Opinion: Houston and the Flood  

 

 

I think we are all saddened and upset about what is happening in Houston. The worst rainstorm in US history. Houston will be years in recovery and we can only hope that the numbers of people who died in the floods remains fairly small. But I am also thinking about how the ruling class in Houston brought this disaster to their city. And what needs to happen if the proper lessons will be learned. Some folks say wait until the disaster relief is over, but I think it’s important to call out the culprits now. Otherwise we shall forget to do it and they will slide by and kill again.

I went to Houston for a convention last summer at the University of Houston. It was 98 degrees and humid with a blazing sun every day. Even at night it was hot. But I needed to walk and found the local bayou. It was about four blocks south of the university and this particular section was a designated greenway. It was a steep sided concrete waterway with large drain pipes leading from the community to the bayou. Those walls were about 15 feet high above the water level. I do not know how deep they were as I could not see the bottom in the center. In one place there was a ramp leading down to the water, mostly for maintenance and emergency vehicles. Above the concrete V, there was a narrow grass strip then a 10-foot-high vegetated bank. On top of this was a walking path, then the streets and a neighborhood. On the side of the bayou I was on, the neighborhood was flat, like most of Houston. The reason I kept coming back to the bayou was the school of alligator gar in it. Alligator Gar are an ancient (like 300 million years old) fish lineage. They are up to 4 feet long and have a strange bill that reminds one of a small alligator snout. They are intensely cool. Since I was hanging out at the bayou I looked pretty clearly at the infrastructure, stormwater systems being part of my practice for a very long time. And I think about habitat, seeing as I am attempting to restructure a rainwater-fed system in Providence so that it better supports breeding toads.

Early one morning, I talked to an elderly woman walking her dog on the walking path. She was a native of east Texas, but not that neighborhood, though she had lived in the apartment facing the bayou for a number of years. Houston has been hit by big floods in the last few years and she noted that the last biggest one came almost to the doorsteps of the buildings on her street facing the bayou. I am guessing that the whole neighborhood was under water this time, all the way to the tracks of Houston’s new trolley system.

I saw today that environmental justice neighborhoods/ communities of color near Houston’s refineries (and waterways) are breathing lots of really bad chemicals that were released in the hasty shutdowns of the plants. The Houston Ship Channel has a HUGE collection of refineries and petrochemical plants, probably the greatest concentration of such plants in the world. Who knows what has gone into the water and if any pipelines have broken.  If any place in the world, other than Saudi Arabia, is the home of the oil and gas-based business, industry and commerce, it is Houston. Houston would be a way too hot and humid small town if Texas did not have oil and gas.  And oil and gas interests run Texas. And climate deniers inhabit the board rooms and political theaters of Texas. In other words, the ruling class in Texas and Houston has brought this disaster onto the city, by the policies they demand as climate deniers and polluters, and the commerce in the petroleum that they profitably send around the country to go up in smoke. I know I should not say it, but the ruling class of Houston should be prosecuted for crimes against the Earth, and crimes against humanity, as well as vandalism. Exxon, its corporate cohort and all the executives of oil related industries should pay to rebuild the city.

 

It is going to take billions of dollars to rebuild Houston, but maybe they should not.  It is an incredibly flood prone place, after all most of the city sits on drained and channelized floodplains that drain very slowly due to the clay it is all made of.  As the climate deteriorates, the sea rises,  and the floods get bigger, Houston is more and more vulnerable.   And the infrastructure will never be built big enough to handle what they will face.  Maybe they need to move to higher ground?  And give up the oil industry., as we can no longer afford to have an oil and gas industry anywhere on the planet if civilization is to survive the next 100 years.

 

Instead of reinvading Afghanistan, we should allocate all the money we would spend there and all the other places the empire is trying to control the oil supply, along with all the money we confiscate from the oil and gas industries and their executives, and rebuild Houston and rehouse all of its people, in buildings that use zero fossil fuels on higher ground.  While completely shutting down industries that contribute to carbon pollution and climate change.  At the same time every Texan should vote all the climate deniers out of office.  If they will not, they now know exactly what the consequences of their actions are and should understand we may be unable to rebuild them again as so many other places will be facing these disasters as well.

 

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