What happened in Houston?

Here’s a chilling account of what it was like to be in Houston during Harvey. It points out that this was a disaster exacerbated by you-know-who — Republicans and their stupidity.

Texas is run by Republicans, many of whom have disavowed climate change. About six or seven years ago, when Governor Greg Abbott was the Texas Attorney General joining a climate change lawsuit against the federal government, I was still science reporter at the Chronicle, and we spoke for about an hour on the telephone. What was most striking to me is that here was a lawyer, with practically no science background, arguing against the scientific claims of scientists. How did he know more about atmospheric science than they did?

If Houston is to remain the prosperous, vibrant, great city that it was before Harvey, we are going to have to take a hard look at our unfettered development and willingness to let almost anyone build almost anywhere, including in floodplains. Our state officials are going to have to recognize that these events will be possible again, especially in a warmer world. I’m not holding my breath for all that to happen. And as dark as these last five days have been, that may be the biggest tragedy of all.

There’s also more information about disastrous policies that had disastrous effects on the region’s ability to respond to disaster: wetland destruction, uncontrolled urban development, bad zoning, etc. The people of Houston just turned their homes over to greedy developers who got their money and got out.


  1. robro says

    …these events will be possible again…

    Harvey is one of these events happening again. The media has been talking for days about Harvey as the third “500-year flood” in the Houston area in three years. Yesterday I tried to find out about storms in 2015 and 2016. (Note that some are calling Harvey an 800-year or 1000-year storm. I don’t know who or what they base that on. “Big storm” seems sufficient to me.)

    Indeed, though not hurricanes, there were big storms in both years that caused widespread flooding in areas of east Texas and parts of Oklahoma. One of the storms produced 75 tornadoes, and left over 50 people dead. In one of these storms, parts of Houston received 15 inches of rain.

    So, it’s happening. As many scientists are careful to point out, the storms aren’t “caused” by climate change per se, but climate change is a likely contributor to their severity and behavior. We also know that denial by the public sector is contributing significantly to the impact of these storms. Not only with respect to global warming, sea level rise, and so forth, but in prosaic, mundane ways. For example, Houston has no zoning regulations to govern development, and as a friend with connections to Houston explained, some folks in Houston are proud of that.

  2. says

    Much as I dislike the Republicans, I don’t think it is right to pin this on them. Houston is a blue city and has a Democrat mayor. It’s simply greed and bad planning, no matter if red or blue.

  3. mostlymarvelous says

    Thomas Becker …has a Democrat mayor. It’s simply greed and bad planning, no matter if red or blue.

    There’s a whole lot of statewide issues with planning, good or bad or none at all, in Texas. Remember that ghastly explosion in the town of West, Texas. (Watch that video _all_ the way through.) Texas changed its statewide regulations on chemical storage after that … they eliminated the regulation requiring companies to submit details to the government of the nature and quantity of chemicals held on any site. Seeing as there were not, and still are not, any limitations to locating dangerous or noxious businesses anywhere in the state, the only safety measure available to citizens or local governments when choosing to have new housing or other developments, like schools or hospitals, was to check whether any of the local businesses presented any danger to their proposed location. Now they can’t even do that.

    The only real “controls” were those imposed by federal agencies, and their inspection and enforcement schedules really aren’t adequate for grossly inadequate management. That company had insurance for a paltry $1 million public liability – I used to have more than that just for a shopfront business with fly spray & dish washing detergent as the most potent chemicals on site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Fertilizer_Company_explosion

  4. Chuck Stanley says

    And yes Louisiana and New Orleans has been democratic for decades. This is simplistic thinking regardless. Dump that much rain on any metropolitan area and you are going to have catastrophic flooding – probably much worse. In fact Houston can handle rain much better than most. It has extensive drainage due to it’s wet climate. There are huge rivers flooding whose watersheds are sourced from relatively sparsely populated areas north and west of that drain into the creeks and bayou’s of the city. It’s relatively undeveloped country side. The Brazos river is sourced NOT from the Houston metro but is causing massive flooding downstream in Houston metro. The flooding is going to happen. The building on the floodplains is the problem but to claim this is a Republican / Houston / Texas issue is ridiculous. Building in flood plains happens all over the country. Rich people along the coastlines have their expensive homes rebuilt repeatedly by the Federal Government. Same thing along the Mississippi and it’s watersheds. Rich people like to live on beaches and riparian because they are typically beautiful. But these homes will be rebuilt like they are everywhere else except poor areas. The hypocrisy is the Texas anti-government party holding out their hands. But hypocrisy or not this is not a Republican issue in Texas. It’s 50 fucking inches of rain.

    BTW my home received 41 inches of rain – 30 inches in 36 hours and didn’t flood. No home in my subdivision flooded. Neither did the overwhelming majority of the metropolitan area. I have a bayou running through my subdivision.

  5. microraptor says

    On the PBS News Hour tonight, it was mentioned that twice in the last decade, Houston has previously been hit with devastating flooding, and both times the city rejected any attempts to increase zoning restrictions or do anything else to make the city better able to handle heavy flooding.

  6. madtom1999 says

    Is it true that all but one Texas Republicans in Congress voted against a $50b aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims in 2012?

  7. busterggi says

    Why is it that these ‘rugged individualist’ types always want someone else to save their asses when they screw up?

  8. KG says

    Condolences to all those affected by Harvey.

    I wonder if any of the religious right will conclude that God is really pissed off with the oil industry.

    No, actually, I don’t.

  9. David Marjanović says

    There’s a cartoon of Trump looking into the rain, over nothing but water and a sign that says TEXAS. He says: “I don’t understand that… we specifically quit climate change!”