Applause to Gov. Rick Scott for responding so quickly and decisively to Irma, this monster bearing down upon us.
On Monday, Labor Day, while the then-Category 4 was hundreds of miles away, nearly a week before projected landfall at Florida’s tip, Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties. For days, he has appeared in his “Navy” ball cap in the role of commander of Florida’s emergency response, issuing orders and advice and demanding that citizens take the storm seriously. Scott’s quick action undoubtedly will have saved lives.
Once the wind dies down and the water recedes, we hope he can be just as decisive in abandoning his tunnel vision when it comes to the threat of climate change. His shortsightedness, and that of other climate “skeptics” have kept this nation from doing all it could to slow the escalation of such weather-driven catastrophes as this.
Irma is not occurring in a vacuum. It comes just weeks after Hurricane Harvey, the wettest storm in U.S. history, drowned Houston. It comes as forest fires ravage the West at an unprecedented rate.
It comes after the hottest year on record, 2016. Which directly followed the two previous hottest years.
Every few days, it seems, around the globe it’s another hottest, rainiest, most destructive, rarely-if-ever-seen … something.
Climate change, of course, cannot be held responsible for any single storm. But it has created conditions that make such destructive storms more likely. Daniel Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd University, in St. Petersburg, likens it to steroids in baseball. You can’t say that a batter hit a particular home run because he used the drug; but steroids make it far more likely that he’ll hit more homers in a season.
Hastings’ primary research interest is paleoclimatology, the study of climate change over time. He says that the climate is always changing. On this, the climate-deniers are correct. But the climate today, he told the Post Editorial Board, is changing must faster than at any time in the Earth’s history. And the evidence as to why is quite conclusive.
Greenhouse-gas concentrations in 2016 were the highest on record.
“One new study, published in Geophysical Review Letters on August 10, concludes that recent heat records would be vanishingly unlikely without humans loading the ‘climate dice’ by artificially adding heat,” science writer Michael Greshko writes in National Geographic. “The unusual warmth of 2016 would’ve been a one-in-a-million event in a world without human-caused warming. With humans loading the dice, however, the likelihood of 2016’s temperatures increased to as high as 27 percent.”
We know that hurricanes feed on warm waters and that the oceans are warmer. We know that storm surges intensify with rising sea levels.
But that hasn’t been good enough for politicians like Scott, who famously fended off questions about sea-level rise with the wimp words, “I’m not a scientist.” Even more famously, he reportedly pressured workers at his environmental protection agency from uttering the words “climate change,” “sea-level rise” and “global warming” (Scott denies it).
This attitude is plumb fatal for Florida, surrounded on three sides by water and resting on a thin layer of porous limestone, under which water flows easily. Over the next 80 years, more than 6 million Floridians will be threatened by rising sea levels, according to a 2016 study. By 2030, $69 billion in property will be at risk from climate change, $15 billion of that from sea-level rise alone, according to the Risky Business project.
And over this very weekend, lives and property are under imminent threat of “significant” storm surge.
After Hurricane Andrew, Florida learned to tighten construction codes for safer buildings. With Irma potentially outdoing Andrew in destructiveness, the lesson we’ll need is a great shift in thinking to lessen our use of fossil fuels.
We can’t stop Mother Nature. But we must acknowledge that a portion of the wrath we’re seeing is our fault. And we must shift — soon — or live in fear of more, and greater, Irmas to come.