By Oriya Villarreal
In light of current events, the #PrayForTexas hashtag has grown in popularity on a variety of social media platforms, aiming to comfort over seven million Texans recovering from the emotional and physical wounds inflicted by Hurricane Harvey.
Although we have witnessed solidarity across the nation for residents who have fallen victim to this natural disaster, we can no longer dismiss the influence climate change has on weather and socioeconomic issues. Addressing the connection between the severity of Hurricane Harvey and climate change is critical in order to prevent loss of life and billions of dollars when another natural disaster occurs.
Prior to Harvey wreaking havoc on the state of Texas, the Gulf of Mexico was four degrees higher than usual. An increase in temperature means an increase in energy, which causes a substantial increase in water evaporation. As a result of high temperatures in the Gulf, Hurricane Harvey caused more damage than it should have, leaving thousands of Texans displaced and devastated.
Texas is experiencing an increase in extreme rainfall, and each summer for the past 3 years has been the hottest summer on record. Extreme shifts in weather will continue to impact the state of Texas if we do not begin demanding environmental justice.
Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue of our time. It creates an unequal burden by putting poverty stricken areas at greater risk of property damage and sickness. Frontline communities suffer the most from extreme weather, which is what we recently witnessed in Houston and in Louisiana back in 2005.
The Trump Administration openly denies human-caused climate change and has almost completely eradicated all progress toward a more “green” future. Just ten days before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump signed an executive order promising the elimination of risk-management standards for building infrastructure in flood zones or areas affected by climate change.
We are seeing a presidential order grounded in ignorance and disregard of overwhelming scientific data proving the effects of climate change. Donald Trump continues to carry out a selfish agenda by dedicating himself to climate inaction and disregard for the American people.
Rather than normalizing Trump’s denial of climate change, we need to condemn any executive order that puts the health and safety of current and future U.S. citizens at risk. We cannot allow extreme weather to become the norm, and we must use our voices to speak out against this possibility.
We have the power to resist ignorance by using our knowledge of climate change to educate one another and demand change. Climate change is more than just a fact—it impacts our communities and personal lives. It is time to start accepting environmental justice as the starting point for all justice—including social, civil and economic.
If we do not begin taking a dramatic approach toward combating climate change, we will continue to see how it affects climate migration, the global economy and vulnerable communities. As students, we are in a unique position to work locally with a global perspective—we can organize and advocate for a more sustainable future.
– Oriya Villarreal is a geography water resources junior