The Northeast could not have recovered as quickly from Hurricane Irene without the help of the federal government. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with Tom’s kind permission.

Look back on 2011 and you’ll notice a destructive trail of extreme weather slashing through the year. In Texas, it was the driest year ever recorded. An epic drought there killed half a billion trees, touched off wildfires that burned 4 million acres, and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and buildings. The costs to agriculture, particularly the cotton and cattle businesses, are estimated at $5.2 billion — and keep in mind that, in a winter breaking all sorts of records for warmth, the Texas drought is not yet over.