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A Cat V Right up the Chairman’s Alley

by Lawrence Wilkerson

In February of this year, I traveled to Austin, Texas to join members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby in talking to Texas legislative staff about climate change.  We talked about market solutions to combating climate change, such as a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  We also discussed the national security implications of climate change—in fact, the reason I, as a national security expert, was there.

While I was in Austin, I also met with the Austin staff of Texas’ U.S. Senator, John Cornyn.  From that office, we videoteleconferenced with Will Lovell, a member of the senator’s staff in Washington.  Mr. Lovell was interested enough in our talk about the impact on U.S. national security of climate change that he invited us to visit with him upon our return to Washington.  We did.

Also in Cornyn’s Austin office, I met a remarkable woman who had been with Cornyn since he was Texas attorney general.  When I mentioned to her the dangers rising sea levels and climate change in general presented to the Houston Ship Channel, she recommended I meet with the Congressman within whose district the Ship Channel was located, Congressman Michael McCaul (R, TX, 10th District).   When I got back to Washington, along with making arrangements to visit Mr. Lovell in Senator Cornyn’s office,  I arranged to go to Congressman McCaul’s office in the Sam Rayburn building.  To both offices, I took along experts on climate change’s impacts on national security.  These experts were from the Climate Security Working Group (CSWG), an organization directly linked to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, among others.

In the Rayburn Building office of Congressman McCaul, I knew I was in an odd place, to say the least, when I was greeted not by the Congressman or a senior staff member but by a US Navy lieutenant commander detailed to McCaul’s staff and charged to look after “environmental matters”.   Nonetheless, I followed the young man into a small room where we could talk.  The first thing I noted was that he kept referring to Congressman McCaul as “the Chairman”.

I have met with many members of Congress, senators and representatives, as well as countless numbers of their staffs over the last twenty years.  But I have never encountered a member who insisted on being called “Mr. Chairman”.   So, I asked why.

The young Navy officer said that McCaul was chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.  Thus, his desire to be called that.   It seemed he loved that title and insisted on its being used.

Instantly, I knew again that I was in unknown territory– I suspected the territory of a very small-scale tyrant.

About the accuracy of that characterization I remain ignorant as Congressman McCaul has never stooped to meet with me or any of the group with whom I came that day, the CSWG.   But about Congressman McCaul’s ignorance of and thus disdain for climate change I seem now fairly well-informed.

As flooding intensifies in his District as a result of just a Category III hurricane, Harvey by name, the analyses of a Category V hurricane and what it would do to the Ship Channel and to Houston and the surrounding area, which I left with the young Navy officer in McCaul’s office and at which “the chairman” probably never deigned to look, loom ever larger—but, I strongly suspect, to this point completely ignored.

One hundred and thirty-five billion dollars of damage, as a starter however, sticks in my mind.  So, I will be anxious to see what the final damage estimates are for the present flooding and other damages in the Houston area.  I feel certain—and I hope—that the costs will be less than forecast for the Category V hurricane striking directly at Houston.  But I do expect they will be sufficiently robust to cause “the chairman” to take a look at what we offered and perhaps even take some action as a result.

In fact, I hope Congressman McCaul—er, chairman McCaul—is listening now and perhaps will read and learn how utterly disastrous future storms could be.  Maybe even he will see fit to upgrade his relevant staff and perhaps even take a briefing or two himself—at least, Mr. Chairman, until you dispel your ignorance.   Your Ship Channel is an integral part of our national security.