FLETCHER/CASON: Rebuilding the Gulf Coast, Preparing for the Next Hurricane

Residents of Houston walk along a major artery of the city as the waters from Tropical Storm Harvey continue to batter portions of the Gulf Coast region. (Courtesy photo)
Residents of Houston walk along a major artery of the city as the waters from Tropical Storm Harvey continue to batter portions of the Gulf Coast region. (Courtesy photo)

It has been nothing short of horrifying to watch the pictures of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on Texas and Louisiana. We can only imagine what it has been like for those, who have been the direct victims of this storm.

There is much that can and needs to be said about Harvey and its aftermath. The first is, of course, that extreme weather will become an increasing pattern in our lives unless something drastic isn’t done quickly to address climate change.

The second point is that the natural disaster that has hit the Texas/Louisiana area is compounded by the politics and economics of the region. Specifically, the toxic combination of neo-Confederate politics and ideology along with neo-liberal economics has resulted in a situation where “development at all costs” was the law of the land. This meant that simple things like zoning ordinances were treated as hindrances to development. It also helps us to explain the complete disdain that Texas Republicans have had towards the federal government, at least until they need government assistance.

There will be a fight over the reconstruction of Texas. There will be those who will argue that Texas should rebuild according to old standards or, worse, go into a deeper rabbit hole of fewer regulations and protections for the public, all in the supposed interest of economic gain. We believe that such a course will lead, at best, to the cleansing of the region of working-class people and a set up for the next so-called natural disaster.

Texas needs a 2.0 strategy; a reset, for lack of a better term. This means addressing the immediate crisis, something that should be a “national” priority. There should be no embarrassment about the federal government playing the leading role. That is one of the central purposes of government.

Yet, more is needed. Any rebuilding plan needs to consider the existing environment and consider the possibility of future environmental disasters. How can a metropolitan area constructed on the least permeable clay-based soil ignore the need for efficient rainwater removal systems? How can multiple oil, gas and chemical plants be constructed with so few safeguards? How can so little consideration of public transportation systems be given to the fourth largest city and metropolitan area in the U.S.? What does this mean for the population in the immediate area? What about the impact on the land? These are all questions that must be factored into the rebuilding of the eastern part of the state.

Texas is also suffering from tremendous wealth polarization. The pictures that we are all seeing are mainly those of poor and other working people trying to recover what they can and reconstitute their lives. But this means that full recovery involves moving Texan working people away from instability and towards jobs with living wages.

Finally, there needs to be serious consideration of and attention to very basic infrastructure. How is it possible that the fourth-largest city in the United States has such limited physical infrastructure? The answer lies, at least in large part, in thought processes that suggest that government and the public sector are the problem, i.e., that their existence and the safeguards they might establish could inhibit growth and wealth.

The results of such thinking seem to be draining into the Gulf of Mexico.

Fletcher is a talk show host, writer and activist. Candice Cason is a psychologist and specialist in substance abuse treatment.

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