate change and adapt their policies and behaviours to face the new reality? Based on Pence’s comments, pretty slim.

Denial has become an essential trait of American political culture, epitomized by the Donald J. Trump, the denier in chief. Denial of climate change, denial of the impact of over-development, denial of the need for tax revenue to finance government. They have become hallmarks of a corrosive disease that threatens the America’s present and future prosperity.

With the U.S. government facing an unexpected expenditure of an estimated $75-billion in Harvey relief, what did President Trump do this week? He gave a speech pledging huge tax cuts. The mind boggles. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2017 at 1:37 pm

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