Hey Hot Cakes!
Welcome to Hot Take! Your weekly (at least) newsletter surveying the state of the climate crisis and all the ways we’re talking—and not talking about it! We give you a round up of the latest climate stories and articles of the week, plus exclusive original reporting and commentary from us. Oh, and who are we? Amy Westervelt, long-time climate journalist with more seasoning than an everything bagel, and Mary Annaïse Heglar, a literary writer known for her essays on climate, race, and emotion—and her enthusiasm for dad jokes!
In addition to this newsletter, we have a podcast and a store! Given the timing of this newsletter—the anniversary of Katrina, overlapping with the devastation of Laura—we opted to make the whole thing free this week. Please share it if you’re so inclined, and consider supporting our work by subscribing. You can also listen to a special Katrina bonus episode of the podcast today.
It’s time to talk about climate!
No Ordinary Pain: Katrina at 15
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
There are times in our lives when we know we’re living through history. Then there are times when you know you’re living through a moment that will change you forever. Hurricane Katrina was one of those moments.
The wound was at its deepest in the City of New Orleans, and the immediate surrounding area, and especially so for the city’s majority Black residents. And it always will be.
But I don’t think we talk enough about how that pain radiated out. For one thing, Katrina was a blow to the entire region. Some of that was because Katrina was so big and powerful that she was far from done after she made landfall. I’ve written about that before. But it was also because New Orleans is a regional jewel and to see it devastated and abandoned like that took a toll on the entire South. I’ve written about that before.
Katrina was also a special wound for Black people all over the country. It wasn’t that we didn’t know how the country felt about us. We’ve known for generations that no one would ever come to save us and that when we tried to save ourselves, we’d be turned from victims into villains. But there was something about seeing it on such a grand scale, for such a sustained period of time that broke our hearts in a way that can never be undone. Those images of Black people on their roofs, wading through waist-high water to find food, baking on a bridge in the full and direct glare of the sun, cradling sick and scared babies outside of the Convention Center….are seared into our minds and we see ourselves in them.
Their pain was our pain, and it still is.
Louisiana Is a Petrostate
By Amy Westervelt
This week, as Hurricane Laura barreled down on Louisiana, all I could see was centuries' worth of injustice, of punishment raining down on the people who least deserve it. There is no state in the union more captured by oil and gas interests than Louisiana, even the also-very-oil-friendly states of Texas and Alaska. The industry is more deeply entrenched in Louisiana, in part because not only do you have the offshore drilling along the Gulf Coast, but also there’s the petrochemical industrial complex all throughout what we all now just call Cancer Alley like that's a thing that should exist.
It's not just about the size of the industry there, though, it's the insidious way it has infiltrated absolutely every aspect of society, making people dependent on the very thing that is literally killing them. You have a community art project that needs funding? You're probably gonna get funding from the Helis Foundation, funded by Helis Oil and Gas. School trip to the Aquarium? Enjoy those exhibits sponsored by BP, Shell, Chevron, you name it. Headed to the French Quarter Festival? Sponsored by Chevron. Jazz Fest? Sponsored by Shell.
It's all part of what BP Executive Vice President Dev Sanyal describes as the "social license" to operate, “a metaphorical concept. It indicates that companies cannot operate sustainably without the support of society," he said in a 2012 speech to oil industry insiders. BP has been particularly worried about its social license in Louisiana since the Deepwater Horizon blowout dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico 10 years ago.
This week, we've seen Laura, a storm made bigger and badder by climate change, pummel the Gulf Coast, where tankers are storing an abundance of unnecessary oil and petrochemical plants had to figure out whether to dump millions of pounds of pollutants so they could shut down, or take their chances and risk a fire (one plant did indeed catch fire, offgassing chlorine throughout the region).
"Louisiana has been captured by the fossil fuel industry," Imani Jacqueline Brown, an artist, activist, and researcher from New Orleans told me on the Drilled podcast recently. "But, you know, the industry occupies basically the same place in Louisiana's economy and culture that slavery did. And I think it's really just important to be specific about the way that the fossil fuel industry has carried over the sort of economic, environmental, spatial, social legacies of colonialism and slavery."
Stop Blaming the Victim
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
Hurricane Laura made landfall early on Thursday morning as a fearsome Category 4 storm, just shy of the Category 5 mark. She was the strongest storm to hit Louisiana in 164 years, bringing a storm surge dubbed “unsurvivable.” In understanding Laura’s impact, it’s critical to note that she came ashore in a hotbed of petrochemical activity. It is an area riddled with oil refineries and boats and other chemical plants. In other words, it earned the name Cancer Alley long before Laura caused a chemical fire that forced flooded residents to shelter in place.
It’s an incredibly sad story with clear victims and villains. Yet….I’ve heard way more people than I’d like to count and refuse to name describe this storm as “the chickens coming home to roost” for the fossil fuel industry. Folks, no it is not. Fossil fuel executives do not live in Lake Charles. They do not live near their infrastructure. Because they know it’s deadly. They deliberately site it near Black and Brown people. They poison them in two ways: immediately in the form of noxious, unbreathable air, and in the long-term in the form of climate change, ie, storms like Laura.
This is not “just desserts.” This is pain heaped on top of pain. This is their maniacal, genocidal game playing out exactly as they designed it. This is criminal.
By Amy Westervelt
There are few things more annoying than revisionist history. The way people are falling all over themselves to misremember George W. Bush as some sort of dignified leader is just gross. Not least because W himself seems to be really into the idea too, showing up all over the place to play the stately older gentleman to Trump's bumbling fool.
Not so fast, junior.
On the 15th anniversary of Katrina, let us remember the Bush presidency as it truly was:
- Catastrophic Indifference When Katrina hit, George W. Bush was on his 27th day—27th!!—of vacation at his ranch in Texas and his staff just didn't want to bother him with the details. He eventually cut his vacation "short" at 29 days (does *any* American get a vacation that long?), and even then he didn't head straight for New Orleans. Instead, he had Air Force One fly over on his way to D.C. for a photo opp. In various interviews since then, Bush has said he regretted that decision, but it was far from the only mistake he made. The disaster relief effort in Katrina was too little, too late, and Bush never seemed to be on top of things there, or to care.
- Manufactured War Remember the Iraq War? Hello?! Come on people, the man invented reasons to go to war with Iraq that boil down to wanting oil and wanting to make his Daddy happy. There are *still* U.S. troops in Iraq, some 15 years later, and the death toll, between soldiers and civilians is almost half a million. Half a MILLION. (For the in-depth backstory of the Iraq war, we recommend the Blowback podcast).
- Just a bit of torture Bush also presided over the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Sure, he wasn't there in person, but he was President at the time and he made several moves to legalize torture. For example, in 2002 the administration argued that the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment” does not require punishment for ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading’ treatment and punishment, and redefined torture as something that must "entail pain or suffering equivalent to that of death, organ failure, or impairment of bodily function," or psychological harm lasting for months or years.
- The Nail in the Coffin of Timely Climate Action Let's not forget that it was also George W. Bush who killed our last and best shot at binding, global climate action, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol shortly after taking office in 2001.It was exactly like Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, except it was worse because it was 20 fucking years ago and Kyoto was actually binding, meaning countries had to stick to their commitments or face fines and other consequences. And we know conclusively that Bush pulled out at the direct request of oil company lobbyists, specifically the Global Climate Coalition, an oil industry trade group that made it its mission to kill Kyoto for years. Here's a memo about a meeting the GCC had with Bush's State Department in 2001 in which a State Dept official notes that the President pulled out of Kyoto "in part at the GCC's request," and then asks the oil lobbyists if there is some international agreement they might support.
Rising Temperatures, Rising Seas
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
Still the Climate Election
How did the hipster burn his tongue?
He drank his coffee before it was cool.