The first thing Monday morning, as we were all still trying to grasp what has been happening on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the press release came from Gov. Jim Justice:
Governor Jim Justice announced Monday that the Mountain State is prepared to send resources including West Virginia National Guard assets and personnel as needed in areas deluged by what has become Tropical Storm Harvey.
“West Virginia stands ready, willing and able to provide first responders to assist our fellow Americans in Texas and in other areas along the Gulf Coast as they continue to deal with the massive flooding and devastating damage being caused by Tropical Storm Harvey,” Governor Justice said. “I encourage all West Virginians to join Cathy and I as we pray for their safety and well-being.”
It was hard not to think about another quote from Gov. Justice, the one where he was commenting on what a nice, warm day it was when he took the oath of office back in January:
You know, it’s phenomenal to think about it. How could we have weather like this on this day?
Gosh, Governor. How could we possibly have had weather like that in January? Then, as now, Gov. Justice doesn’t have it in him to confront — or even admit — one of the most daunting challenges facing humanity. He’s not alone.
As there usually is when a coal miner dies a completely preventable death in West Virginia’s mines, there’s a lot of prayer going on among our state’s political leaders:
Praying for those in Texas who have been impacted by #Harvey and sending strength to those who are leading response and rescue efforts.— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) August 28, 2017
Our hearts and prayers are with Texas. West Virginians remember the generosity of Texans during our 2016 flood. #HurricaneHarvey— AG Patrick Morrisey (@MorriseyWV) August 27, 2017
Now, I’ve got nothing against prayer. But what about the other things that public officials could do? Tops on the list for West Virginia political leaders would be to stop denying the basic scientific facts of climate change — especially in the face of disasters like Hurricane Harvey.
Nobody who is paying attention needs me to do much in the way of explaining that science, and connecting the dots between how climate change is playing a role. Sure, there are a lot of factors, and there’s a lot of complexity to the cause-and-effect question. But David Roberts at Vox hits it exactly right when he explains that climate change has made Harvey worse and that climate change is part of every story from here on out:
Now our climate is about to rocket out of that equilibrium, in what is, geologically speaking, the blink of an eye. We’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but we have a decent idea, and we know it’s going to be weird. With more heat energy in the system, everything’s going to get crazier — more heat waves, more giant rainstorms, more droughts, more floods.
That means climate change is part of every story now. The climate we live in shapes agriculture, it shapes cities and economies and trade, it shapes culture and learning, it shapes human conflict. It is a background condition of all these stories, and its changes are reflected in them.
So we’ve got to get past this “did climate change cause it?” argument. A story like Harvey is primarily a set of local narratives, about the lives immediately affected. But it is also part of a larger narrative, one developing over decades and centuries, with potentially existential stakes.
More than a year after the deadly floods that hit large parts of West Virginia in June 2016, we still haven’t heard any significant discussion among West Virginia leaders — and hardly any from the state’s media — about the role climate change plays in events like that one. No, the obfuscation and denial has just gotten worse, fueled by the election victory of President Donald Trump and the absurd parroting of the false hope that a major coal recovery is just around the corner.
If West Virginia leaders really want to help, they should say a prayer, make a donation, and then start telling the truth about climate change.