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Two years after Harvey’s devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded

Two years ago, when Hurricane Harvey struck, my husband, daughter and I thought — at first — that we were among the lucky ones. The rising floodwaters had avoided our Houston neighborhood. We still had power.

Then, the Army Corps of Engineers began to release the west side dams, in an effort to prevent uncontrollable flooding in other parts of the metropolitan area. We were among the thousands of residents flooded by this move. By the time we received any notice, it was too late to escape safely. Our cars were submerged, as were our homes. We retreated upstairs, and had to be saved by a good samaritan in a boat. 

For Houston, Harvey was a devastating act of nature mixed with widespread failures of planning by all levels of government. But for many, it was also something bigger: a wake-up call about climate change in the energy capital of the world. 

“If Harvey is not a wake-up call for us to reduce the man-made warming of the earth, I don’t know what is,” Andrew Dessler, atmospheric science professor at Texas A&M, told Texas Monthly. “It flabbergasts me that people are still denying what’s right before their very eyes.” The Associated Press reported that Texans hit hard by the storm were rethinking climate change.

Perhaps most striking was a federal report based on research by hundreds of scientists that warned of all sorts of perils ahead due to human-caused climate change.

“Assuming storm characteristics do not change, sea level rise will increase the frequency and extent of extreme flooding associated with coastal storms, such as hurricanes and nor’easters (very high confidence),” said the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

The Texas Tribune was quick to note that the report was the latest to stand in “stark contrast to the president’s stance on climate change; he has repeatedly cast doubt on it.”

Recently, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has made waves with her Green New Deal, a set of principles aimed at tackling the climate crisis and growing jobs, some prominent Republicans have responded with statements acknowledging human-caused climate change. Among them was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who earlier this year said he believes in human-caused climate change. 

But from here in Houston, the fact remains clear as day: Despite the increasing talk about climate change and storm preparation, Houston — like cities and towns all over the country and around the world — remains more at risk than ever. In the time since Harvey killed at least 68 people and left an estimated $125 billion in damage, far too little has changed. 

We can change this. Business and governmental leaders can come together, across all divisions, and forge a path forward.

Harness diverse voices of energy

This starts with resetting our perspective on what the energy industry looks like. Politicians naturally want to work with and win the support of leaders in one of America’s most powerful industries. So, it’s important for lawmakers on both sides to recognize the realities of today’s industry. 

Despite stereotypes of oil leaders making backroom deals to pollute the earth and get filthy rich, today’s energy leaders want to be part of the solution. A survey by EY found that 93 percent of oil and gas executives believe climate change is real, two-thirds say their companies want to be part of the solution, and 59 percent say this needs to happen immediately.

Earlier this year, I was asked to testify in Congress on building a green energy workforce. I was honored, but also disappointed that no one from oil and gas was asked to participate. As I explained in my testimony, it’s critical that we bring all forms of energy and talent together to position America for a leading role in the global energy transition.

Push bipartisan legislation

Nearly 70 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, want the federal government to take “aggressive” action to combat climate change, Reuters reports. While Americans disagree over expenditures for this, there is a real opportunity for action. 

Perhaps given the times we’re living in and the presidential election ahead next year, there’s no appetite on Capitol Hill for anything that might bring the parties together. But out here in the real world, there is. Some bipartisan legislation has been proposed, which would at least be a start. And former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz recently called for a “Green Real Deal,” saying that building broad coalitions — including with big business — will be essential to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next 30 years.

There is broad enough consensus to make real change happen at all levels of government. Throughout Houston, across the energy sector, and all over the country there are millions of people like me, ready to set aside divisions of the past, roll up our sleeves and do the work it takes to deliver our children a better, sustainable future.

Katie Mehnert is CEO of Pink Petro and careers site Experience Energy.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Energy Ernest Moniz flooding Hurricane Harvey Katie Mehnert Mitch McConnell

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