As the floodwaters recede from the Abaco Islands in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, one of the fiercest storms this year, the nation’s eyes turn to Washington as we anticipate how U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s administration will handle the humanitarian crisis in the Bahamas. With the memory of his contemptible response to Hurricane Maria still fresh in our minds, we must demand action now more than ever. The president and Congress must swiftly deliver more substantial federal aid to the country, entrust confidence in the nation’s weather forecasters and provide an understanding of the dynamics of climate change.
As Dorian grew into a Category 5 storm, with 185 mph winds upon landfall in the Bahamas, its movement slowed to a snail’s pace, pounding the islands with concentrated rainfall. And now the islands are suffering. In the northern Bahamas, which suffered the most extensive damage, most infrastructure, save for phone services, has been completely wiped out. Thousands are homeless, billions of dollars in property has been destroyed and the death toll is expected to rise dramatically as rescue efforts continue.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has already funded $2.8 million for relief efforts, but more needs to be done. With the anemic response to Hurricane Maria still in the nation’s memory, the federal government must remove all doubts as to its priorities in times of crisis. With Bahamian officials struggling to parse through the wreckage and coordinate efforts, the United States should take the lead in providing support for our battered neighbor. The Bahamas are just 50 miles from the coast of Florida, and the nation has close commercial ties with the U.S. through tourism and international trade. It’s imperative that Washington acts quickly and effectively to ensure that we provide the Bahamas the support the country needs to recover from this disastrous storm.
Forecasting Dorian proved to be a challenge given the numerous paths the hurricane could have taken. However, forecasters from the National Weather Service were fairly certain that Dorian would not have impacted Alabama, a point that led to a clash between the president and meteorologists across the country. After presenting a hurricane forecast track with a sharpie-drawn line extending the potential hurricane zone into Alabama, Trump held firm to the assertion that Dorian would affect Alabama. Even after the National Weather Service in Birmingham refuted the claim, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contradicted its own forecasters and continued to support the president’s assertions. This represents the far-reaching schism between political actors and scientists. Many in Dorian’s path depended on forecasting services for accurate, potentially life-saving information. It’s scary to see that NOAA, an agency overseen by Trump-appointed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, pushed a political agenda by bowing to the president’s false narrative. The administration should recant its position, acknowledge its error and affirm its faith in the nation’s scientists and weather forecasters.
The devastating effects of Dorian should bring the significance of climate change to international attention. While climate change alone may not have caused the hurricane, evidence suggests that increased ocean heat from the greenhouse effect has increased the frequency of slow-moving storms like Dorian. Worse, stronger storms are also becoming more common. The government must acknowledge the potential that climate change could make these matters worse. With clear evidence from around the globe, we must double down on our calls to action on this issue, and Washington should be our most important target.
What should Washington do in the face of devastation, political strife and clear evidence of climate change? Congress could pass legislation diverting emergency aid to the Bahamas. The Trump administration should change course and support climate research, or Americans should vote him out of office. Inaction means a tacit approval of the status quo, and we cannot afford to tolerate the business-as-usual attitude infesting the nation’s capitol any longer.
Spencer Moore (22C) is from Rochester, Minn.