Trump administration officials are dismissing the slightest suggestion that there are lessons to be learned from the devastating and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They do not want to discuss the science behind the storms, even if thousands of lives could be saved.
Donald Trump's administration does not want to talk about the causes of Hurricane Harvey or how to mitigate future natural disasters.
Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway became visibly upset when CNN anchor Chris Cuomo asked her if the storm would affect the administration's ongoing denial of climate change, considering its role in producing extreme weather around the world.
She responded incredulously, "Chris, we're trying to help the people whose lives are literally underwater, and you want to have a conversation about climate change?"
Later, she accused Cuomo of playing "amateur climatologist" for bringing up the issue.
CONWAY: Chris, we're trying to help the people whose lives are literally underwater, and you want to have a conversation about climate change? I mean, I'm not going to engage in that right now, because I work for a president, vice-president, and a country that is very focused on helping the millions of affected Texans and God forbid, Louisianans if it ends up making landfall there. […] You play amateur climatologist tonight and I will play professional helper to those in need and continue in my job here as counselor to the president.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who has a long record of supporting polluters and being a climate change denier, reacted similarly.
He said it was "opportunistic" and "misplaced" to bring up climate change while the storm is top of mind with millions of Americans.
"At this point to look at things like this and to talk about a cause and effect really isn’t helping the people of Texas," he added.
Yet experts who understand the underlying issues believe Trump's flacks are dead wrong. Kevin Trenberth, a climate researcher with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Washington Post that thanks to increased temperatures, "The storm is a bit more intense, bigger and longer lasting than it otherwise would be."
Climate change has caused ice to melt and ocean waters to swell, which means the sea level in areas like the Texas coast are higher than they were 100 years ago. Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane theorist at MIT, told the paper that this effect has made storms like Superstorm Sandy pack a more powerful punch in recent years.
"If Sandy had hit in 1912, it probably would not have flooded Lower Manhattan," Emanuel said.
Former Vice President Al Gore, who has been warning about climate change for over 20 years, appeared on CNN just a few weeks before the storm hit. In that appearance, he spoke about "rain bombs," huge downpours of rain thanks to increasing temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, Harvey broke the Houston record with 51.88 inches of rain.
Almost a year to the day before the storm hit, Gore held a conference in Houston, warning about increased flooding in the region as the effects of climate change begin to be felt. "Every storm now is different because of how we're modifying the climate of the Earth," he said.
The comments from Conway and Pruitt reflect Trump's insistence that the effects of climate change be ignored, echoing his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. Their denialism actually comes across as restrained, compared with Trump's conspiracy theory that climate science is a "hoax" invented by the Chinese government to hobble American business.
The Trump administration's immediate claims that officials have their eye on the ball with their hurricane response was also questioned by an expert. Trump praised FEMA administrator Brock Long for an "outstanding" response and told him in front of cameras, "My folks are just telling me how great your representatives have been in working together."
But Former Joint Task Force Katrina Commander Russel Honore said all the congratulations and praise are premature. On CNN, he described the response as "amateur hour" and pointed out that there continues to be a federal failure to plan for major events of this nature because the solution is "cooked up locally by the state."
The Trump administration doesn't want to hear it. They're praising their own work while putting their hands over their ears when scientists and advocates with decades of knowledge and experience speak out.
Lives are at stake, and more storms will come. If they continue on their path, choosing to be ignorant, people will die.