Harvey is a wake-up call on climate change

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Infrared view of Hurricane Harvey

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Infrared view of Hurricane Harvey

Climate change brings an endless flow of "improbable" events that deeply challenge our individual and collective capacity to cope. Other researchers say that we are looking at the issue entirely the wrong way.

Scientists say the devastating intensity of hurricanes such as Harvey is consistent with global warming trends - rising seas, warming oceans, hotter air - and warn of "bigger and stronger" storms to come. Rather, climate change is shaping conditions for storms like this one. The degrees of exacerbation vary, though, sometimes significantly.

It means ensuring municipal infrastructure - water and sewage treatment plants, water mains, sanitary sewers, roads, bridges, public transit - are kept in a state of good fix and thus are more resilient to weather extremes.

"Hurricane Harvey developed in an environment in which temperatures were near normal in the atmosphere and slightly above normal in the Gulf", he wrote.

The headline in the British newspaper The Guardian blared in June: "Houston fears climate change will cause catastrophic flooding: 'It's not if, it's when'". We saw a similar scenario with Hurricane Harvey, which quickly gained intensity-moving from a tropical depression to a category 4 hurricane -as it passed over the unusually warm Gulf waters in the days before it made landfall.

Heavy downpours are on the rise in the United States, according to a 2014 report by 13 federal agencies.

Environmentalists have often told Americans to become vegans to stop climate change, to "fly less, drive less, and eat less meat" and have fewer children to save the planet. At least 13,000 people have been rescued in Houston and the surrounding areas hts by Hurricane Harvey. And now we have Harvey with the largest rainfall ever recorded in a hurricane in the United States. Stefan Rahmstorf, co-chair, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research "A logical effect of global warming is a global increase of extreme rainfall events".

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It is only a matter of time before more "unprecedented" flooding hits the US. It is as if the tropical ocean "sweats" in the summer and tropical depressions, storms or hurricanes, are dramatic ways to transfer that excess heat away from the tropics.

For those using hurricane Harvey to push forward the discussion on climate change, it makes ideal sense. There has been no increase in the number of us hurricane landfalls since 1900.

The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds, which are failing to steer the storm off to sea, allowing it to spin around and wobble back and forth. At the same time, through their underwriting of coal, oil and gas companies and as major institutional investors with vast holdings in the sector, insurers have extensive financial ties to the fossil fuel industry that contributes the lion's share of carbon emissions that are driving climate change.

Mass does note that average hurricane speed did slow a bit in recent years, but not over the entirety of data sets. By Tuesday, Harvey had already become the most extreme rain event in US history.

What can the rest of the world do then if the threat of being victims of climate change created by industrialized nations persist, as it naturally will? Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute said that denying that humans cause climate change is a problem because it prevents us from changing the energy base of our economy which, though a long and hard process, is not particularly complicated.

As scientists and media pundits debate human activity's role in Hurricane Harvey, a new study finds no evidence global warming increased flooding over North America and Europe. And, the flooding in Houston has been so bad because of unregulated development, which has destroyed wetlands and prairie that could hold water. Paired with an explosion in the city's population, the damages snowballed. We are disturbed by the plight of more American climate refugees. Additionally, the August 30 episode of PBS NewsHour featured a segment in which correspondent Miles O'Brien interviewed climate scientists and experts about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.

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