Hurricane Ike will lead some political leaders
to a better understanding of the urgency
of dealing with global warming, which threatens
through sea-level rise and perhaps a greater
intensity of tropical hurricanes to be a
critical problem for the Texas coast.
TPWD Earl Nottingham photo September 16, 2008.
From Ken Kramer, Chapter Director :
A Few Thoughts about Hurricane Ike –
and How We Move Forward
Nature has a way of periodically intruding on our daily lives dramatically and forcefully from time to time. Such has been the case with Hurricane Ike, of course. Ike has left an indelible mark on a significant part of the Texas coast and indeed throughout a good part of East Texas. Moreover, some of the impacted areas were still recovering from Hurricane Rita a mere three years ago.
The thoughts of all of us at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club go out to all of our Sierra Club members, supporters, and friends – and indeed all affected residents of our state – as they cope with the impact of Ike on their lives and their property. Some in the storm’s path fared better than others, but few people in the storm’s path have been unaffected. As a person who experienced some of the effects of Hurricane Carla as a kid in Houston in 1961, I know that hurricanes leave a distinct impression even on those people who are only minimally affected physically. They affect how we view the world in many ways from that point forward. Certainly Hurricane Carla helped to shape my life as an environmentalist.
Lessons from Ike
While our most immediate response to Ike must be focused on caring for the people whose homes were lost or badly damaged by the hurricane and restoring everyday services to communities whose power and water infrastructure were disrupted by the storm, we need to begin focusing some attention on the lessons learned from Ike. For those of us in the environmental community, our focus is very much on the environmental lessons Ike taught us or at least reminded us. Among those lessons:
(1) Our Texas coast is a fragile and dynamic system. The tendency of most people seems to be to think of land as a constant thing that – except for human development of the land – changes little except over long periods of geologic time. That may be true for some areas. It is definitely NOT the case for coastal areas such as the Texas Gulf Coast. Our coastline – especially the barrier islands – are constantly eroding in some places and accreting in other places, even in “normal” times. A tropical storm or hurricane just dramatizes the process through its power and intensity.
(2) Although hurricanes are part of a natural cycle, their immediate impacts on ecosystems and wildlife habitat may be devastating, especially in areas already under stress due to development and pollution. State wildlife officials are just beginning to assess the damage to terrestrial species along the Texas coast, for example, but they are already projecting that the impacts on many of those species have been devastating particularly in areas that were subjected to coastal flooding.
(3) Much of our land development and population growth along the Texas coast has magnified the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms and put more people in harm’s way. Over pumping of groundwater in coastal areas produced land subsidence, which has subjected more territory in an already low-lying region to flooding on a recurring basis. Marshes and sand barriers absorb the impacts of storms, but coastal land development has drained many marshes, damaged dunes, led to accelerated erosion, and had other deleterious effects that reduce or eliminate the protection these natural defenses have provided. Relentless growth along the Texas coast – pushed by economic interests that downplay the potential dangers – have made more of our people vulnerable to the ravages of tropical storms and hurricanes.
Where do these lessons lead us? Hopefully they lead us to make some better decisions about how and where we rebuild as our coastal communities seek long-term recovery – or else we will find ourselves at some point in perhaps the not too distant future back where we are now after Hurricane Ike. Also perhaps these lessons will lead some of our Texas political leaders to a better understanding of the urgency of dealing with global warming, which threatens through sea-level rise and perhaps a greater intensity of tropical hurricanes to be a critical problem for the Texas coast.
In the coming months and years the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club will be working with other environmental groups, public interest organizations, and citizens in general to help shape our state’s response to Hurricane Ike in ways that build upon the lessons learned from this dramatic event and lead to better protection of our coastal resources and the lives of our coastal residents, and indeed of resources and residents far from the coast who nevertheless find themselves in a storm’s path.