Hurricane Harvey Rescue Operations
Volunteers and officers from the neighborhood security patrol helping to rescue residents in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood after it was inundated due to Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27, 2017. Getty Images / Scott Olson

As another American city faces massive flooding, is it acceptable to talk about climate change? The question is particularly sensitive as Tropical Storm Harvey batters Houston, Texas — one of the world’s oil capitals, whose economy is closely tied to the same fossil fuel industry that produces climate-changing carbon emissions.

In the past, some public officials have argued that it is inappropriate to discuss climate change policy in the context of natural disasters. In a new podcast interview with International Business Times, journalist and activist Naomi Klein, though, says shutting down a debate over climate change is the wrong political response to storms like Harvey.

Podcast subscribers can click here to hear the full interview.

Klein is the author of climate-focused books such as “The Shock Doctrine” and “This Changes Everything.” With at least one climate scientist already saying that storms like Harvey are intensified by the warmer ocean temperatures associated with climate change, Klein argues that these weather events must be put into their proper context. She also tells IBT that Republicans may try to turn the disaster into a rationale to expand fossil fuel development.

Hurricane Harvey
A photo of a dog carrying a bag of dog food after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas has gone viral. In this photo, people walk dogs through flooded streets as after Hurricane Harvey made a landfall in Galveston, Texas, Aug. 27, 2017. Getty Images

What follows is an excerpt of IBT’s discussion with Klein.

Sirota: What do you say to those who argue that talking about climate change inappropriately politicizes natural disasters?

Klein: I'd say a couple of things. One, this disaster has already been politicized. It's been seen through the lens of highly partisan politics that is fully within the comfort zone of our conventional media. Before the storm even made landfall, we heard, "Is this going to be Trump's Katrina?" We heard speculation about why he was going away for the weekend. I think people rightfully brought up Republican voting records on withholding aid to Sandy. It's had politics written all over it from the beginning, but it's been a very confined kind of partisan lens that has been applied to it.

We have heard very little talk about climate change. That itself is highly political and politicizing, because if you turn on cable news, you hear about how completely unprecedented a storm like this is, and how nobody could have really prepared for it because we'd never seen anything like it before, but these facts are totally outside of the context for why that is. Why are we seeing more and more unprecedented weather events? Why has the very word unprecedented or record-breaking become a meteorological cliché? The answer to that is that our baseline has changed. We've warmed the planet by one degree Celsius, so we're starting from a different place.

We've seen sea level rise, so because of that, when you have storm surges they reach places they've never reached before. We know there is a link between warming oceans, warmer ocean temperatures, and the power of a storm like Harvey.

Yet we hear very little from climate experts who can unpack this for people turning on their televisions and listening for some kind of context for an event like this. We are applying politics to it. It's just partisan politics. We're just not applying the right kind of politics.

The other thing I would say is that in an ideal world, we would be able to just focus on the human disasters that are unfolding, and then once everyone was safe, we could then have a fine-grained policy debate about what we have seen and what the policy implications of that should be, on the kind of energy that we produce and consume, on the kind of infrastructure that we build, on our migration policies. But in the world that we actually live in, we actually have a really small window in which to put these events in context. Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate accords was pretty much a two-day story in the United States, and then it was back to the Trump palace intrigues.

We actually have a pretty short window to put this event in context, and if we fail to do that, then the response to that event will reflect that failure. We cannot respond to this wake-up call if we don't have the context for it, if we aren't diagnosing the root causes of this crisis.

In the past, there has been this argument that there is no direct evidence that climate change created a particular storm, and that therefore it is wrong to talk about climate change after a storm. What do you say to that?

Actually, you hear that less and less from climate scientists. Just five years ago, there would have been a lot more reticence to make the connections in the midst of an unfolding event like this, but you're seeing more and more highly respected climate scientists saying, "Actually, we can make the connections."

They are not saying that without climate change there would have been no storm, and I think this is sometimes mischaracterized as that kind of a causal link. No, what climate scientists are telling us is that the storm would have happened, but the intensity of the storm, this erratic behavior of the storm, is attributable to the fact that there are record-breaking temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico right now. It is not a controversial statement that there is a direct connection between the force of a storm and ocean temperatures.

Then just in terms of how far a storm will reach, the surge that will happen, we saw with Sandy that it also wasn't controversial to say that when you already have a certain amount of sea level rise, and we do already have that, then when there is a huge storm surge, then because you're starting from an already higher level, this storm is going to reach higher.

Then there's just this record-breaking precipitation that we're seeing, which is also linked to warmer baseline temperatures, because when you have warmer temperatures, you have drought, but you also have these freak precipitation events, these big dumps, whether of storm when you think about Boston and those images of cars fully submerged in snow, or what's happening right now in Texas, where you're getting 10 months worth of rain in a period of days. This is in the context where we've seen record-breaking drought in Texas, California, but this is the way climate change plays out. You'll have drought followed by freak precipitation events because of the increased condensation that is linked to warmer temperatures.

Are you optimistic that these weather events will convince more policymakers to more seriously address climate change?

I'm only optimistic if there is a confidence in speaking to this moment and rejecting this idea that it's somehow unseemly to talk about the root causes in the midst of a disaster like this, because if we don't diagnose the problem, we are not going to solve it. We do need to invest in infrastructure in the face of the climate change we've already locked in, and if we don't simultaneously radically lower our emissions, and that by the way has huge implications for the industry that is the dominant industry in precisely the areas that are being hardest hit, the oil and gas industry, which is a major economic engine in Texas and Louisiana, and specifically in some of the areas that are being hardest hit, which is a whole other layer of risk that we have seen very little about.

We don't know the implications of this storm on oil and gas infrastructure. That's something that we generally only find out about later on in terms of the damage...I actually think there's a very good chance, if we look at the track record of the Republican Party in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that they will use the fact that oil and gas infrastructure is crippled after the storm to argue for more refining capacity and more drilling elsewhere, because there is going to be an impact on supply, because the heart of the oil and gas industry has just been hit.

How do we respond to that? Do we say, "Okay, we are seeing yet another reason why we need to shift rapidly to 100 percent renewables," or do we see what we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where the Republican Study Group issued a series of recommendations two weeks after the storm that included build more refineries on the Gulf Coast and drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I was at the annual meeting of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association last week, and it was an event that touted the jobs and economic power of the fossil fuel industry. The entire event was predicated on the idea that the oil and gas industry will and should remain as profitable and robust as it is today. Do you think the world can have as big an oil and gas industry and also deal seriously with climate change?

In a world where we're taking climate change seriously, the basic economic formula for the oil and gas industry can't exist. How these companies are valued is not only do they have to continue with the projects that they already have in production, but they have to constantly seek out new fossil fuel frontiers, new pools of oil and gas, coal, to put on their books as reserves in order to reassure their investors that they're viable companies. It is baked into their business models that they have to push into what climate scientists and climate activists call unburnable carbon, the carbon that is well beyond the collective budget for all of humanity of how much carbon we could burn and still have any shot at a livable planet.

Going to a space like that [conference] where you're hearing this talk as if climate change is not happening, as if they're going to continue to have the same economic formula, the same political power, that may well be, but then we will have an unlivable planet.

If something positive came out of the tragedy in Texas, what would it look like?

I think maybe the best-case scenario in terms of what this is going to look like is that progressives do a much better job of connecting the dots between climate change, economic inequality, a shredded safety net, a political program that has waged decades of war not only on the idea of bold climate action but on the idea of investing in a serious way in the public sphere, really connecting the dots.

This is related to work that I've been doing with a project called the Leap Manifesto or the Leap. People can read about it at, which is really about connecting the dots between racial injustice, climate change, austerity, migration justice, and developing a holistic, transformative agenda, which I think is most urgent — the most urgent project for progressives with or without climate change. The need is to connect the dots between our issues, get out of our silos, and present a bold vision for the next economy moving forward that is going to inspire people, get people voting.

I guess I'm not holding out the fantasy that governing Republicans, either at the state level or the federal level, have any chance of meeting this crisis with anything other than what I've called disaster capitalism. I think we need to be very worried about the ways in which this disaster is going to be used to slam on the accelerator. Let's be realistic. Betsy DeVos is in charge of education federally. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans became a laboratory for the privatization of education, for charter schools and school vouchers. I think we should expect nothing less in the aftermath or the so-called reconstruction.

We are going to see many examples of the interconnection of all of these issues. We're already seeing highly racialized talk about looters and getting tough on looters. This is exactly the context in which African-Americans were shot by police in New Orleans. There were several settlements between the city of New Orleans and families in the aftermath of this. I think we have to be realistic about how this is going to be exploited by the right to push us further down this very, very dangerous road of greater and greater injustice, inequality, predatory economic policies and predatory social policies.

The big question mark is how the other side responds. I think it's absolutely critical that this be a catalyst for that connecting of the dots and coming together and putting forward a vision for what the future should look like.