Like most Wacoans, I have family and friends who have been significantly impacted by Hurricane Harvey. My uncle Robert Hanson from Bevil Oaks — just west of Beaumont — had 6 feet of water in his Piney Woods home. He lost everything. The families of my Beaumont cousins — Ross, Cathleen, Colleen and Ron — are still displaced, some living with relatives and others in trailers.
And though their second-floor Houston apartment was not damaged, my nephew Brandt Burleson and his wife Kelly were forced to relocate permanently to another apartment after their entire apartment complex was condemned as toxic. They were given three days to find a new place to live.
While hurricanes and flooding in Southeast Texas are not new — I remember as a child being rescued from our Beaumont home by boat when Hurricane Debra hit in 1959 and then fleeing town when Hurricane Carla hit in 1961 — Texans are now wondering if catastrophic coastal flooding is the new norm. It certainly seems that way.
My church, Seventh and James Baptist, turned our education building into a temporary housing facility after Katrina struck in 2005. And with Hurricane Rita only weeks later, all of my Beaumont cousins evacuated to Waco to stay with my extended family here in Central Texas. Many Wacoans provided shelter — public and private — for evacuees at that time.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that Texas has warmed about a degree in the past century and that annual rainfall in the eastern two-thirds of the state is increasing so that rainstorms are more intense and flooding is more severe. The sea on our Texas coast is rising about 2 inches per decade.
“Our climate is changing because the earth is warming,” the EPA reports. “People have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the late 1700s. Other heat-trapping greenhouse gases are also increasing. These gases have warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of our planet about one degree during the past 50 years. Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms, which increases humidity, average rainfall and the frequency of heavy rainstorms in many places — but contributes to drought in others.”
With warmer oceans and rising sea levels, hurricanes may be more frequent and more intense. Chances are we’re looking at the new norm along the Texas coast.
So what are we to do? Unfortunately, the Gulf coast states — such as Texas — that are most impacted by hurricanes are also governed by Republican Party climate deniers beholden to the fossil-fuel industry. The Republican elephant has become the Republican ostrich with head planted firmly in Texas sand. Elected Republican leaders from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida who have a lock on state and national seats of power are behaving as the willfully ignorant.
According to Open Secrets: Center for Responsible Politics, Texas District 17 Republican Congressman Bill Flores, a former oil industry executive, has received well over half of his corporate sponsorships this cycle from the oil and gas industry. Seventy-seven percent of his funding for 2017-2018 comes from PACs, often with fossil-fuel interests.
The politically active Koch brothers, who champion climate-change denying politicians, are among Flores’ top contributors. Flores will tell you that he is proud to support the bottom line for Exxon Mobile shareholders and that he will continue to do so as long as he’s in office. So what are we to do when these politicians have vowed to do nothing and are reaping political benefits by their obstinacy?
While the Republican Party, driven by its own self-interest, is selling the birthright of our children for cheaper gasoline, mayors of coastal cities are now leading their constituents to make infrastructure changes to deal with climate change with little or no support from state or national sources. Seeing is believing. Mayors from Gulf coast villages, towns and cities are telling citizens that we have to deal with this and deal with it today.
There’s a bit of irony here for Texans that has perhaps gone unnoticed. Some of the worst flooding in recent years (and, perhaps, in the decades ahead) is in the very place where the first oil boom in the United States erupted in 1901. Spindletop changed everything for Texans. It certainly impacted my family — my grandfather Pete Burleson and my dad Buster Burleson were employed by the Sun Oil Company for their entire adult lives. Like many Texans, our family owes the oil industry a lot; jobs are essential.
Then again, so is safe housing, clean water, toxic-free neighborhoods, safe food, clean air and common-sense safeguards against catastrophes that change lives forever. So we must change. And we must change now. If there is to be a future for us, we have to stop burning fossil fuels! And Central Texas must get ready for the high-tech energy boom that is already coming to cities such as San Antonio, Midland and Abilene.
The future is closer than you think — the only question is what kind of future it will be. And that is up to us.
This summer my first grandchildren were born. Josie and Grant are seventh-generation Texans. Both of them will live through America’s 21st century. What will Texas be like for them in 80 years? What will Texas be like for your children, for your grandchildren, for your great-grandchildren in the year 2100?
If we do nothing, if we put our heads in the Texas sand — as is currently the practice of Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Congressman Flores and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — the Texas future greeting coming generations is very likely to be bleak. Exaggeration? Hyperbole? Are you really willing to bet the lives of your progeny on the truthfulness of Fox News, the alt-right and the Republican Party? Or will you trust the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community?
Central Texans are often said to be family-oriented, independent and conservative. My hope is that, before long, we are going to turn out the party that thrives on fake news and denial of hard evidence to protect our families, our independence and to conserve our beautiful Texas.
Enough already! We must move into the future and move now.