Because Florida is in the news, we have to do this again.
With Hurricane Ian devastating Florida this week, folks across the political spectrum are using the storm to score easy points. Before the storm even arrived, conservative media made a mountain over the fact that President Biden neglected to call Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis (he eventually did make that phone call). Meanwhile, after Biden granted Florida emergency aid, Democrats smugly touted how the President was seemingly setting aside political differences to be generous to his rival—and reminded audiences how DeSantis, who was then in the House, voted against aid for Hurricane Sandy in 2013. One comedian ribbed (in a since-deleted tweet that has spawned several copycat jokes) that we should refer to Ian with they/them pronouns “to annoy DeSantis,” while several other users flat-out said that Floridians “deserved” what was coming to them.
This is not a new phenomenon. Whenever a natural disaster hits a state whose politics are dominated by Republicans, Dems are quick to point out the obvious link to climate change denial. I can remember sentiments about how Texas deserved climate destruction surfacing from some Democrats in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, and in 2017 and 2018, when back-to-back hurricanes hit Florida, and also last year, when a freak winter storm knocked out Texas’s power grid. While right-wing Twitter is its own mess of hypocrisy, there’s always a curious element of ‘I-told-you-so’-ism from some factions of the left when a climate crisis hits a red state, especially one that’s been in the news recently for terrible political leadership. It’s not completely surprising that people on the left react this way, given how Donald Trump’s administration made climate change and natural disasters a political punching bag, or how Republicans in Texas aggressively—and falsely—spread the idea that wind energy was responsible for the blackouts last year.
Florida’s political leadership is incredibly cruel—no question about it. The joke about pronouns for the hurricane is based on the terrifying campaign that right-wing politicians have been waging against queer and trans people’s right to exist; Florida has been a leader in making this happen, famously passing its “Don’t Say Gay” bill this year and fomenting a slew of other anti-queer and anti-trans regulations and sentiment. The state’s current leadership has also had a seriously mixed bag on climate policies, despite being on the front lines of climate change, and DeSantis last year passed a law requiring that cities keep using fossil fuels. I’ve written before about how LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights, and progress on combatting climate change are intrinsically linked by the same dark money; in Florida, those forces have found a firm foothold.
But the idea that an entire state, filled with millions of diverse people, somehow deserves to be in the path of a major disaster ignores the basic fact that climate disasters are always most harmful to the poor, the marginalized, and people of color—regardless of how those people voted. Frankly, even the people who do support DeSantis and his horrible policies—the voters who help elect climate denier politicians, the voters who believe queer people like me are somehow a menace to society, even the voters whose money may fund politicians pushing those policies—don’t “deserve” to be in the path of a disaster like Ian.
Wishing harm or some kind of lesson-learned about climate denial among people in the path of climate disaster only belies a shortsightedness in understanding that the damage is coming to us all. Climate policy is inherently political, and perhaps it’s naive of me to expect people not take the cheap shot when it’s presented to them. But climate disasters do not discriminate, and part of working to protect our world from the worst impacts of climate change means understanding the humanity of everyone living in it—even if those people are working against the same vision of the future.
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Yes, it’s infuriating to see DeSantis accept aid while pushing climate denial policies and making his state unlivable for queer people like me. It sucks to be the bigger person, but here we are. We still don’t know the full damage from Hurricane Ian, which is still unfolding. All we can do is help those affected, and keep working for a better world.