Supercharged Lesson

Monster Hurricane Irma Barrels Toward Climate Change Deniers’ Playground

The most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic is headed straight for the beach houses of deniers Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and the Koch brothers.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

The playground of big-shot climate-change deniers becomes subject to a hurricane evacuation order as of 5 p.m. Friday.

And were it not for all the innocent souls who have been and likely will be hurt by Hurricane Irma, you might see poetic justice in homes owned by President Trump and billionaire David Koch and commentators Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter being battered by a storm made the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic with a boost from warmer water and moister air.

Just last week, those same climate-change-related factors in the Gulf of Mexico contributed toward Hurricane Harvey flooding Texas with its biggest rainfall ever recorded. Coulter responded to that earlier calamity with her usual discerning insight, giving a whole other meaning to being all wet.

“I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor,” she tweeted. “But that is more credible than ‘climate change.’”

Now a second supercharged storm, Hurricane Irma, was roaring toward the storied stretch of sand where Coulter’s neighbors include her fellow blabbermouth Limbaugh.

From his oceanfront radio studio in Palm Beach, Limbaugh has been saying the hurricane warnings were part of a conspiracy between the media and businesses looking to capitalize on public panic by selling water and batteries.

“There is a symbiotic relationship between retailers and local media, and it’s related to money,” Limbaugh said as the storm was growing ever stronger. “It revolves around money. You have major, major industries and businesses which prosper during times of crisis and panic, such as a hurricane, which could destroy or greatly damage people’s homes, and it could interrupt the flow of water and electricity.”

He went on, “So what happens? Well, the TV stations begin reporting this and the panic begins to increase. And then people end up going to various stores to stock up on water and whatever they might need for home repairs and batteries and all this that they’re advised to get, and a vicious circle is created. You have these various retail outlets who spend a lot of advertising dollars with the local media.”

He concluded, “The local media, in turn, reports in such a way as to create the panic way far out, which sends people into these stores to fill up with water and to fill up with batteries, and it becomes a never-ending repeated cycle. And the two coexist. So the media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers.”

And Limbaugh said all that after he has apparently stopped popping goofballs.

Another Palm Beacher is at the center of a much too real conspiracy. David Koch and his brother Charles have been called “Kingpins of Climate Change” for their efforts to prevent warnings about global warming from cutting into the profits of the fossil-fuel industry. They have been credited with being a major factor in the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Not that Trump himself needed much convincing. He offered a conspiracy theory of his own back in 2012 that was as nutty as Limbaugh’s present one.

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“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump tweeted.

As president, Trump followed pulling out of the Paris accord with scrapping the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. That was a panel of 15 scientists who had been recommending measures to slow global warming.

Trump has fewer personal reasons than other Palm Beach homeowners to fret about climate change: His Mar-a-Lago estate is considered one of the town’s most secure from hurricanes.

As built by the cereal heiress Merriweather Post in 1927, the sprawling structure has walls 3 feet thick and is secured to the coral underneath with steel and concrete. The hurricane that hit the area the following year washed out the coast road and destroyed more than 1,700 houses and breached Lake Okeechobee, drowning more than 2,000 people, but did nothing more to Mar-a-Lago than damage a window and topple a few trees.

The estate continued to escape serious damage through the long series of storms that continued after Trump purchased it in 1985. Mighty Hurricane Frances in 2004 only tore up some vegetation and caused what Trump described as “a little flooding in the basement.”

In 2005, Hurricane Wilma roared in as what was then the most powerful Atlantic storm on record. The loss of a few roof tiles was the only obvious impact.

Yet, as reported by the Associated Press, Trump pocketed a $17 million insurance claim. He would later insist there had been damage to “Landscaping, roofing, walls, painting, leaks, artwork in the—you know, the great tapestries, tiles, Spanish tiles, the beach, the erosion.”

But even minor repairs in Palm Beach require a town permit, and the Associated Press found evidence of only two that seemed hurricane related, one for $3,000 in damage to the outdoor lighting and another for vacuuming storm-driven sand from the pool.

“If there were $17 million of damage, we sure as hell would have known about that,” Tim Frank, then the Palm Beach planning administrator, was quoted saying. “I would have known if there was anything in the magnitude of $100,000.”

The biggest challenge yet now seems to be approaching in the form of Hurricane Irma. Florida Gov. Rick Scott attended a meeting at the Palm Beach County emergency center on Thursday to discuss the situation. He has in the past been a prominent climate-change denier. A staffer at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported in 2014 that Scott had prohibited use of the phrases “global warming” and “climate change.”

No Palm Beach officials were disputing the unprecedented power of the hurricane now advancing on Florida. An online alert posted later on Thursday read:


A State of Emergency has been declared for the Town of Palm Beach… Please gather the essentials for 3-4 days, including clothing, medicine, important documents, and communication devices, and evacuate by 5 pm tomorrow, Friday, 9-8. Residents do not have to travel hundreds of miles but should seek shelter in a hotel on the mainland at one of the County’s Shelters or hunker down with friends west of US-1 until this storm passes if you do not plan to depart the county.”

The notice reported that only Palm Beach residents and business owners would be allowed to return in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But Palm Beachers need not fear they might be left without maids and underlings.

“The Police Department is recommending that residents and businesses send their employees and household staff to the Police Department to obtain Town of Palm Beach Voluntary ID cards,” officials announced online.

Palm Beach Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar, whose duties include overseeing emergency operations, said residents were urged to heed the evacuation order despite an understandable reluctance to leave their homes. He offered the simple wisdom of a clearly dedicated official who previously worked in the very tough town of East Chicago in Indiana, which is as close to interplanetary travel as you can get without leaving Earth.

“We can fix homes,” he said. “We cannot bring back lives.”

When it comes to property damage, residents who are relatively unhampered by integrity can try to follow the Donald Trump Method of Happy Hurricane Recovery.

“A very good insurance policy,” he was quoted saying after he pocketed the $17 million a dozen years ago.

But, as Boodheshwar rightly says, nothing can be done when lives are lost.

And when warmer water and wetter air indisputably contribute to the killing power of a hurricane, climate change transcends politics. Loopy conspiracies and grasping greed cease to be forgivable. Inaction becomes a crime.

Meanwhile, as the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic continues toward the playground of the deniers, Limbaugh apparently decided to ignore his own conspiracy theory and heed the evacuation order.

“May as well announce this. I’m not going to get into details because of the security nature of things, but it turns out that we will not be able to do the program here tomorrow,” Limbaugh announced on his radio program on Thursday. “We’ll be on the air next week, folks, from parts unknown.”