We Are Running Out Of Time.
As I write this, New Orleans is flooding- again.
Tropical Storm Barry is morphing into Hurricane Barry and, if history repeats itself, this storm will cut a decisive path of destruction through New Orleans- and it hasn’t even made landfall yet. The current winds are 20–30 mph and still picking up speed, bringing with them the potential to level trees and power lines leaving vulnerable neighborhoods without power.
But the real danger is in the water.
Meteorologists are predicting that Hurricane Barry will be a Category One hurricane if it even grows to that point. Barry might just remain a tropical storm. However, that will not stop the accumulation of almost two feet of water in New Orleans. It will challenge the city’s levee system and push the water pumps harder than they’ve been tested in a very long time. The Washington Post reports:
“The Mississippi River water level forecast is perilously close to the 20-foot height of some of the protective levees on Saturday morning. The river, which is already near flood stage, is predicted to crest at 19 feet, the highest level since 1950.”
The Atlantic Ocean is still at the top of it’s hurricane season, which ends November 30th. If this is the warm up, there will be a main event. It is only a matter of time. And we are all running out of time.
The Post-Storm Glow Up, For “Not Us.”
Citing statistics from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, 986 people died during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 600,000 people were displaced from their homes a month afterwards and, all tolled, Hurricane Katrina caused about 120.5 billion dollars of damage the to entire Gulf Region. When Federal aid came, about 75 billion of that money was used for emergency relief, leaving just 45 billion dollars for economic recovery.
The outcome- a New Orleans that was ripe for gentrification.
Poor black and brown people who could barely afford to escape the storm definitely couldn’t afford to go back a rebuild. Too many of the most vulnerable were either stranded in nearby states or left to the mercies of a failed FEMA whose sole purpose, it seemed, was to make the Bush Administration look competent (spoiler alert: they failed.)
The rest of the story is fairly simple and almost Shakespearean in its tragedy. The population of New Orleans was cut almost in half and, where local government fell short, private developers filled in the gaps.
They revitalized parts of the city that had long been mainly black and brown neighborhoods and crowded the disenfranchised to less desirable land in neighborhoods on lower ground. This leaves the poorest population at risk to suffer the most from an increasingly dangerous hurricane season.
This has repeat itself over and over again. Our government is run by Republicans who see minority populations as disposable and the Democrats who are too scattered to be truly effective. And where both parties fail, the private sector steps in to seize the opportunity for profit.
What’s Our Plan? Because They Have One.
Climate change is happening now. Climate change, among other things, equals more intense storm systems and a possible increase in hurricanes all around. It means more Hurricane Marias and Katrinas.
It means more opportunities for people of color to be pushed aside and alienated from neighborhoods we’ve called home for generations. It acts like colonization all over again: with us in the role of the native population and they in the role they’ve held since cavemen sought better real estate.
No one on our team wants to lose again, but this leaves me asking: who among us can lead us to a better future? Where are our unifying figures? Where is the “Black Lives Matter” of climate change?
A part of the answer is in unification among people of color. We have a very small window of time to come together and engage in effective rebellion. But what will it cost and how far are we willing to go to save our communities?
But, For Real, The Sky Is Falling.
I want to be wrong.
I would love to go into my later years and see us prospering in some Utopian space filled with green spaces and farms growing in re-purposed skyscrapers that feed us all for free. Flying cars paint eco-friendly rainbows in the sky and have zero emissions. My grandchildren will ask me about the past and I’ll laugh because the worst didn’t happen. A more optimistic me would give in to the impulse to rest on my laurels and rely on other people to speak for me and mine.
But I can’t deny what I see with my own eyes. Natural disasters are erasing our homes and our history from a land that we- people of color- put our blood, sweat and tears into building.
Some of our people we brought here on ships, ripped away from the only homes we knew. Some of our people crossed here on a land bridge before recorded history and were here before anyone else arrived. Others came here because home lived in the concept of the American Dream- it was a leap of faith for a better life far from where you started.
But, no matter how you got here, you belong here.
And we are running out of time.