Hurricane Ian should be a wake-up call

September 30, 2022

Last week, ActionAid joined climate justice activists around the world and in New York City at the United Nations to demand that the wealthy governments in the Global North fund rebuilding efforts from “loss & damage” experienced by poorer countries around the world due to climate disasters, which are increasing in number and severity.

Despite being the largest carbon emitter in history, the U.S. government has refused to pledge any money to help poorer countries rebuild from natural disasters worsened by climate change. According to some estimates, developing countries may need $500 billion annually by 2030 to deal with loss and damage. The cost of the floods in Pakistan alone has been estimated at $10 billion. However, John Kerry said he doesn’t feel “guilty” about the U.S. role in causing the climate crisis and dodged a question about financial support for helping developing countries rebuild.

Yesterday, we awoke to the news that Hurricane Ian, one of the strongest storms to ever hit Florida, had destroyed cities through 150 mph winds and a massive storm surge that flooded homes and wiped out bridges. Potentially hundreds have died, millions are without power, and there could be billions of dollars worth of damage. The Governor of Florida even said that this storm will “remake the character” of Florida, with much of the destroyed homes, roads, and other infrastructure impossible to rebuild because of the likelihood of similar or stronger storms in the future.

The storm is still continuing, even building up strength, as it continues up the East Coast of the U.S. The Biden Administration has already declared it a national disaster and is mobilizing FEMA to help rebuild, repair, and help those displaced and hurt by this devastating storm.

While I welcome this news, as I know that helping people and communities during these disasters is critical, I cannot ignore how the U.S. government has condemned millions of others to suffer without help. I also cannot ignore how, even though the U.S. government is mobilizing to help people impacted by this devastating storm, the U.S. federal government has long been criticized by poor and BIPOC communities for not doing enough to help them.

After Hurricane Katrina, it was the poorest people and communities of color who struggled to access the funds and support they needed to rebuild their lives. And it was due to structural and environmental racism that they were so vulnerable to the storm in the first place since poorer communities and communities of color lived in the places in New Orleans most vulnerable to this disaster.

I can only hope that a silver lining to the destruction of Hurricane Ian will be that politicians in the U.S. realize that they not only have a responsibility to do much more to help the most oppressed and most vulnerable people within this country but to also as the richest country in the world, use those riches to serve the most vulnerable people around the world deal with the climate crisis. We all have a right to a livable planet and future, and no country, no matter how wealthy they may be or how big their military is, can withstand the collapse of the planet’s climate.