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We aren’t saving Houston, Houston is saving us

Ben Jackson

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The Houston storm is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent American history. Unprecedented flooding is ravaging coastal communities, leaving thousands homeless and incurring hundreds of billions in damage. Many observers are calling this a 1 in 500 year event. However, as the country springs into action to aid Houston in its time of need, I posit a slightly different story for your consideration: we might not be saving Houston, Houston might be saving us.

What I mean, of course, is partially summed up in that popular Mr. Rogers quote about disasters: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Even as the storm rages on, support is flowing in from across the country. National Guard and Red Cross workers had boots on the ground performing rescues in the early hours of the storm. Hundreds of Louisiana natives hauled their boats on trucks to the affected areas to begin performing rescues. Anheuser Busch stopped producing beer in Georgia to instead can clean drinking water and distribute it to affected areas. Much more is being done, and more remains to be done, but the effort is palpable.

It’s important to note that, while far from perfect, America’s ability to respond to national disasters is best-in-class on a global scale. No nation makes its resources as readily available, its hearts as readily open, and its commitment as strongly shown. When compared to disasters in other parts of the globe, catastrophes here are handled at light speed, largely because of our ability to put aside our differences and work together. 

So, if we are so good at handling natural disasters, why can’t we use this as a model to come together on other, universal, non-partisan issues? I don’t think the concept is that far-fetched. Houston, and other disasters, show the way. 

Imagine if we attached the same urgency to solving issues of homelessness. A national concerted effort among private citizenry to build, finance, and staff shelters and affordable housing. Ponder the result of a concentrated push among all Americans to consume fewer hydrocarbons—we could run the nation on entirely renewable energy within a decade. Imagine millions of people dropping everything for just a moment to focus on public education. Using a “crisis mentality” could solve, or at least make a dent in, some of our biggest non-partisan issues.

I’ve made a lot of fluffy, feel-good statements so far, but this isn’t an inspirational column. It’s a harshly critical one. We cannot rely on life-altering natural disasters to encourage us to come together and make a difference. All of this concentrated effort in hurricane-affected areas, while great and needed, will at best get us back to where we were before the storm. We must continue to concentrate our efforts outside of storm windows in order to solve other grave threats facing our nation and communities. 

I implore you: do not let the lesson of Houston’s heroes go to waste. If we learn from how we handle life-or-death crises, we can apply that way of thinking to other issues we face, many of which are just as dangerous. Issues like education, hunger, and climate change are just as life-or-death, even if the damage does not appear readily on our TVs. We must respond to these disasters as we would a hurricane. 

By all means, help and continue to help Houston and its surrounding communities, but do not let your unity, resources, and empathy end there. Take what Houston teaches us, and recognize that there are crises all around us, and as long as we stick together and stay focused, we can weather the storm. 

Ben Jackson is a Senior studying finance. His column runs biweekly.

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We aren’t saving Houston, Houston is saving us