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On top of everything, hurricane season is here and most Americans don’t have flood insurance

Monday was the official first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, though the season unofficially began early for the sixth straight year when the first named storm of the season, Tropical Storm Arthur, brushed up against North Carolina’s Outer Banks in mid-May. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts an above-normal season ahead — between 13 and 19 named storms.

If some of those storms make landfall, they’ll bring flooding with them. Americans could be in for a very wet few months, following spring floods that toppled a dam in Michigan, forcing the evacuation of 11,000 people, and brought half a foot of rain to western North Carolina in the span of 24 hours. A new survey commissioned by National Flood Services, a flood insurance administration company, shows homeowners are ill-equipped to handle that flooding, even though a majority consider themselves ready.

Sixty-two percent of homeowners across the nation say they’re prepared for a flood, but the survey revealed that just 12 percent of them have flood insurance — property insurance for residential and commercial properties that covers water damage from flooding. Premiums for this insurance, which is subsidized by the federal government, range from $573 to $1,395 annually.

The survey, conducted by The Harris Poll on more than 2,000 U.S. adults in April, found that half of respondents are actually less interested in buying insurance because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put more than 40 million Americans out of work and caused a historic economic recession. A measly six percent of homeowners making less than $50,000 a year have flood insurance, and six percent of homeowners between the ages of 55 and 64 have it.

Other surveys show that 80 percent of Texas homeowners, 60 percent of Florida homeowners, and 99 percent of Puerto Rico homeowners don’t have flood insurance. All three places have been inundated with tropical storm–related flooding in recent years.

“We’re entering into another season, we’re building more homes in the floodplain, we know we have aging infrastructure,” said A.R. Siders, assistant professor at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. “We don’t know that information is getting out to people — that they are understanding the risks they are facing.” So why do so few of us have flood insurance?

There are lots of ways to answer that question. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) only requires people who buy homes in designated flood plains to buy flood insurance. For Americans who don’t live in those areas, flood insurance can seem like an unnecessary expense. Some folks don’t know that their regular home insurance doesn’t cover flooding from storms and other sources of water damage beyond something like a burst pipe. Still others underestimate the risk of flooding in their areas or don’t realize their homes are in areas prone to flooding in the first place.

Some states — 21, to be exact — don’t even require real estate agents and home sellers to tell buyers when a home is in a FEMA-designated flood zone that requires flood insurance. “When you buy a house, they don’t have to tell you if your house is in the floodplain,” Siders said. “You look at Carfax and figure out if your car has had a dinged bumper, but making one of the largest financial purchases of your life, like a house, you can’t figure out if it’s in a flood zone.”

What’s more, FEMA’s flood maps don’t tell the whole story. “I don’t think it’s widely appreciated that the flood risk is much greater than just being in a designated 100-year floodplain,” Jim Blackburn, a professor in practice at Rice University, told Grist. An 100-year floodplain is an area that has a one in 100 percent chance of flooding annually. Extensive flooding, Blackburn said, can happen in a lot of places with little warning.

And that’s a problem that’s going to get worse. The size, scope, and frequency of floods are changing rapidly, in part because climate change causes heavier rains and more severe storms. By the end of the century, America’s flood plains could increase in size by 45 percent. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is the main way people get flood insurance in this country and is administered by flood insurance companies, could increase its number of annual policies 80 percent by the year 2100. “FEMA is chronically underfunded, so a lot of their flood maps are out of date. Climate change means that the flood maps are changing really quickly, and then FEMA flood maps don’t take climate change into account,” Siders said. “So they can only tell you what your historic flood risk was, not what it will be in 10 years.”

As coronavirus restrictions ease and Americans try to get back on their feet, hurricane season and the associated flooding could knock them flat again. One way to protect homeowners from compounding risks in the future is to make sure they see the full picture before they sign on the dotted line. “If you have to pay tens of thousands every year to live in a home, that signals to you that it’s truly risky to live in this house,” Siders said, referring to the government’s practice of heavily subsidizing homes in flood zones. “When we subsidize it, we hide that, and so people don’t necessarily know how at risk they are.”


On top of everything, hurricane season is here and most Americans don’t have flood insurance

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Puerto Rico wasn’t ready for earthquakes — especially not after Hurricane Maria

It was half-past 4 in the morning when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked Puerto Rico on Tuesday, leaving the island at a standstill.

Half asleep in bed, I couldn’t work out what was happening until the whole house began to shift side to side. My parents quickly grabbed my dog and we scurried out of our house near Hatillo, along the island’s northern coast. We’d already established an evacuation plan following the 5.4-magnitude quake that had rattled our nerves just the previous morning, before we opened our presents on Three Kings Day, an important Christian holiday across Latin America.

And just like that, Puerto Rico plunged into darkness, again.

After the quake, 97 percent of the island lost power. I was in the dark, but at least my house was intact. I was one of the lucky ones. Buildings, schools, and historic churches crumbled along the U.S. territory’s southern coast in the cities of Ponce, Yauco, Guayanilla, Lajas, and Guanica. More than a thousand people sought shelter after their homes were reduced to rubble, and at least one person died after a wall in his home collapsed on him.

Wanda Vázquez, who became Puerto Rico’s governor in August following historic protests calling for the ouster of the former scandal-ridden governor, Ricardo Roselló, declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as authorities surveyed the damage to the power generation plants. Many of the island’s power plants are located along the southern coast near the epicenter of Tuesday’s earthquake. The Costa Sur power plant, which generates about 40 percent of the island’s electricity, sustained severe damage.

By Thursday, around a third of Puerto Ricans remained without power, according to CBS News. The current bout of shaking may not yet be over — the United States Geological Survey warns that more aftershocks could be coming. Terrified of sleeping indoors during another tremor, thousands of Puerto Ricans have been sleeping outside in yards and parking lots.

On Wednesday, Trump approved Vázquez’s request for an emergency declaration, which will provide funds for things like debris removal and financial assistance for people who lost their homes. The island’s governor is requesting a “major” emergency declaration that would go even further by funding emergency and permanent work. (The United States commander-in-chief has stayed silent about the disaster on Twitter, preoccupied with the escalating conflict in Iran and his impeachment.)

Even though recovery efforts are on their way, I fear the island where I grew up will never be ready for the next disaster, natural or not.

Damaged homes, deaths, no electricity or clean water — it’s all too familiar in Puerto Rico. The earthquake, the most powerful one to hit the island in more than a century, awoke many unwanted memories of Hurricane Maria, the tropical tyrant that upended life in Puerto Rico in September 2017, killing an estimated 2,975 people and knocking out power in some areas for almost a year.

In many ways, the island still hasn’t recovered. A 2019 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the island’s overall infrastructure a D- grade and its energy infrastructure a straight-up F, calling out inadequate restoration following 2017’s one-two punch from hurricanes Maria and Irma. “Given its location and susceptibility to natural hazards, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure must be more resilient than a majority of mainland America’s,” the report reads. “The need for more resilient infrastructure, coupled with bankruptcy, has led to current infrastructure that fails to meet citizens’ demands.” Case in point: Many bridges and roads on the island that were weakened by the hurricanes collapsed after the recent earthquakes.

Initially, Vázquez and José Ortiz, the CEO of public power utility PREPA, claimed that the electricity would be restored for most of the island in the coming days. But Ortiz told CBS News on Thursday that the crucial Costa Sur plant “will be out for probably over a year.” Many Puerto Ricans are now calling for protests on the grounds that top officials tried to minimize the severity of the earthquake damage on energy infrastructure.

It’s not just the electricity that’s vulnerable: homes are, too. After Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency pressured the island to enact stricter building codes, which took effect two months ago. Puerto Ricans were all too aware that aging buildings were vulnerable to hurricane winds and flooding, but powerful earthquakes are a rarity on the island, so they didn’t prioritize earthquake-proofing. Some houses that were recently elevated to avoid storm surge, for example, collapsed during the shakes.

Disaster research experts estimate that the earthquakes could cost the island up to $3.1 billion, including damage to private and public property as well as economic losses from tourism. The United States Geological Survey has a more conservative initial estimate, putting economic losses at upwards of $100 million. Either way, it’s a hard hit for an island already strapped for cash. Puerto Rico is currently about $70 billion in debt.

Footing the bill for recovering from the earthquakes won’t be easy, especially considering the track record of federal aid. After the 2017 hurricane season, Congress appropriated $42 billion to the recovery effort in Puerto Rico ($16 billion through FEMA, $20 billion through Housing and Urban Development, and the remainder through more than a dozen smaller agencies). But only about $14 billion of these funds had actually been spent as of last July. To top it off, the federal response could be on the slow side. While Harvey and Irma survivors in Texas and Florida received about $100 million in FEMA assistance within nine days of the storms’ landfall, for instance, Maria survivors received only $6 million over the same time frame.

“We have not received the reconstruction money that has been allocated for Puerto Rico,” Carmén Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, told NBC News on Tuesday. “I urge every member of Congress, whether Democrat or Republican — this is an issue of justice — to ask and demand that the president of the United States declare portions, if not the entirety, of Puerto Rico a state of emergency.”

Many Puerto Ricans, both those living on the island and in the diaspora, have flooded social media with pleas for support. But they shouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of individuals to save them in the event of a powerful earthquake, a climate-charged hurricane, or any other natural disaster. For the sake of the Puerto Ricans who have lived through catastrophe time and time again, this is an opportunity for both the local and federal governments to finally get it right.


Puerto Rico wasn’t ready for earthquakes — especially not after Hurricane Maria

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11,000 scientists say that the ‘climate emergency’ is here

More than 11,000 scientists declared a climate emergency today in — where else — an article published in a scientific journal.

“Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any great existential threat and to ‘tell it like it is,’” begins the “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,” published in BioScience. It continues, “On the basis of this obligation … we declare … clearly and unequivocally, that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”

The declaration was co-written by William Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University and the founder of the environmental advocacy group Alliance of World Scientists, and undersigned by more than 11,000 scientists and climate experts.

These signatories aren’t the first to describe the present state of the climate as a crisis. Hundreds of governments of various sizes around the world, including New York City and the United Kingdom, have passed resolutions saying the same. This summer, some members of Congress proposed a resolution for the U.S. government to join the climate-emergency chorus.

This particular declaration is a little different, though — for one thing, it’s peer reviewed. It’s also the first time so many scientists have directly told the public that the current state of the climate constitutes a crisis, rather than letting their data speak for itself.

“Phrases like ‘climate change’ sound a little bit mild, in terms of how severe the problem is,” Ripple told Grist. “So, we wanted to publish language that is consistent with the data and the trends that we’re seeing.”

Ripple organized a similar initiative back in 2017, when he and 15,000 other scientists issued a “warning to humanity” about climate change (which was itself an homage to a climate warning written by a different group of scientists in 1992). But Ripple decided it was time to upgrade the warning to a declaration of emergency after talking to Representative Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, who introduced the resolution for Congress to declare a national climate emergency back in July.

“In my view, declaring a climate emergency should mostly be based on the data,” said Ripple. “These governmental bodies, they’ll look to the science to see if they are on solid ground before they pass these resolutions.”

Even though outright climate denialism is increasingly illegitimate in mainstream news, the debate over whether to use words like “catastrophe,” “emergency,” or “crisis” continues. So Ripple wanted politicians, activists, and the general public to know that the science supports urgency. He wrote the letter, which details the basic facts of climate change — how human impacts, like CO2 emissions and deforestation, have environmental consequences, like the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and global temperature rise — and sent it around to other scientists, who added their names to the message by the thousands.

But what exactly does it mean to declare a climate emergency? Sure, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, and advocates of climate emergency resolutions point out that acknowledging the severity of the problem posed by our warming planet is a prerequisite for action.

It’s easy to look skeptically at climate emergency resolutions, though, since they’re largely symbolic measures at a time when there are so many tangible actions that need to be taken — transitioning the energy sector from fossil fuels to renewable sources, say. Resolutions also usually (although not always) call for vague, nonbinding measures without legal mechanisms to hold governments accountable for meeting them.

Whether or not you think climate emergency resolutions are an effective tactic for inspiring more concrete actions, it’s a pretty big deal that so many scientists have decided it’s necessary to step out of their labs and into the political arena. If you didn’t believe our warming planet is in a state of emergency, just know that several thousand scientists want you to know otherwise.

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11,000 scientists say that the ‘climate emergency’ is here

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Sea-level rise threatens 13 million Americans. Can FEMA help?

Entrepreneur and presidential hopeful Andrew Yang caught flak at the second Democratic debate in July for saying that the time has come to move Americans living in the path of sea-level rise to higher ground. “You can run but you can’t hide” doesn’t make a particularly good presidential slogan. After all, admitting defeat and letting nature take its course isn’t exactly our first instinct as human beings.

Managed retreat — abandoning areas that become so threatened by sea-level rise that they are, for whatever reason, considered not worth saving — has been a far less popular idea than adaptation strategies like flood gates, levees, and pumps. (Just look at Miami.)

But in many respects Yang’s realism is spot on. If the world keeps burning fossil fuels as usual, between four and 13 million Americans will see their homes inundated by sea-level rise this century. In the future, managed retreat will become unavoidable.

Don’t take Yang’s word for it. That’s one of the conclusions of a new study in Science Advances — the first to evaluate how managed retreat is functioning in the United States on a national scale. The study’s authors analyzed the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s voluntary buyout program — an initiative that allows owners of flood-prone properties to sell their homes and land to local governments, usually in the aftermath of a disaster. The aim of the program is to get vulnerable people and assets out of flood plains and to ensure that at-risk property doesn’t go back on the market so some other unfortunate soul ends up buying a house that floods once a year. So far, a little more than 40,000 people in 49 states have taken advantage of the program. That’s not a lot of households, and the study found that the number of buyouts overseen by FEMA has actually gone down over the past three decades.

By looking at buyouts that occurred between 1989 and 2017, the study’s authors were able to evaluate the way communities are utilizing (or not utilizing) FEMA’s buyout program, what demographics are benefiting from the program, and how retreat fits into a wider climate strategy.

The study took FEMA’s publicly available buyout data, compared it to other data sets, and found that the counties that take advantage of the program on average have higher income and population density than those that don’t. Within those counties, however, the neighborhoods where the buyouts took place were actually lower-income, denser, and more racially diverse. To the authors of the study, these trends signal that not all local governments have equal access to the program. For example, in Harris County, which includes Houston, there have been more than 2,000 buyouts since 1989. But Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi — the three states that have had the highest levels of property damage from flooding — rank lowest in the nation in state-wide property buyouts.

The study also found that counties are, for the most part, buying up a few properties at a time with FEMA funds, instead of entire swaths — a predictable outcome when buyouts are voluntary. That’s a missed opportunity to restore flood plains and reduce overall risk to the community. To compound the complexity of the issue, FEMA hasn’t done a good job of documenting its own progress — when logging buyouts in its system, the administration neglected to fill out nearly half of the entries. That means that in many cases researchers don’t know what type of residence was bought out, including whether it was a rental or mobile home.

Millions of Americans may have to contend with managed retreat; why have so few taken advantage of FEMA’s program? Part of the reason may be due to the fact that retreating to higher ground hasn’t really been a central part of states’ flood risk mitigation plans thus far. Local governments have long prioritized approaches like disaster assistance and improved engineering. That could change, though, thanks to a perfect storm of factors. “Even places that have not done buyouts to date are increasingly thinking about the combination of hazards,” Katherine Mach, the lead author of the study, said in a conference call with reporters. “In Louisiana, for example, it’s the combination of oil extraction plus reduced sediment supply plus sea-level rise in normal circumstances versus disaster circumstances.” Buyouts will likely be part of the state’s “full suite of responses,” Mach said.

So what happens if Yang’s prediction of devastating sea-level rise comes true? There are 49 million housing units on the U.S. coast and over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure within 700 feet of the coast, says study author A.R. Sider. “If even one-tenth of that needed to relocate, we’d be talking about orders of magnitude larger than we’ve ever done before with buyouts,” she said.

The study’s authors hope their work lays the groundwork for more research on this topic. “One of the questions we’re trying to answer is what the impacts of buyouts are for the households that participate in them,” said Caroline Kraan, another of the study’s authors. “Where do these households move to? Are they better or worse off in the long term?” We know at least one presidential candidate who’s probably very interested in the answer.


Sea-level rise threatens 13 million Americans. Can FEMA help?

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‘Another hurricane?’ How climate disasters can give us compassion fatigue

Hurricane season is just getting started, and some U.S. politicians (cough cough TRUMP cough cough) already seem to be suffering from climate-related compassion fatigue.

In response to the news that then-Tropical Storm Dorian (now a Category 1 hurricane) was on its way toward Puerto Rico, President Trump seemed to blame the U.S. territory — or at least the weather gods — for the island’s repeated weather-related woes.

“Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end?” Trump tweeted on Monday. He went on to lament a falsely inflated federal price tag associated with recovery from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island as a Category 4 storm in 2017. “Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all-time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.’” (Just to set the record straight, Congress has allocated only about $42 billion to Maria recovery — and only about $14 billion of the money has reached the island so far.)

Hurricane Dorian, which is expected to hit the island on Wednesday, is also giving Puerto Ricans a sense déjà vu. But in contrast to the mainland’s mild attitude of annoyance at the repeat event, the idea of another storm hitting the island is ramping up local concerns. Puerto Rico’s newly minted governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency as the island is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. “Puerto Ricans on the island have a serious case of PTSD,” Timmy Boyle, the spokesman for environmental justice group ACASE, told Grist. “Right now, there are long lines in gas stations and empty shelves at supermarkets, especially with water.”

Hurricane Maria was the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, that killed almost 3,000 people. Some residents are still living under blue tarps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is pulling a whopping $271 million in funding from FEMA disaster relief to pay for immigration detention space and temporary hearing locations for asylum-seekers on the southern border

The scientific consensus is that climate change will contribute to more frequent extreme weather events — be they hurricanes in the Caribbean, heatwaves in Europe, or flooding in Bangladesh. On a global scale, these events showcase how climate change is becoming an ever-increasing problem. Serialized emergencies increase a place’s vulnerability to climate change by inflicting new stress before infrastructure or morale have fully recovered from the last tragedy. Yet those outside affected zones can start to unconsciously dismiss repeated disasters as simply “the new normal.”

Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon wherein people withdraw after long periods of taking on others’ emotional burdens. As a person becomes overexposed to bad news, they can become more indifferent toward that type of suffering. And according to some experts, the opposite effect — heightened climate anxiety — can be just as paralyzing. In a 2017 Atlantic article, journalist Julie Beck argued that climate anxiety can cause people to turn inward, focusing on their own emotional state versus the plight of others.

“We make the assumption that if people are aware of how urgent and frightening and scary these issues are, then people will automatically translate that into ‘Oh my gosh, what kind of actions can I take?’” Renee Lertzman, a psychologist who studies climate-change communication told Beck. “That’s just simply not the case.”

That lack of empathy, whether it’s a result of compassion fatigue, crippling climate anxiety, or just being kind of a jerk, is bad enough when it’s coming from your fellow Americans. But as Puerto Ricans know, it’s worse when it’s directed at you from the commander in chief. “Trump shows no compassion for us,” said Jessica Montero Negrón, a community leader in the rural municipality of Utuado, speaking in her native Spanish. “People here are really scared.”

The solution, at least for locals, is to err on the side of being safe rather than sorry and fight harder for resources when it comes to future storms. On CNN, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz — who has a history of sparring with Trump — said, “It seems like some people have learned the lessons of the past or are willing to say that they didn’t do right by us the first time and they are trying to do their best. That is not the case with the president of the United States.”

“We are not going to be concerned by, frankly, his behavior, his lack of understanding, and it is ludicrous. So get out of the way, President Trump, and let people who can do the job get the job done.”

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‘Another hurricane?’ How climate disasters can give us compassion fatigue

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California town declares climate emergency 4 months after state’s deadliest wildfire

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This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Four months after the Camp Fire destroyed the northern California towns of Paradise and Magalia, city council members in the neighboring town of Chico voted this week to declare a climate emergency that threatens their lives and well-being.

Chico’s emergency declaration calls on the city to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030, among other demands that echo those included in the Green New Deal bill state lawmakers introduced in February. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the state Assembly’s Committee on Natural Resources.

The Camp Fire didn’t spread to Chico — it stopped just 10 or so miles away — but thousands of Butte County residents relocated there after they lost their homes. And given the devastating fire seasons California has faced in recent years, new and long-term residents alike want local leaders to take a more proactive approach to preparing for climate-related disasters.

Members of Chico 350, the local chapter of the national climate advocacy group 350.org, drafted the declaration proposal last month.

“The residents of Chico are already experiencing great economic loss and social, emotional and physical impact from climate related disasters,” they wrote. “It makes economic sense and good governance policy to be proactive rather than wait for more wildfires, severe storms, heat waves, and floods which threaten public health and safety.”

The Camp Fire started on the morning of November 8, 2018, after a PG&E transmission line failure. Over the course of a week, the fire destroyed 14,000 homes in Butte County and killed 85 people, many of whom were elderly and disabled. Members of the 14,000 households who lost their homes have tried to resettle in Chico, but it hasn’t been easy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided just 220 trailers for victims of the fire — hardly enough for the many families who are now insecurely housed.

“We don’t have enough housing, period, for the people relocated because of the Camp Fire,” City Councilwoman Ann Schwab, who voted in support of the declaration, told HuffPost in February.

Schwab said the town lacks both temporary and permanent housing options for the displaced. “People are sleeping in their cars, in motor homes. They are sharing bedrooms with friends and relatives,” she said.

“It was a bad situation before. Now it’s overwhelming.”

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California town declares climate emergency 4 months after state’s deadliest wildfire

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‘Future-proofing’ is how you say climate change in Texas

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There’s a new term for all the work needed to prepare coasts and cities for the consequences of climate change, and it’s blissfully free of the words “climate change.” Introducing “future-proofing.” As in, it’s time to “future-proof” Texas to brace for future disasters like Hurricane Harvey, according to a new comprehensive report.

Prepared by Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s reconstruction commission, the report recommends myriad ways for the state to “future-proof”: elevate homes, construct storm-surge barriers, and offer buyouts for homes at high risk of flooding, to name a few.

What’s more interesting is what’s missing. Take the time to read the 168-page report, and you’ll find mention of rising sea levels and more intense storms. You might scratch your head upon finding phrases such as “changing human and environmental conditions” or “changing future weather patterns.” It would be hard to miss “future-proofing,” a phrase that’s employed 44 times. But you won’t find the exact words “climate change” anywhere except for the footnotes, as Dallas News reported on Thursday.

If you were reading very closely, you’d find a sole reference to the “changing climate” sitting in plain sight at the top of page 114. Score! (Governor Abbott shakes fist at sky.) The endnotes include scientific studies whose titles feature the words, too.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that climate change only makes one meaningful appearance in the report. When Abbott, a widely-reported climate denier, sent a 301-page plea to the federal government asking for aid after Hurricane Harvey last year, he neglected to mention “climate change,” too. His request did, however, use the term “future-proofing.”

Maybe avoiding the double-C phrase is just how you get things done in Republican-controlled Texas. Sure, sure, multiple scientific studies showed that climate change made Harvey wetter and more likely to occur. But why say it if you don’t need to?

The new report reflects a pattern of censorship in the Trump era. The Federal Emergency Management Agency dropped “climate change” from its long-term strategy this year, replacing it with oblique terms such as “pre-disaster mitigation.” The phrase has also vanished from government websites, with euphemisms like “sustainability” and “resilience” taking its place. Even National Science Foundation scientists have begun dropping the term from public summaries of their research, replacing it with terminology like “extreme weather” and “environmental change.”

Here’s the thing: According to the recent National Climate Assessment, Texas is unprepared for sea-level rise, stronger hurricanes, and intense flooding. Even if you don’t say the climate is changing, it still is.

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‘Future-proofing’ is how you say climate change in Texas

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Is Sarah Silverman comedy’s new climate champion?

Finding humor in climate change isn’t easy (trust us!). That’s especially true this week, when U.N. scientists handed the world a big, scary report saying we’re on the road to catastrophe and Hurricane Michael carved a path of devastation through the Florida Panhandle. But Sarah Silverman is up for the challenge. The comedian delivered a nine-minute plea for climate action on Thursday in the latest episode of her Hulu show I Love You, America.

“I know climate change is not the most exciting issue, and the media knows it too, which is part of why it’s covered so infrequently,” Silverman said. She pointed to MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes’ controversial tweet in which he said climate change is a “palpable ratings killer” for news shows and so “the incentives are not great.”

“You know what’s a great incentive?” Silverman asked. “We’re all gonna f*#&’ing die.”

“I feel compelled to use my platform to speak out,” Silverman said. “Granted, my platform is on the third largest streaming network of three, so it’s not so much shouting from the rooftops as like complaining from an open mic at Panera Bread.”

Silverman covered a ton of ground in the segment, from scientists’ terrifying climate predictions to the “it’s a hoax” views of President Trump, who she calls a “Fox News grandpa.” Here’s a clip of her explaining how “absurdly rich and powerful people” are ruining the planet for the rest of us (the full thing is on Hulu):

“The only option is that we react to this massive state of emergency with massive action,” Silverman said. She brought up climate change on her show last month, too, explaining the Trump administration’s rollback of methane regulations.

Silverman isn’t the only comedian taking on climate change: Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah also came up with jokes about the scary U.N. report … somehow.

So are comedians good messengers for climate change? Perhaps! A study from earlier this year found that humor, rather than fear or straightforward facts, got young people the most excited about taking action on climate change.

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Is Sarah Silverman comedy’s new climate champion?

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Hurricane Maria evacuees worry about jobs, housing, and if they’ll ever go home

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, 1,700 evacuees from Puerto Rico have received housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This past week, those Puerto Ricans faced being displaced again as a deadline approached that would have forced them to move out of hotel rooms, mostly in Florida, that were being paid for by the U.S. government.

Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) for those affected by Maria was scheduled to end on June 30. But advocates rallied for an extension, as well as a plan to provide more long-term housing to those who were forced to flee Puerto Rico.

After levying a lawsuit against FEMA, the effort was successful in achieving a brief reprieve. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that evacuees could retain occupancy of their hotel rooms until July 23. While it’s a momentary relief, these displaced Puerto Ricans still face several hurdles in setting up a new life post-Maria.

Grist spoke with three TSA recipients who moved to the Orlando area after the hurricane. All of them expressed uncertainty about the futures of them and their families. And the new deadline now looms large as they work to find jobs, more permanent housing, or a way back to their island home. (The sources’ accounts have been edited for clarity and concision.)

Ariana Colon, 20

Colon was a nursing student when Hurricane Maria hit. She and her boyfriend have a one-year-old son and another baby on the way. They’re staying at a Holiday Inn in Kissimmee, Florida.

I moved in December. My boyfriend came in October to make sure he was going to have a job first before we actually came here. It’s been really hard because I’ve never been to Florida before, so it’s kind of like trying to learn how everything goes here.

When we were in Puerto Rico, the governor of Florida was saying that there would be a lot of assistance. But once we came here it was the opposite. We did get the assistance from the TSA program, but other than that, there was nothing. We had to do everything ourselves, even though we came with just a suitcase with some clothes with it. We didn’t come with money. It was more like we came here by force after everything that happened.

We didn’t lose our home, it was more everything that happened after the hurricane: no electricity, no water, no food. I spent a lot of days trying to find one can of formula for my baby. He was actually getting sick because of the smell of the generators. He got a lung infection.

In Puerto Rico, there was tropical weather. It was so hot inside that he couldn’t sleep, so I would have to sleep outside or sleep on roof so he could. It was more for my son that we decided to come because he was suffering a lot. He was five months old at the time, so he was really small.

At first I couldn’t work because I didn’t have daycare. Daycare is really expensive. So my boyfriend was working by himself, and I wasn’t receiving any benefits from the government, like food stamps or WIC (a food program, specifically aimed at women, infants, and children). I started receiving those later on, after maybe three months. Everything was coming out of our pockets, so we couldn’t save a lot in that time.

Then I was trying to get assistance from the state that helps you pay for daycare. I got it in April, and that’s when I started working in a fast food restaurant and trying to save more. But even with that, I spend like maybe half of what I make on daycare — and that only covers five hours Monday through Friday, so I can’t really have a full-time job.

It’s been really stressful, not knowing if you’re going to have a roof over your head or not, and having a baby makes it 10 times worse. I was freaking out about this — like, “Oh my god, I have to move everything again.” Because we have actually moved; we’ve been in four different hotels.

People say, “You’re staying in a hotel. It must be nice.” But it’s really not, staying in a hotel room for such a long time and having [hotel staff] coming in and out. You never know when someone’s going to open the door. Having everything stuck together in a small room is really uncomfortable. We can’t cook, because there’s no kitchen. You’re not comfortable at all. It is a roof and a bed, but it’s not how people think.

Pregnancy is really hard, and it obviously wasn’t planned so it’s kind of hard having to think about all this stress with the FEMA situation and then dealing with my baby. I feel like I have a lot of pressure on me. But I’m managing to fight through it.

Right now, we do have a plan. My boyfriend has a car in Puerto Rico that he’s trying to get here. With that car, he can do Uber. And we’re going to hope that doing that we can probably make more and get an apartment sooner.

So this [TSA extension] gave us a little more time. Instead of wasting money on a room that we’re going to be forced to rent — because obviously we can’t just stay in the street with my son — we can use that money to bring the car and start making more and see if that works out. I don’t think we have any more options.

Victor Oliveras, 26

Oliveras ran a small construction business in Las Marias, Puerto Rico, before Hurricane Maria destroyed his home. On June 30, the day TSA was originally scheduled to end, he moved out of a Super 8 motel and in with a Florida resident who had offered a room in his house to Victor and his girlfriend. He’s now working as a canvasser for the local nonprofit Organize Florida, where he’s helping to register Puerto Ricans to vote. (He spoke to Grist via a translator.)

Last month and this month, I had anxiety and depression. I went to bed every night without knowing what I can do. When you don’t have your own place, it’s horrible. It’s a nightmare.

I don’t want to stay in the hotel anymore. FEMA extended the program, but at any time you can end up on the street and be homeless. So I didn’t apply for the extension. I would rather stay in the bedroom that I rent because I feel safe. Now I don’t live with anxiety anymore because I have my own bedroom, I feel comfortable.

Here I’m alone. I’m with my girlfriend, but I don’t have family here. In Puerto Rico, I had my own company and built houses. I’m saving money to begin my small business in Puerto Rico again — and so I can stay with my family.

I want to move to Puerto Rico in December, but I need to find a house or an apartment there. The rent in Puerto Rico is cheaper than here by far, but I need money so I am working here to save up.

María Báez Claudio, 53

Claudia is a grandmother living with her five-year-old grandson, who has a disability that affects his motor skills, as well as his ability to talk. They are staying together at a Super 8 motel in Kissimmee, Florida. She applied for more permanent housing assistance through the Methodist Church, but is still on a waiting list. (She spoke to Grist via a translator.)

After the hurricane, with my grandson’s condition and few medical resources, I decided that the best thing to do was to come to Florida. Being alone and staying in a hotel with my grandson with a disability can be complicated. It’s a bit tough to go through sometimes. I’m grateful with him being able to go to therapy and go to school. I feel that he has gotten better because of those things. I’m thankful for that.

I’ve been anxious, worried, desperate, not knowing what’s going to happen [with TSA]. Today, I have a little bit of piece of mind, but overall it has been a hard experience. I’m hoping they can give me at least another month [beyond the July 23 deadline], because I have to figure things out.

I hope I have an apartment to live in and a job to sustain us and to be able to give my grandson stability and a good life. What keeps me going is the love that I have for my grandson — every time I look at him I find the strength to keep going.

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Hurricane Maria evacuees worry about jobs, housing, and if they’ll ever go home

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Maria has plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian emergency

The rain and winds may be over, but Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico is only just beginning.

The storm’s rains fell at a rate exceeding that of Hurricane Harvey in Texas with wind speeds exceeding that of Hurricane Irma in Florida. In the span of 24 hours, Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s entire power grid, 95 percent of cellphone towers, the bulk of the island’s water infrastructure, as well as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, and seaports.

Officials warn it may take up to six months to fully restore power. In some communities, 90 percent of homes and businesses have suffered “complete” damage. To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents live below the poverty line, making the uphill climb to recovery even more steep.

All indications are that Hurricane Maria has inflicted one of the most extreme and catastrophic weather events in American history. If the aid response is not swift, the situation in Puerto Rico has all the makings of a major humanitarian crisis.

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“There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico,” Ricardo Rossello, the territory’s governor, said. “This is an event without precedent.”

For now, the grim reality is that many Puerto Ricans are on their own. Over the coming days and weeks, first responders will fan out across the island. But many residents will likely begin their recoveries on their own. And if they sustain seemingly minor injuries while doing so, those could go without proper treatment. The sweltering tropical weather could enhance heat-related illnesses. In addition to removing a lifeline for critical-care patients, like those on dialysis, the lack of electricity also means that banks and ATMs will remain closed until further notice — making it more difficult for people to get the resources they need. Supplies of fresh food may start to dwindle.

But perhaps the biggest impact on human health in Puerto Rico will be the lack of clean water. On Twitter, climate scientist Peter Gleick urged the U.S. government to dispatch an aircraft carrier to Puerto Rico. The primary purpose: Not as a landing strip for bringing in supplies, but for its ability to purify massive amounts of water.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson was able to produce 100,000 gallons of clean water per day near the capital Port-au-Prince. In addition to supplying fresh water by whatever means necessary, Gleick says a massive public education campaign should begin immediately focused on preserving human health, particularly on water and sanitation.

“Everything else is secondary,” Gleick told Grist in an interview.

U.N. peacekeepers who came to aid in Haiti’s recovery ended up jumpstarting a cholera epidemic that killed more than 10,000 people. Puerto Rico has had just a single case of cholera since the mid-1800s, but other water-related illnesses, like dysentery, could become a major problem.

Initial estimates of damage to the island exceed $30 billion. That’s roughly one-third of Puerto Rico’s annual economic output — making Maria the rough equivalent of a $500-billion disaster in New York City or a $700-billion disaster in California. With the Puerto Rican government already saddled with more than $70 billion in debt, help is going to have to come from outside the island.

Puerto Rico, partly because of its unique relationship as a United States territory, faces a long and complicated recovery. The United Nations, which does not typically support recovery efforts in developed countries, has not yet issued an appeal for aid. The U.S. federal government should pick up most of the tab through grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Congress will have to approve. So far, Maria’s impact in Puerto Rico has received only a fraction of the news coverage as Harvey’s landfall in Texas and Irma’s in Florida. That could potentially weaken public support for a multibillion-dollar aid package.

A lingering crisis could motivate a mass exodus to the U.S. mainland. But relocation is expensive, and those without the means to move could risk being left behind to shoulder an even bigger burden by themselves.

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Maria has plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian emergency

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