Earth in Open Rebellion!

September 7, 2017
Climate change

Is it obvious yet? Every major disaster converts a few more nonbelievers. There will always be those stubborn final few clinging to their “values” as Earth gets closer to purging itself of the species that sickened it. Let’s not wait for those people to act, but let’s continue to hold out a hand as we do.

Earth is furious with us, and is acting out. The cumulative impact of our actions will be increasingly and painfully obvious if they aren’t already. Smoking one cigarette probably won’t kill you, but the cumulative impact of smoking many cigarettes will land you on life support. We have all been chain-smoking. We are now at the impact stage from our collective bad habits as the human race.

We are seeing Earth’s rebellion all over the world in recent days– from Houston to Niger to Bangladesh. The Pope is calling for global leaders to acknowledge our deteriorating plant! Earth is so clearly over it.

Global warming raises sea level by melting glaciers and ice sheets in places like Greenland and Antarctica, but also by heating up and expanding water. Those rising sea levels make devastating storm surges and subsequent flooding more likely. Warming sea level has DOUBLED the probability of storm-surge flooding since the mid-1900s.

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put forward that “Sandy-like” storm surges and subsequent sea water inundation would occur more frequently (up to once a year!) from the combination of sea-level rise and warming waters by the end of this century. Imagine the east coast of the U.S. from Atlantic City to Florida flooded every year starting within the lifetime of our mortgage cycles! This isn’t fear mongering. This is a millennial scientist hoping to have some semblance of the life we know now!

The devastating storm surges and flooding that we are witnessing today will not require the same magnitude of hurricanes in the future that they require now because of the increasing and irreversible rise in sea-level. So imagine when the hurricanes are severe!

Global warming makes the strongest hurricanes more intense because hurricanes draw their energy from ocean warmth. Once hurricanes form, warmer ocean temperatures provide more fuel. Warming sea temperatures also translate to more water vapor in the atmosphere, resulting in 5-10% more rainfall. We can attribute several inches (scientists are saying up to 30%!) of the whopping 60 inches of rainfall in some places during Harvey to global warming.

Irma might boot Harvey out of first place, but for now, Harvey has become the costliest storm in U.S. history, overtaking Sandy and Katrina before it. Soon we will have more detailed analysis of the role climate change played in Harvey like we do for Sandy. We know with Sandy that sea level rise added nearly one foot to the total storm surge that devastated the east coast of the U.S., and exposed an additional 25 square miles and 40 thousand people to flooding. The gulf has experienced four feet of sea level rise in the past century, and we will know soon the role of that rise in the destruction we are still wrapping our heads around in Texas and bracing ourselves for Irma.

Let’s hope a positive outcome from both Harvey and Irma is that we do not stick our heads back in the sand. It is utterly irresponsible to return to business as usual following Harvey not just in the areas affected by Harvey, but in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to similar impacts like Florida and the U.S. east coast. If there was ever a time that people, both believers and nonbelievers alike, were paying attention to efforts at adaptation or even retreat from the coastline, it’s now. We need congressional delegations to recognize that Hurricanes transcend partisan politics. The time to act is now.

It is imperative for scientists to advise policymakers on responding swiftly and responsibly from facts entrenched in credible science.  This requires the science community to continue to advance knowledge and communicate with key decision makers. This is mandatory as we approach more critical times.

Without science leaders in key roles in the U.S. government, we must loudly, clearly, and collectively voice consensus on the relationship between severe storms and climate change. Harvey is offering this opportunity to present evidence and facts over politics and ideology. The truth of science will prevail if it is followed.

With Earth sending another rebel in the form of Hurricane Irma to the southeast coast of the U.S., we may be converting a significant number of nonbelievers just in time. Let’s take advantage of people listening and ADAPT to the new normal of living on a planet that is angry with us—rightfully so.

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