Letter to the editor: Hurricane related to climate change

Hurricane Matthew was not a natural disaster. It was not inevitable, coincidental or “unfortunate.” It was a human-caused disaster, and it’s time that we own up to it. On Oct. 4, southwestern Haiti was pummeled by 125 mph winds and heavy rain that desecrated entire cities and left more than 800 dead.
Countless news reports rigidly documented the death toll, the potential for cholera outbreak due to lack of clean water, and chronic infrastructure problems that reflect the inability of impoverished nations to respond effectively to natural disasters. As these tedious news reports scroll by on our newsfeeds, it’s easy to feel an instant of sadness and then promptly move on with our day.
Today, I challenge you not to move on. Stare at your screen and try to imagine burying the person closest to you. Try to imagine deciding between death by dehydration and death by cholera. Try to imagine news reports describing the death of your family and the utter demolition of your house as a “natural” disaster.
Is it natural that some communities should suffer more than others? Is it natural that severe weather events should have the deadliest impact on the world’s most vulnerable people? The scholarly literature has consistently shown that the frequency and intensity of severe weather events are increasing due to climate change.
Anthropocentric climate change is a human invention, and thus its devastating effects must also be viewed as human-caused.
By calling Hurricane Matthew a “natural” disaster, the global North masks its role as the predominant driver of climate change-induced destruction. By now you’re probably thinking, Hurricane Matthew devastated Florida and the Carolinas too. All lives matter. The death toll in the U.S. has risen to 21, and thousands of people were left stranded in flooded buildings. These people are every bit as real as the people in Haiti: they are parents, spouses, siblings, and their pain and grief is heartbreaking.
But I ask, why is the death toll in the U.S. only 3 percent of the death toll in Haiti? Poor infrastructure, one might say. Haiti is an underdeveloped nation with buildings that simply aren’t as structurally sound as those in the U.S. Or corruption, one might say. Haiti doesn’t have the political stability to have a comprehensive evacuation plan. Or one might say, the storm was just stronger when it hit Haiti.
All of these things are true, but they aren’t enough. It is not enough to say that if Haiti had been more developed, it wouldn’t be reeling this much. It is not enough to point to our loved ones in Florida and say, hey, don’t forget about them, because they haven’t been forgotten. Haiti has been forgotten, and all lives will not matter until Haiti matters.
In the 1700s under French colonization, thousands of people were taken from the sub-saharan African countries of Benin, Congo and Ghana, to name a few, and brought to Haiti as slaves. They did not choose Haiti. After the Haitian Revolution in the late 1700s, led by a freed slave, Haiti was viewed as a “public nuisance at [the] door” of the U.S. because American slaves might look to Haiti for inspiration of freedom.
Since the Haitian Revolution, Haiti has been a political and economic pawn of the U.S., the U.S. only paying attention to Haiti when there is profit to be made. The U.S. has intervened so many times in the Haitian government that Haiti has never truly had an opportunity to govern itself. So when we say that Haiti is “underdeveloped,” what we really mean is, France and the U.S. colonized Haiti and exploited its people for profit.
When viewed through this lens, it provides a second layer of historical responsibility for Hurricane Matthew: first being the U.S.’s preeminent role in creating climate change, which leads to more frequent and intense storms, and second being U.S. imperialism that created chronic political and economic problems for Haiti, which made it highly susceptible to infrastructure loss, lack of clean water and loss of life.
If this makes you angry, it should. While we were busy watching our politicians bicker about their personal lives, 800 people in Haiti perished. While ice and water were being shipped to some North Carolina towns, the death toll from cholera in Haiti kept rising due to lack of clean water.
All lives will not matter until Haiti matters. As you stare at your computer screen today, acknowledge the pain of a country and a people that were never really given a chance. Consider donating to one of the myriad organizations working around the clock to provide medical care, clean water and food to those in need.
Write to your senator to tell them that we need substantive climate action now that holds the global north responsible for its historical debts. And most importantly, give dignity to Haiti’s story by holding it in your heart and saying, Haiti matters.
Krista Karlson

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