Hurricane Harvey is precisely the extreme “weather event” that climate scientists have long been warning about. But while Trump is down in Texas, don’t expect him to connect the dots. Don’t expect him to say, “Humans have had a role in making this disaster worse,” because he’s too invested in the fake news that human-driven climate change is a Chinese hoax.
The first wave of press coverage has basically been “Oh, the horror!” That’s understandable, because the havoc wreaked on the victims is heart-wrenching, and the rescuers are truly heroes. But the second wave of coverage should be devoted to the wealth of scientific evidence that links our increasingly extreme weather to the havoc we’ve wrought on the air and oceans.
Yeah, I know. It’s impossible to say that Harvey is directly tied to human-driven climate change, much the way it’s impossible to link one individual’s lung cancer to his smoking habit. But the broader pattern is inescapable; even if climate change can’t be definitely linked to have caused an individual storm, it most likely contributed to the extreme severity of the storm — for reasons that are easily explained. As one federal Energy Department official warned in 2013 (this was before Rick Perry took over), “You can’t just put your head in the sand anymore.”
You’ve undoubtedly noticed that Harvey will keep drenching the Houston area all week. Well, guess what: A federal report, the National Climate Assessment, warned in 2014, “Heavy downpours are increasingly nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent, and the amount of rain falling on the heaviest rain days has also increased … The mechanism driving these changes is well understood. Warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air. Global analyses show that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has in fact increased due to human-caused warming.”
Connect those dots. Humans are warming the seas, the warmer seas make the air warmer, the warmer air triggers more precipitation … this is basic science, not rocket science.
And it just so happens that the Gulf of Mexico, just to the east of Houston (a fossil fuel capital), “is extremely warm, now among the warmest oceans in the world.” So says Jim Blackburn, a civil and environmental engineer based at Houston’s Rice University. Blackburn says the Gulf has become “a veritable heat pump into a hurricane, a huge source of power for these storms … exactly the type of thing that climate experts have been predicting. That is exactly what we’re seeing.”
Michael Mann, who directs the Penn State Earth System Science Center, says: “Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico unusually warm right now, but there is a deeper layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean.” And Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, says: “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm.”
None of this is new. A ’14 Pentagon report mirrored the ’14 National Climate Assessment; the Pentagon warned: “As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating.” Those ’14 reports were preceded by a ’13 Energy Department report that linked human-based climate change to the increasing frequency of “more intense storm events,” and that report was preceded by a ’12 insurance industry report that linked human-based climate change to a growing pattern of “intense precipitation events.” Indeed, the insurance industry report said that “nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catasrtophes more evident than in North America.” (Two weeks after the report’s release, we got Hurricane Sandy.)
There have been many more, like the Purdue University expert who warned in a ’12 report that “storms are intensifying at a much more rapid pace than they used to 25 years back,” but we all know that our flat-earth leaders will refuse to be enlightened. All those scientists are just elite academics with fancy degrees. What do they know?
Trump will continue to marinate in his ignorance, and Texas lawmakers will beg for maximum federal aid with no acknowledgment that human folly has exacerbated this crisis and those to come. Stupid is as stupid does. We can never say that we haven’t been warned.
I’ll now take this opportunity to re-post my favorite Doonesbury strip. It’s timeless. A climate change-denying troll goes to the doctor …