Renee Boschert, whose home was severely damaged by record floods that swept through Texas last spring, describes the night of Memorial Day 2015 as “the most horrific thing” that she’s ever experienced. She remembers looking out the window of her home that night to see the nearby river — which, due to a prolonged drought, had been just a trickle hours before — rising by 30 or 40 feet. She remembers watching a woman be swept down the river, and hearing her cries for help. Unable to be rescued in the raging river, the woman later drowned.
All told, more than two dozen people across Texas and Oklahoma lost their lives during the floods, when record rainfall dumped at least 35 trillion gallons of water across the region. Nearly 300 homes in Boschert’s hometown of Wimberley, Texas, were destroyed.
“Three hundred-year-old cypress trees broke like toothpicks,” Boschert told ThinkProgress. “The devastation is going to be there for generations to come.”
Scientists have since linked the record-breaking floods to climate change. But Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R) denies any link between climate change and the recent floods in Texas — at a press conference after the floods, he told reporters that “at a time of tragedy … it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster.”
For Boschert, a 63-year-old teacher whose home flooded with five feet of water, that answer falls short of acceptable.
“I saw him in an interview saying climate change is a political football,” Boschert said. “To me, it’s not a political football. It’s a personal nightmare.”
So Boschert decided to do something about Cruz’s refusal to broach the subject, traveling to New Hampshire to approach Cruz at a campaign event. With support from the activist group ClimateTruth.org, Boschert followed Cruz as he campaigned around New Hampshire, gaining an audience with the senator on Wednesday.
On Friday, Boschert again spoke with Cruz after a campaign event. After reintroducing herself as a flood survivor, she delivered a petition with 15,000 signatures asking Cruz to meet with survivors affected by the flood to discuss climate change. Cruz handed the petition to a nearby staffer, but did not agree to a meeting. ThinkProgress reached out to Cruz’s campaign asking if the senator had decided to agree to a meeting, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
“He was very sympathetic about the house loss, but clearly dismisses climate change as a reality,” Boschert said. “It makes me very angry. I do not see it as a political issue. It’s a personal tragedy.”
Boschert’s New Hampshire meeting wasn’t her first attempt at convincing Cruz to sit down with Texas flood survivors to discuss climate change. Immediately after the floods, a group of flood survivors traveled to his office to present signatures from thousands of people around the country asking that Cruz meet with constituents to discuss climate change. Boschert, who was a part of that group, never received a response from Cruz’s office.
“What scares me the most is he probably blew us off as constituents of Texas,” she said. “We clearly weren’t a big enough group of voters to care about. If he did become president, how many people would it take for him to acknowledge this?”
The oil and gas industry has been one of the largest financial supporters of Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, contributing nearly $1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And Cruz’s personal wealth is also inherently tied to the fossil fuel industry, with nearly a quarter of his total assets coming from investments in oil and gas. According to Christian R. Grose, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern California, a politician’s personal investments tend to impact their decision making.
“His own personal financial well-being rests on how well the energy sector is doing,” Grose told ThinkProgress in August. “So any regulation that could hurt that sector would be detrimental to his bottom line.”
Cruz is also the chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, a position that has afforded him the opportunity to hold several hearings on the issue of climate change. Most recently, Cruz held a hearing during the U.N. climate conference in Paris to debate the reality of human-caused climate change. During the hearing, Cruz leaned on a variety of unscientific anecdotes to prove his point that climate change is merely a political conjuring. Notably, Cruz also leaned on his oft-cited claim that satellite data over the last 18 years shows no significant warming — a statement that completely ignores long-term trends in satellite data, ground-based weather station data, and sea-based buoy data, all of which show a steady warming trend over the long term.
“It’s terrifying,” Boschert told ThinkProgress of Cruz’s climate denial. “More and more often you hear the worst rainfall ever recorded. Miami is flooding. I feel like it’s happening all around us, and the idea that [someone who could be] the most powerful man in the free world doesn’t acknowledge it exists…the human casualty and financial burden [could be] catastrophic.”
Boschert admits that having a conversation with Cruz about climate change is all but impossible unless he is first willing to admit that climate change is a real, human-driven problem. But for Boschert, who has experienced first-hand the consequences of climate change, quitting is not an option.
“I see it as the number one problem facing the human population,” she said. “I have a son that is 25. It terrifies me thinking about what the future looks like.”