Cli­mate change

A warmer planet threat­ens wet­ter storms, higher surges and more Har­veys.

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD -

Hur­ri­canes typ­i­cally weaken be­fore they make land­fall. Not Har­vey.

The his­toric storm ac­tu­ally grew stronger in the im­me­di­ate 24 hours be­fore it made land­fall in Texas, the bath­tub-warm wa­ter act­ing like a per­fect fuel for Har­vey’s fury.

For decades, sci­en­tists have warned the man-made cli­mate change could bring bizarre and un­prece­dented events. Har­vey prob­a­bly be­longs on that list.

If Hous­ton is go­ing to be se­ri­ous about keep­ing our city safe from Mother Na­ture, then we have to make global warm­ing part of the dis­cus­sion.

It will be a tough con­ver­sa­tion. Even in the 21st cen­tury, the oil and gas in­dus­try still serves as our core eco­nomic en­gine. They’ve brought un­told wealth and pros­per­ity, but at the end of the day their prod­uct is re­spon­si­ble for car­bon emis­sions that trap heat in the at­mos­phere.

A warm­ing planet means wet­ter storms, higher storm surges and more in­tense hur­ri­canes, ac­cord­ing to NASA’s Earth Ob­ser­va­tory.

In­surance com­pa­nies have col­lected the data to back that up. The num­ber of storms, floods, ex­treme tem­per­a­ture events and other de­struc­tive nat­u­ral dis­as­ters more than tripled be­tween 1980 and 2016, ac­cord­ing to The Econ­o­mist.

The whole world has started to no­tice. No longer is cli­mate change the ex­clu­sive realm of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and aca­demics.

The oil and gas in­dus­try has stopped deny­ing the re­al­ity of global warm­ing. Dur­ing the Greater Hous­ton Part­ner­ship’s an­nual State of En­ergy meet­ing in June, La­mar McKay, deputy group chief ex­ec­u­tive at BP, called for tran­si­tion­ing to a lower car­bon en­ergy mix.

Pe­tro­leum lead­ers from around the globe spoke dur­ing CERAWeek at the Ge­orge R. Brown Con­ven­tion Cen­ter about shrink­ing car­bon foot­prints and grow­ing clean en­ergy out­put.

Even the U.S. mil­i­tary is push­ing for­ward on plans to har­den naval bases against sea-level rise and pre­pare Arc­tic out­posts for melt­ing per­mafrost.

Across the board, in­dus­try and com­merce is pre­par­ing for po­ten­tial changes to our planet’s cli­mate — and the in­evitable eco­nomic dis­rup­tion when na­tions turn away from fos­sil fu­els.

The only peo­ple who refuse to con­front these un­de­ni­able shifts are the politi­cians who would rather shut their eyes and stuff wa­ter­logged muck in their ears.

Our records on weather are lim­ited, and we’ve only been track­ing storms by satel­lite since the 1960s. Ties be­tween global warm­ing and in­di­vid­ual events can be ten­u­ous. Proper re­sponses to world­wide phe­nom­ena will re­quire com­plex ques­tions about pub­lic pol­icy.

But we can’t start down that hard road un­til we’re will­ing to talk about cli­mate change openly, hon­estly and with up-to-date in­for­ma­tion. This means fund­ing the NASA cli­mate science mis­sions — the cur­rent White House bud­get calls for them to be elim­i­nated. The EPA must res­ur­rect cli­mate change in­for­ma­tion that has been re­moved from its web­sites. FEMA flood maps have to be re­drawn to ac­count for chang­ing weather. And the United States should once again join the Paris cli­mate ac­cords.

Har­vey was un­like any storm we’ve seen be­fore. The fear is that a warm­ing planet will just make it the first of many.

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