Hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and cli­mate dis­rup­tion: Let’s talk

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS -

This is no time to dis­cuss cli­mate change and deadly hur­ri­canes, En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Scott Pruitt ar­gued to CNN last week. Such a con­ver­sa­tion would be “in­sen­si­tive” to hur­ri­cane vic­tims, he ex­plained.

Ac­tu­ally, this is pre­cisely the time to have that dis­cus­sion.

In the wake of dev­as­tat­ing Hur­ri­canes Irma and Har­vey, Amer­i­cans hunger to know whether global warm­ing — some­thing they once re­garded as a dis­tant threat in­volv­ing po­lar bears and melt­ing glaciers — is a here­and-now part of their daily lives.

Irma be­came the sec­ond At­lantic Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane to strike the U.S. in a sin­gle sea­son, the first time in 166 years of weather records. As South Flor­ida braced for the storm, the Repub­li­can mayor of Mi­ami, To­mas Re­gal­ado, said there was no bet­ter oc­ca­sion to un­der­stand the threat that global warm­ing poses to the re­gion’s fu­ture.

The re­al­ity is that there is al­most cer­tainly a con­nec­tion be­tween a warm­ing planet and the grow­ing sever­ity of storms. The only ques­tion is to what de­gree. Cli­mate change doesn’t cre­ate hur­ri­canes, but sci­en­tists largely agree it makes them worse. Sea lev­els are ris­ing, and this in­creases storm-re­lated flood dam­age in coastal cities.

Har­vey dropped more than 4 feet of wa­ter onto part of south­east­ern Texas, record rain from a storm over the con­ti­nen­tal U.S., dam­ag­ing or de­stroy­ing 100,000 homes in Texas and Louisiana.

Irma spun so pow­er­fully into the Caribbean’s Lee­ward Is­lands as a Cat­e­gory 5 that it sus­tained 185-mph winds for 37 hours, longer than ever recorded world­wide.

Ac­cuWeather founder Joel My­ers es­ti­mates the storms will cost the U.S. $290 bil­lion.

And while the na­tion is trans­fixed by the hur­ri­canes, more than 100 wild­fires burn across the Northwest, consuming 2 mil­lions acres of forests and grass­lands, and threat­en­ing to make 2017 the worst ever wild­fire sea­son. Sci­en­tists see warm­ing tem­per­a­tures across the West as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.

It’s small won­der that Amer­i­cans might look to lead­er­ship to con­nect what­ever dots ex­ist be­tween global warm­ing and in­ten­si­fy­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. But they’re met with the moral equiv­a­lent of a va­cant stare.

Pruitt shushes up the is­sue even as his agency is cleans­ing men­tion of cli­mate change from its web­site and dis­man­tling Obama-era reg­u­la­tions aimed at curb­ing green­house gases that are gush­ing into the at­mos­phere, warm­ing the planet. He acts at the be­hest of a president who has la­beled global warm­ing a hoax, has stocked his ad­min­is­tra­tion with cli­mate skep­tics, and is pulling Amer­ica out of the Paris cli­mate ac­cord.

The planet has a prob­lem. The storm-in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion im­pact of cli­mate change might very well have landed on Amer­ica’s doorstep in re­cent days in the dev­as­ta­tion of the Vir­gin Is­lands, wreck­age of Flor­ida and flooded homes of Texas. The cir­cum­stances cry out for more study and at­ten­tion, not less.

Now is the time to talk about cli­mate dis­rup­tion, adapt to it, mit­i­gate it, and take steps to keep it from get­ting worse. It’s not the time for lead­ers to stick their heads in the sand.


A de­stroyed con­struc­tion crane in Mi­ami on Sun­day.

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