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Denial’s Grim Fruits — Actual Puerto Rico Death Toll Probably Near 500; May Climb to Over a Thousand

Massive disruption which results in cascading failure of basic services such as food, water transport and power. That’s the primary catastrophic risk coming from human forced climate change. And we are now in the process of multiplying the potential for such extreme events by continuing to burn fossil fuels and to dump carbon into the atmosphere.

Maria’s recent landfall in Puerto Rico and resulting unprecedented disruption can be seen as a microcosm of the kind of damage that might ultimately be inflicted upon a whole region or nation. And the various failed responses by the Trump Administration and related denial-based attitudes within the Republican Party do little to inspire confidence in the ability of at least one major party to effectively respond to a rising danger it pretends does not exist at all.

Excess Death Toll

Weather forecasters are often quick to point out that the most dangerous direct impact from a major hurricane comes from either storm surge or flooding rains. However, for days, weeks, and, in the case of Puerto Rico, months following a disaster, the major cause of loss of life is disruption of food, water, power supplies and a related increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

Due to a sluggish and lackadaisical response to the worst storm to strike Puerto Rico in 85 years by the Trump Administration, it appears now that hundreds of lives have been lost. According to reports from the New York Times, 472 more people died during September of 2017 following Maria’s strike than during September of 2016. Such an abnormally high monthly death rate is an outlier in statistics that epidemiologists call an excess death toll. And the primary likely cause was damage to infrastructure, power, food and water by Maria followed by an inadequate emergency response effort.

Many of the 3.4 million people still living in Puerto Rico have been forced to go without reliable access to water, food, and power for 54 days now. Trump Administration failure to mobilize a major effort to respond to the largest power outage and infrastructure disruption in U.S. history has been coupled with the allowance of vulture capitalist firms like Whitefish to prey on Puerto Rico by charging excess fees for power restoration.

Digging into these glaring failures a bit more, it took more than two weeks for Trump to mobilize 5,000 troops to send to Puerto Rico to assist in aid efforts. And Maria was a disaster that required a force ten times this large to be pre-positioned and then sent in immediately following the disaster, according to emergency planners. Vulture firm Whitefish has been reportedly charging 4 to five times what it is paying power installers on an hourly basis. An obvious level of price gouging that has caused the firm’s contract to be canceled. But not before this company of two permanent employees bungled a power line repair that again resulted in much of Puerto Rico falling into darkness.

Incompetent Governance

Whitefish’s most recent failure resulted in total power availability for Puerto Rico again dropping below 20 percent last week. With PREPA stepping in after Whitefish dropped the ball, the line has been repaired. Yet 52 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power.

(Climate Change amplifies hurricane impacts. What this means is that as the world warms, hurricanes produce more damage. If this is the case, then governments are going to have to step up and act responsibly to prevent loss of life. Republicans and the Trump Administration have done exactly the opposite in Puerto Rico. Images source: Climate Signals.)

Lack of power itself can be deadly. Such a loss results in a critical shortage for medical equipment necessary to save people’s lives even as it removes key infrastructures like street lights and communications. Incubators, defibrillators, respirators, pulse monitors and a hundred other life saving devices all go dark when the lights go out. Furthermore, lack of clean water and ready access to food increases instances of infection. And damage to roads prevents access by emergency personnel to people falling into harm’s way.

Vulture Capitalism + Climate Change Denial = Failed Responses and Profiteering in the Face of Rising Disasters

This is why Maria’s blow has now become so hurtful. Why the Trump Administration’s neglect is so glaring. And a thousand or more people may have perished as a result. The role of the U.S. Government as the first responder to major disasters was sidelined. The sacred trust to Citizens of the United States violated. But, outrageously, such a lackadaisical, laissez faire attitude is not simply limited to Trump. It is an unfortunately endemic feature of today’s republican party. A party that is now doing its best to cut taxes for the rich while cutting medical coverage for 13 million Americans.

A party that has also done far, far more than its fair share to deny and prevent responses to the human caused climate change from fossil fuel emissions that made Maria far, far worse. For the storm emerged from warmer than normal oceans that helped to pump up its peak intensity. It was one of many storms made worse by climate change — for studies now indicate that at least 63 percent of all extreme weather events have now been pumped up in a warming atmosphere or over a warming ocean. And with just 1.2 C worth of warming achieved, the worse is still to come.

With the republican party both causing these disasters to worsen and ensuring that their damaging impacts are amplified by delayed responses, irresponsible choices for firms contracted to bring infrastructure back up and running, and overall malfeasance, it’s pretty clear that only a numb-skull would vote for such mouth-breathers. But here we are.

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