1. It’s Monday, August 28, 2017.
2. On this day 12 years ago, Katrina became a Category 5 Hurricane, hours before it would strike land near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Folks who live along the Gulf Coast can’t be too crazy about the last week of August.
3. After seeing the images from the Houston area this weekend, it’s hard to think about much else.
Those of us in safe, dry areas can’t imagine the horror playing out along the Texas Gulf Coast. There are places that have recorded more than 33 inches of rain this weekend, with more on the way.
So here are some quick thoughts about this tragedy playing out in Texas.
4. First, there’s a natural tendency to want to help. And the easiest way for someone who’s not in Texas is to send money someplace.
The instinctive reaction is to send money to the American Red Cross. It’s the first name you think of when there’s a disaster. It’s the organization former President Obama linked to in expressing his concern about the crisis.
But as the public interest journalism site ProPublica points out, the American Red Cross has, at best, a checkered history in dealing with relief efforts. Going all the way back to the relief effort following 9/11, there have been questions about how the organization is spending the millions it receives in times of need.
And, because it has a lot to do with your heart, where the money you donate in a crisis goes means a lot to you. You’ve just watched an elderly couple rescued from their home on CNN and you wish there was a way you could personally place those people in a dry Holiday Inn 300 miles away.
But you can’t. So you rely on agencies equipped to help and send your heartfelt donations to them.
If they waste it, as the Red Cross appears to have done in several instances, it makes helping harder. I want to give what I can, but I don’t want it spent on an ad campaign or an executive VP’s 401(k).
So my tendency is to look for established local charities. These are organizations that were helping folks in Houston years before the rain came, and expect to be around when the city emerges from this nightmare.
One list that I will likely work from comes from Texas Monthly magazine’s Web site. It breaks down area charities by such categories as children, the homeless, the hungry and pets.
It’s perhaps the best bet that the money you donate does what you agonizingly want it to do – help these people in what has to be the worst hours of their lives.
5. Second, there are those who believe this is an inappropriate time to talk about the impact of climate change. They are fools.
This is a storm without precedent. As was Katrina in 2005. As was Sandy in 2012. That’s three never-before-seen storms in 12 years, in places where people have been living since the 1600s, just off the top of my head.
Anyone who can’t see that or, worse, sees the virtue of that, as some of the climate change skeptics have, is an idiot. And they need to be ignored.
So two things have to happen here. One is that local and state governments need stronger contingency plans. Houston clearly wasn’t ready for 33 inches of rain. Is Miami? Is New York?
Every city should be upping their worst-case scenarios by 50%. What places should be evacuated? What places are best for shelter? Are the communications systems in place? Are first responders – people whose courage in these situations have been on continuous display all weekend – adequately trained?
But the other thing that has to happen is the work to stop this deterioration of our environment.
Yes, that means abiding by the Paris Agreement. Yes, that means expanding on it.
Yes, that also means continuing the weaning of the world from fossil fuels.
That’s going to hit home very soon. The Houston area includes oil refineries. That means we ain’t getting a lot of gas from there in the next few weeks, and that means prices – which have been remarkably low for about two years – are about to skyrocket.
We’re paying around $2.50 a gallon here. I’ll bet we’re around $3 by Labor Day or soon after.
We can’t do anything about Harvey. We can’t do much about storms coming in the next 10 years. But we must try to prevent even worse storms in the 2030s and beyond.
Climate change is real. That’s what people in Houston are finding out.
6. Third is the government response. In particular, the aid the Congress is going to approve to help in this disaster.
Perversely, this is the moment many in the New York metro area have been waiting for. Texas politicians, hat in hand, begging for aid to rebuild their flooded-out communities.
The same politicians who, just five years ago, turned their backs on the devastation inflicted by Sandy. An aid package for the area barely passed the Congress, with many Texas Republicans tut-tutting the particulars.
Now they need help. A lot more help than we needed. A lot.
And, of course, they’re going to vote for it. They’d be idiots not to. How do you go to your constituents who’ve either lost their homes or seen their livelihoods jeopardized by closed businesses and say you were just trying to keep government off their backs? When these people need to jump whole-heartedly onto the government’s back?
Is this the moment New Yorkers and New Jerseyans return the gesture?
No freakin’ way!
We are better than that. We should approve every penny these people ask for and then ask if it’s enough. We should open our wallets and extend our hands because we know better.
But we should also remind them, continually, of their hypocrisy. We’re helping them because we know what need is, and because we might need it again someday.
Let’s see how many of the 180 House members who voted against helping New York and New Jersey feel the same way about not helping Texas.
7. Finally this:
We’ve spent the better part of 2017 watching Trump and his sycophants malign news organizations. “Fake news” is their cry as they trash the reporting of The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and others.
But in the last few days, while Trump hid at Camp David and tweeted nonsense, reporters from newspapers, TV and radio stations, networks and Web sites went out in the flood waters. They reported on the efforts to save people. They even saved people themselves.
Because that’s their job.
Among its best practitioners, many of whom I’ve worked with, journalism is a way of doing good in the world. By showing the world as it is, and helping to make it better.
The courage and compassion we’ve seen from journalists of all persona this weekend should remind all of us about the nobility of their profession. I was proud to be one, and now I’m proud of the people who do the work – both in the field and in the office.
Ladies and gentlemen, keep plugging.