First up today: A quick overview of Irma's disastrous weekend course as a massive and deadly hurricane which lashed the entire state of Florida. Now, disaster recovery is under way as power remains out for millions, and the storm continues wreaking havoc in that state, as well as Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and elsewhere as a dangerous tropical storm.
This latest storm has been playing out on the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana along with a number of other contemporaneous and ongoing natural disasters. So, naturally, Donald Trump over the weekend called for "speeding up" the massive tax cuts that he and the Republicans have long been promising. But, if taxes are slashed, who, and what, is going to pay for the likely-record disaster relief funding that will now be needed, not to mention the infrastructure upgrades that are long overdue in the storm areas, as well as across the US — particularly as we face a quickly changing climate?
We're joined today for a fascinating interview with DR. SCOTT KNOWLES, disaster historian (who knew there was such a thing?), at Drexel University's Center for Science, Technology and Science, to help put the costs of the one-two punch of Harvey and Irma into historical perspective, to discuss what lessons must be learned from those two record storms, what lessons we should have learned long ago and, frankly, why it is that we haven't learned those lessons by now, given what once was a robust US government effort at disaster research and infrastructure management.
There is a lot of ground covered in my conversation with Knowles, author of The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America, today. Please give it a listen in full below. But, I'll quickly share just one or two of his thoughts to hopefully whet your appetite. Following massive deadly floods and fires in the 18th and 19th century, he explains, there was a largely successful effort to avoid those catastrophic and deadly events by local, state and federal officials in the world's wealthiest nation. That post-WWII effort, however, began to change in recent decades. And, with the worsening of our climate crisis, the "deferred maintenance" of our infrastructure and reduced environmental regulations, the still-prevalent notion that government needs to be scaled back in every way, couldn't have come at a worse time for the nation and the planet.
"We're able now more accurately to trace back the causes of these disasters to historical decisions that have been made since World War 2," Knowles explains. "Where we live, how we live, how we write our building codes, what we choose to spend our money on and not spend money on. Those are traceable historical pathways.
"One would have thought we could've had national standards for safety by now," he tells me. "I think this is the core of what we're really arguing about now. Can we make a national commitment to safety from disaster? If we can't, then I think we've really let down what Americans expect out of science, and government, and infrastructure and engineering, and all other things that we rely on every day."
As to climate change itself, and the need to act on the "settled science" that Republicans continue to ignore at our peril — Trump's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently said, that now is not the time to discuss such things — Knowles argues: "These are the moments when people are attuned. This is when you have their attention. I don't think it's disrespectful to people who are suffering to raise the cause of their suffering into political light at these moments. In fact, I think it does them a service. And that's why so many of my colleagues who do this work do that".
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