Last week, Hurricane Irma spun through much of the Caribbean Islands and Florida, devastating communities, destroying roads and buildings, and renewing anxieties about climate change. The storm was particularly frightening for a multitude of reasons: its proximity to Hurricanes Harvey, Jose, and Katia; its incredible 400-mile radius; and its record-breaking intensity.
While a number of environmental factors cause hurricanes, climate change worsens their impact. These facts alone should be enough reason to buckle down on climate legislation. But Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency chief and climate change denier, thinks differently.
“Here's the issue,” Pruitt told CNN. “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm, versus helping people or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.”
“To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida,” he added. This quote is so convoluted that it verges on nonsensical; Pruitt favors a reactionary approach not only over, but in lieu of, a preventative one.
He sets up a false choice: you can either have immediate empathy for people’s struggles, or you have concern for the root of these struggles. This is a familiar refrain for the GOP. When tragedy strikes, the government avoids creating meaningful legislation, instead diverting national attention with accusations of ‘politicizing’ a tragedy.
Though ‘politicizing’ a tragedy is framed as a callous act, it is far from that. Too often we conflate creating meaningful legislation with exploiting a tragedy for personal or political gain. Legislation doesn’t exist as purely cold, fact-driven calculus; it is driven by deeply human stories and empathy for those suffering.
For the 103 dead because of Irma in the United States and the Caribbean, for the incalculable number facing destroyed homes and insurmountable financial burden, for the citrus growers facing a heavily compromised season, the government must honestly acknowledge its failure to pass comprehensive environmentally-conscious legislation.
However, the GOP continues to discourage conversation on the matter. The current administration has shown nothing but contempt for climate science.
The United States withdrew from Paris Climate Treaty in August with no small fanfare. Ten days before Harvey made landfall in Texas, Trump rescinded an Obama-era executive order that required protective infrastructure in flood-prone areas. Even mentions of climate change have been wiped from the EPA website.
Meanwhile, those actually affected by catastrophic weather events continue to suffer. In Miami, mayor Tomás Regalado slammed Pruitt’s comments.
“It is insensitive on his part, because I wish that he would have been here when people ran from high rises, because of the storm surge,” Regalado told CNN. “I wish that he would have been here when we were told that we were facing apocalyptic moments with a Cat 5 hurricane.”
Instead of backing away from the issue out of a misguided idea of sensitivity, now is the ideal time to discuss climate change and its devastating effects. Shying away from climate discussion only further victimizes those it purports to be considering.
Amy Lowndes PO '21 is from Orlando, Florida. She likes Dolly Parton, iced coffee, and '90s crime shows.