News & Politics

Republicans' Total Inability to Govern Is Destroying the Country from the Inside Out

The party's climate denialism has left us uniquely vulnerable to natural disasters like Harvey and Irma.

Texas National Guardsmen assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey onto a military vehicle in Houston on August 27, 2017
Photo Credit: Army National Guard / Lt. Zachary West

Total catastrophe is becoming the new normal in the U.S. with record-setting hurricanes bashing both Texas and Floria in the past two weeks, wildfires burning millions of acres throughout the west, and severe drought in the plains. Meanwhile, a political party that doesn't believe in science and denies climate change is in charge of government. The years of climate change denial from Republicans has resulted in policies that are making the response to multiple, simultaneous disasters much more difficult and much more expensive.  

Harvey and Irma could be a breaking point. At $556 billion, the Houston metropolitan area's economy is bigger than Sweden’s. New Jersey could easily fit inside the region’s sprawling footprint, where Harvey dumped 34 trillion gallons of water, as much as the three costliest floods in Texas history combined. The Harvey response alone eventually could double the $136 billion in government aid spent after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

And as of Friday, an estimated $1.73 trillion worth of real estate was in the path of Irma’s hurricane-force winds, according to the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. […]

Even if the federal government opens its wallet, it’s not evident it has the long-term capacity for multiple mobilizations. On Friday, as President Donald Trump signed a bill approving more than $15 billion in storm aid, Hurricane Jose churned off the coast of Puerto Rico. In the West, wildfires blazed in Oregon, Washington, Montana and California. […]

But while Congress can appropriate emergency aid, the federal government’s catch-as-catch-can approach to disasters and the austerity demanded by fiscal conservatives have given short shrift to preventative measures and emergency-response training.

The examples are rampant—the National Flood Insurance Program, which is facing a deadline of September 30 to be reauthorized by Congress, is $25 billion in debt. Efforts to reform it to stop encouraging development in flood plains, to make premium costs reflect the costs of flood response have been clawed back by Republicans. The Obama administration couldn't get legislation through Congress to deal with climate change, but did create various regulations to restrict federally funded building projects in flood plains and to toughen up building codes in flood-prone areas. Trump revoked those executive orders last month.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum puts it simply. "There are two kinds of insurance: You can pre-fund the insurance on things like flood-control systems and better sewers to get rainwater out and shelters prepared," he says. The alternative "is, 'OK, it’s happened, now write a check to cover it.'" The writing of the checks afterward means worse death and destruction from these natural disasters when they hit. It means stumbling from disaster to disaster with inadequate preparation and worsened response.

The refusal to acknowledge the reality of climate change, a refusal to govern responsibly, means every year is likely to be as bad or worse than the year before—this year the U.S. has already experienced 10 weather-related events each costing $1 billion or more, compared to no more than six on average between 1980 and 2016. We have a government utterly and totally incapable of dealing with that.

 

Joan McCarter is a Daily Kos staff writer.
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