Truth hurts; lies kill
Raymond Ramirez | Wednesday, October 3, 2018
I’m going to go out on a limb here and take a position that might put me at odds with a number of mainstream Americans: sins are bad. You remember sins, don’t you? Those are the things we are “heartily sorry” for, whether they were sins of commission — “what I have done” — or omission — “what I have failed to do.” Christianity, as practiced by Christ himself, seems to emphasize forgiving sins of commission (e.g., the good thief, Mary Magdalen) and excoriating the people who simply avoid acknowledging a problem or a person in need (e.g., pretty much everyone in the good Samaritan parable).
One more thing about this Christ fellow — he was a big champion of truth. He declared he was the “the way, the truth and the light,” and even took time while before Pilate to point out “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Like any good political hack, Pilate answered with the question, “What is truth?” Pilate declares a number of times throughout the Gospels that Jesus has done nothing wrong, pretending the matter is up for debate in order to allow the mob to get its way. Pilate’s sin of omission, when faced with the truth of Christ’s innocence, was to wash his hands of the matter and let an innocent man die.
Unfortunately, modern examples of deadly sins of omission are increasingly common. In 2012, the state of North Carolina received a report from the state’s Coastal Resources Commission that included a forecast that sea levels along the Carolina coast could rise by as much as 39 inches over the next century, due to climate change. These ominous predictions worried coastal developers and their political allies, who said they did not believe the rise in sea level would be as bad as predicted and supposed such projections could needlessly hurt property values and drive up the cost of insurance.
North Carolina’s official response, to mollify the developers, was to mandate predictions based solely on historical data on sea level rise. Another study, dictated by the 2012 law, was completed in 2015. That study looked only 30 years ahead and, as expected, predicted a smaller sea level rise. Fortunately, some people realized that ignoring or obfuscating the truth does not change reality, and a new administration under Governor Roy Cooper, who took office last year, has committed North Carolina to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate accord in an effort to reduce sea level rise attributable to climate change.
But scientists acknowledge that North Carolina has failed to take the steps that Virginia and New Jersey have taken to get ready for rising sea levels. A recent editorial noted that “Currently the unspoken plan is to wait until the situation is catastrophic and then respond.” Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas soon after, driving home the threat of rising seas. As North Carolina works through the ongoing disaster presented by Florence’s aftermath, it at least can make more realistic plans based on the truth of environmental challenges.
When the impact of a natural disaster is exacerbated by human folly, it can be especially hard for some individuals to admit to the uncomfortable truth of their part in contributing to the catastrophe. Recently, President Trump falsely accused Democrats of inflating the death toll from Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico last year, rejecting that government’s assessment that the storm had claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Trump stated that the toll was only six to 18 dead after his visit following the storm and said Democrats padded the total by including, for example, persons who died of old age “in order to make me look as bad as possible.”
While as citizens, we have come to expect and find comfort in elected officials displaying leadership and strength in response to natural disasters, it is especially disappointing — but unfortunately not surprising — that Trump turned the sobering death statistics into “fake news” about himself. Trump also took time to repeat his assessment that his team got high marks for the responses to hurricanes in 2017 (characterizing his effort as “an incredible, unsung success”) and called the mayor of San Juan, who has been critical of Mr. Trump, “totally incompetent.”
In reality, Trump was criticized for a slow and ineffective response to Puerto Rico, where the distribution of supplies, gas and food lagged and power outages lasted for months, with full power restored only last month. Trump’s latest response was to declare that Puerto Rico should be denied statehood until his political critics there are no longer in office. Not surprisingly, other executive agencies have taken their cue from Trump: a recently released federal report on planning for biological disasters, such as epidemics, failed to mention the role of climate change, even though scientists cite climate change as a major factor for potential deadly outbreaks.
Government cannot change weather patterns, but it can help communities prepare for disasters and rebuild in their aftermath. Truthful, accurate forecasts, using the latest scientific consensus on the causes of environmental changes, are critical in the planning needed to avert or mitigate the impact of natural disasters, such as hurricanes or epidemics. Similarly, an intensive, effective response, proportionate to the scale of the disaster, is mandatory to protect all citizens impacted by calamities. When an administration ignores or simply refutes the truth of a disaster, that negligence is not just incompetence, it is deadly; the sinful disdain for life it demonstrates should be noted and evoked when elected officials are held accountable. This is one way to give life to the truth.
Postscript: While I had hoped this would be a historical note by now, a year ago I provided a link to a great organization helping Puerto Ricans recover from Hurricane Maria. They still need your help: https://www.hispanicfederationunidos.org/
Ray Ramirez is an attorney practicing, yet never perfecting, law in Texas while waiting patiently for a MacArthur Genius Grant. You may contact him at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.