EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that a hurricane emergency is not the time to talk about climate change. To the contrary, it is just the time to draw the nation to the conversation.
IN 1927, as the muddy waters of the Mississippi River began to recede from what was then the deadliest storm-related flood in American history, blues musicians wailed their sorrow and rage. Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded his “Rising High Water Blues” that May:
“Children stand there screamin: Mama we ain’t got no home
Awww, Mama we ain’t got no home
Cynthia Barnett, author of “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History,” will be speaking Feb. 24 at the Seattle U Search for Meaning Festival. Launched in 2009, the festival features some of the best from literary and scholarly worlds.
Papa says to the children, “Backwater left us all alone.”
The gut-wrenching disaster, and others that swept through the Mississippi’s fast-populating basin in the early 20th century, led to more blues devoted to rain and flood than any other natural event. But Papa was wrong: It wasn’t the water that left families homeless and alone.
Under pressure to allow development of the Mississippi’s natural flood plain that once absorbed nearly half the nation’s rainfall, Congress had ignored Progressive Era wisdom that flood control required a mix of reservoirs, levees and preserved wetlands and forests. Instead, lawmakers caved to a levees-only strategy that ushered in what the flood-law scholar Christine A. Klein calls “a century of unnatural disaster.”
We’ve long sung our blues, conjured our demons and imagined our enemies in deluges and sky-darkening storms. Even today we imbue the atmosphere with evil intention, like how we once saw swamps as villainous forces. This way of thinking about storms leaves us feeling helpless and also off the hook: The problem is the weather, rather than human decisions that impede safety and drainage, or deny the climate science we need to better understand the atmosphere, including record-breaking tropical storms.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma did not surprise climate scientists, who have grown hoarse…