Yes, Houston, you do have a problem, and – as insensitive as it seems to bring it up just now – some of it is your own making.
Let’s be clear upfront. I unreservedly wish that all of your millions of citizens get safely through Tropical Storm Harvey, and the biblical-scale deluge and floods that are forecast to swamp your city in coming days.
But, as the self-styled “world capital of the oil and gas industry”, there’s a connection between rising global greenhouse gas levels and the extreme weather now being inflicted that some of your residents have understood for decades and had a hand in.
Houston and its surrounds are home to some 5000 energy-related firms, 17 of which are counted among the Fortune 500 list of largest US companies.
The nearby Gulf Coast is also one of the biggest oil-refining centres anywhere. Not for nothing, the local football team was named the Houston Oilers before it up-rigged elsewhere to become the Tennessee Titans.
One thing that hasn’t changed for almost 200 years is scientists’ basic understanding humans could alter the chemistry of the atmosphere. By releasing more carbon dioxide, methane (also known as natural gas), and other greenhouse gases, the atmosphere would trap more heat and alter our climate in the process.
The links between fossil fuels and climate change – clear to all but a handful of (often industry-funded) scientists – were hardly promotional talking points oil firms have been keen to trumpet.
In fact, as an important research paper by Harvard University researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes released last week showed, the largest of them – ExxonMobil – deliberately told the public a story at odds with their own research.
By stoking doubts about the climate change consequences of burning fossils, the behemoth misled voters for four decades, successfully stymieing demands for action in the US and abroad, including in .
Although ExxonMobil is headquartered in another Texan city, Dallas, it bases many operations in Houston. The company has picked Houston to host a sprawling new campus north of the city that will reportedly house 8000 employees. So far, two-day rainfall in Houston has nearly doubled the previous all-time record.It even beat the previous *26-day* record. Wow. https://t苏州夜生活/GLxuttsCyp??? Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) August 28, 2017Unbelievable Before & After of the flooding on Buffalo Bayou in #Houston from #Harvey. (Via streetreporter on Youtube) pic.twitter苏州夜网/a6FXIh0rtq??? Matt Reagan (@ReaganMatt) August 27, 2017Harvey update, 10pm CDT:NHC reiterates 50″ storm-total rainfall fcst for parts of Texas including Houston, center to move back over Gulf. pic.twitter苏州夜网/W4ysIbwbbg??? Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) August 28, 2017This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced. Follow orders from officials to ensure safety. #Harveypic.twitter苏州夜网/IjpWLey1h8??? NWS (@NWS) August 27, 2017