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