The Cost of Hurricane Irma Is Already a Record

The Cost of Hurricane Irma Is Already a Record

Column: California wildfires to Florida hurricanes, how the rich game climate change

A house burns in the town of Paradise, California.(Reuters / David Paul Morris)

While the fires in California this year are being written into our collective history books for having been the worst ever, the hurricane season in Florida has just been declared the largest in the nation’s history by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and we are now being told by the governor that the season has already broken the record for costliest natural disaster to affect the U.S.

I was sitting in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida, last week, watching CNN as they reported on an emergency alert that had been sent out to the state to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s arrival in the next couple of days. I thought about this as the world’s worst disaster of all time was unfolding, and I wondered about these reports of the cost to our country. Where did that money go, I wondered; and what does it mean?

California has gone bankrupt, as the state has been forced to cover its expenses under the emergency management system to provide a buffer for the fires from people’s homes and businesses. All this money was used to buy water and diesel to fight wildfires. After the fires, the governor declared a “state of emergency” to allow authorities to confiscate private property to help pay for disaster relief.

Meanwhile last week in Florida, with a population of 521,000, the governor reported that the impact of the hurricane had already caused more than $200 million in damage, and that while the state’s insurance company will cover the costs, many residents may not be able to get their disaster plans renewed.

The governor is already struggling to contain the costs from the economic damage caused by the storm.

That was in the days after Irma had ripped through the Florida Keys, causing significant damage to the tourism industry.

I read these stories because they fit into a larger pattern of how the wealthy play the global climate crisis. The story about Hurricane Harvey has been reported recently by The New York Times, and it may seem contradictory to what I’m saying. Yet the rich are driving this system. The hurricanes in the Caribbean, and the severe weather and wildfires raging in California and Florida are just the latest manifestations of an issue that is well in the making for the rich.

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