- Jeffrey Sachs: Houston is an oil town, so Texas politicians have long ignored climate truth and climate preparedness
- Sachs: They have lied to their constituents for too long, expecting the rest of US to keep bailing them out. Harvey was foreseeable
Jeffrey Sachs is a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
(CNN)It’s important to politicize Hurricane Harvey. Not politics in the sense of political parties, or politics to win elections. Politics to protect America.
The priority in the next hours and days is to save lives and reduce suffering, without hesitation and without question of costs or politics. But then must come the reckoning.
Once the immediate crisis ends, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, should resign with an apology to his state and his country. Then the Texas delegation in Congress should make a public confession. They have lied to their constituents for too long, expecting the rest of America to keep bailing them out.
The reason is this. Texas politics aims to bring profits to the oil and gas industry, but it does this at high cost and dire threat to Texas residents and the American people.
Hurricane Harvey was a foreseeable disaster. Indeed, a massive hurricane strike on Houston, followed by massive flooding, was widely anticipated.
But Houston is an oil town, and the American oil industry has been enemy No. 1 of climate truth and climate preparedness. Most oil companies and Texas politicians see nothing, say nothing, do nothing. Even worse, they hide the truth, and then beg for help as needed. Gov. Abbott has played this game one disaster too many.
Abbott, for example, was the governor to sign a new law in 2015 that prevents cities and municipalities in Texas from setting their own regulations that might rein in oil and gas drilling activities. On his watch, Texas supported withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Over many years, he has raked in millions in campaign contributions from the oil industry, including in his former role as Texas attorney general, where he sued the Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly over rules designed to curb carbon emissions.
And the state, under Abbott’s direction, has taken no significant steps toward flood protection, despite the recognized risks of a mega-hurricane and flood.
The problem is not about his crisis management this week. I can’t judge that. It’s about his long-standing relentless opposition to environmental protection, including his blind eye to global warming and the grave dangers it poses.
The Texas Tribune and ProPublica published a 2016 award-winning report on “Hell or High Water,” explaining why Houston is a “sitting duck for the next big hurricane.” In 2015, Inside Climate News wrote that “as weather extremes like flooding batter Texas, its refusal to prepare for an even more volatile climate leaves residents at risk, experts say.”