Economic inequality and rampant xenophobia make environmental disasters worse.
From Think Progress
After Hurricane Katrina, tens of thousands of New Orleans’ poorest residents migrated to Houston. Many were met with hostility, overlooked for jobs or accused of criminal behavior. Locals urged the mayor to expel “Katrina illegal immigrants.” Now, Houston has been assailed by a hurricane, and again it’s the city’s poorest who are caught in the crosshairs.
None of this should be unexpected. History shows that natural disasters don’t happen in a vacuum. Take the Irish Potato Famine, one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in the modern era. Environmental factors alone don’t explain the scale of human suffering. Like Harvey and Katrina, the famine was made radically worse by an unjust economic system and widespread xenophobia.
In the 19th century, all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. Wealthy Protestant families with ties to England owned most of the land, renting small tracts to Catholic subsistence farmers. While landlords dedicated acres upon acres to raising cattle and grains for export to Britain, renters were left with scarcely enough land to sustain their families.
The plots were so tiny that tenant farmers came to rely on a single, durable, calorie-rich crop — the potato. In the early 1840s, a fungus afflicting potatoes arrived from the continent, and it devastated small farms, leading to widespread famine. One million Irish people died. Another million immigrated to Britain, Australia and North America. The population of Ireland has never recovered. Even now, fewer people live on the island now than did before the blight.