Guest: Disaster historian Scott Knowles; Also: Kavanaugh's accuser is willing to testify next week under certain conditions...
By Brad Friedman on 9/20/2018, 6:51pm PT  

On today's BradCast: While much of the media have turned away from the continuing --- and, in some cases, worsening --- disaster following Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas in order to focus on the fight over the U.S. Supreme Court (which we cover as well today), flood waters continue to rise, along with the storm's immediate death toll, and new toxic threats and emergencies continue to develop.

On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria's deadly landfall in Puerto Rico --- where some 3,000 U.S. citizens died from the storm and its aftermath --- we're joined by author and disaster historian SCOTT KNOWLES of Drexel University and the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. Knowles says "Trump is wrong," regarding his denial last week of the startling death toll from Maria. He explains the well-established methodology behind its determination, while noting the response "is deeply political. There are winners and losers in the count." Thus, he notes, a similar denial of years of death and disease for first responders after 9/11 and the PTSD suffered by veterans years after wars have ended. "I think we have to talk very clearly and very honestly about the impact of disasters not being confined just to the moment in which they occur."

He offers some of the political and civic history behind focusing on such natural disasters (as Trump and others do) as singular, limited events, not unlike the type of nuclear attack which the federal government set about preparing for in the 1950s and 60s. That work, as Knowles described in a recent New York Times op-ed, gave rise to the birth of social science disaster research. In the 1990s, he explains, that resulted in a "re-think" about what the Federal Emergency Disaster Agency (FEMA) could accomplish under President Bill Clinton, in order to focus on "long term thinking of preparation and community-based preparation" for major disasters, only to see the Agency revert back to its focus on emergency recovery following the 9/11 attacks. "September 11 turned the clock back to 1951," he argues.

As to lessons learned from more recent disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria last year and Florence this year, Knowles cites the U.S. construction industry as one of the most politically powerful at the state and local level, helping to ensure that well-understood threats, like those linked to the impacts of global warming, too often take a back seat to commercial development. "The fact is that the most powerful lobby in any statehouse across the country is the construction industry. They call it the 'FIRE sector' --- finance, insurance, and real estate. I call it the 'finance-construction complex.' There are very, very strong, deep-pocketed interests in building, and that's across the country," he tells me. "Those rules are handled almost entirely at the state and local level. So federal policy can change, but it will still have a lot of trouble telling Georgia, the state of North Carolina, the state of South Carolina, what they can and can't allow along the coastline, or in California, what they can and can't allow along a wildfire corridor."

Knowles also sees "an emerging consensus in emergency management" that we are likely to soon see proposed changes to certain disaster warnings and metrics, such as the Saffir-Simpson scale that categorizes hurricanes from 1 to 5. He argues the scale "is now in the way of effective risk communication," as it has become increasing unhelpful and arguably counter-productive for the public in appreciating the real and immediate threats posed by storms in a climate changed world.

"We have to get very serious about the issue of environmental protection and not just acting like disasters are just aberrant things that are only going to happen once in awhile," says Knowles. "The coal ash and the animal waste in North Carolina --- that's a huge environmental nightmare, but you can find a nightmare like that waiting in all fifty states."

Next, an update and a few thoughts on the battle over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and whether Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault in the 1980s, will testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Ford's attorney now says she is willing to do so --- though not by the Monday deadline arbitrarily set by Senate Republicans --- presuming "terms that are fair and which ensure her safety." For his part, Judge Kavanaugh has reportedly spent three days this week attending practice sessions at the White House for his response to the Committee. But, if he is completely innocent of the charges as he claims, why is so much practice actually necessary? We discuss.

Finally today, Desi Doyen joins us for the Green News Report with the latest on the growing toxic toll of Hurricane Florence, the long road of recovery that lies ahead, and this week's announcement by Trump's Interior Department of still more rollbacks to methane regulations, despite the impact of the greenhouse gas on climate change and the natural disasters like Florence that it helps to super charge...

Download MP3 or listen to complete show online below...

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