By John Van Leer, Citizens’ Climate Lobby
Salt water has flooded out of my street drains in Miami-Dade County, a month before the usual King tide season.
This coincides with unusually high ocean temperatures that elevate storm surges in the second half of this record hurricane season. Can you believe there are now five named storms in the Atlantic basin, for the second time in recorded history?
I must carry boots in my trunk to walk from the coastal ridge to my home. This is part of adjusting to the new normal climate, like wearing a mask to slow Covid infections. The IPCC says we must flatten the sea-level rise curve by zeroing carbon emissions within the next three decades, just as the CDC says we need to flatten the Covid infection curve in the next three months.
The 2020 hurricane season is shaping up to be one for the record books, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting as many as 25 named storms with up to 11 of them reaching hurricane status.
Earlier this year, a group of NOAA researchers released a study saying the odds of major hurricanes occurring are increasing because of climate change. The destruction inflicted by these storms is astronomical and expected to get worse. According to NOAA, tropical cyclones in the U.S. between 1980 and 2018 caused $927.5 billion in damage.
Tropical storms and hurricanes derive their energy from warm ocean water. Scientific studies have found that as our climate warms, primarily from human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, ocean temperatures are getting warmer, resulting in more severe and destructive storms.
One particular worrisome phenomenon associated with warmer ocean temperatures is rapid intensification of hurricanes, which can catch coastal residents off guard. Hurricane Laura this year intensified rapidly, going from a Category 2 to a Category 4 hurricane in less than 36 hours when it battered Louisiana. In 2018, Hurricane Michael’s winds strengthened from 110 mph to 155 mph in 24 hours before slamming into the Florida Panhandle.
On our current trajectory, temperatures will continue to climb, bringing storms that cause greater destruction from higher winds, heavier rainfall and greater storm surge. And when these storms knock power out, another impact of climate change — deadly heat — creates life-threatening conditions.
Unforeseen crises are also made worse by climate change. As we struggle to persevere through the coronavirus pandemic, for example, people fleeing hurricanes may also contend with crowded shelters that can spread the disease.
With the impact of climate change being felt here and now, we find ourselves running out of time to bring down the heat-trapping pollution that is warming our world. We must therefore use all the tools at our disposal to curtail those emissions.
One of the most effective tools is an ambitious price on carbon that will speed up the transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy. A tax or fee on carbon can have a positive impact on low- and middle-income families, too. How? Take the revenue from a carbon fee and distribute it to all households.
Legislation to implement an effective carbon price while protecting the economic well-being of people has been introduced in the U.S. House as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763). The carbon fee is expected to drive down carbon emissions 40% in the first 12 years and 90% by 2050.
A household impact study released in August found that among households in the lowest fifth economically, 96% would receive “carbon dividends” that exceed their carbon costs.
We thank Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who is a cosponsor of the bill. She is one of the 82 House members who are cosponsors. Broward and Palm Beach County Commissions have endorsed the bill along with the cities of South Miami, Surfside and Miami.
The increasingly destructive storms ravaging our nation should serve as a warning that our climate could one day be unbearable if we fail to take the actions necessary to rein in climate change. An effective price on carbon with money given to households can put us on the path to preserving a livable world.
Dr. John C. Van Leer is a volunteer with the Miami chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds, the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, contributed to this essay.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.