‘US can’t continue ignoring climate change debate’


THOSE who are not in the know may be unaware that this week, a tropical storm, Harvey, travelled through parts of Texas and caused unprecedented flooding and mayhem, but graduated into a hurricane, making it the first major hurricane of 2017.
In addition, it is the strongest hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Rita in 2005 and the strongest to make landfall in the US since Hurricane Charley in 2004.
Harvey is also the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the contiguous US, dropping nearly 52 inches (1 300mm) of rain, surpassing a record set by Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978.
In response to the record-breaking flooding from Harvey, climate scientists pointed out that the high amount of rains was attributable to increased temperatures, a by-product of global warming.
According to Kevin Trenberth, human impact could be responsible for as much as 30 percent of the hurricane’s rainfall.
New Zealand born, Trenberth is part of the Climate Analysis Section at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research
American climatologist Michael E. Mann said that regional sea surface temperatures have risen around 0,5°C (0,9°F) in recent decades, allowing Harvey to strengthen more than expected which caused 3-5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere in accordance with the Clausius – Clapeyron relation.
Kenneth Kunkel, from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, pointed out that the water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico was above average for this time of the year and a likely factor in Harvey’s impact.
Climate change discourse in the US is often relegated to the academia and for politicians, journalists who ask the obvious questions on the subject are best avoided.
According to The Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, the media has also taken to self-censorship on the matter so as to not aggravate President Donald Trump.
The president, who believes that human-driven global warming is a hoax, says 2016 was the hottest year on record, in which the US was hammered by a series of climate-related disasters.
Yet the total combined coverage for the entire year on the evening and Sunday news programmes on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News amounted to 50 minutes.
The greatest predicament, the issue that will define American lives, has been blotted from the public’s mind.
Indeed something is wrong with this country.
We have a president who will do anything to protect every Confederate statue in every city and town, but not one thing to protect those cities and towns from rising sea levels, severe storms and other climate change impacts that threaten municipalities’ very existence.
In fact, an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this month revoked an Obama-era directive that had established flood-risk standards for federally-funded infrastructure projects built in areas prone to flooding or subject to the effects of sea-level rise – like many of those now sinking in Texas.
Houston already has some of the laxest building regulations for structures in potential flood zones and the president wants to spread that policy across the US.
Storms and flooding are generally becoming costlier and more frequent and data suggests climate change is a leading culprit.
Hurricane Harvey offers a glimpse of a likely global future; a future whose average temperatures are as different from ours as ours are from those of the last Ice Age.
It is a future in which emergency becomes the norm and no state has the capacity to respond.
It is a future in which, as a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters notes, disasters like Houston’s occur in some cities several times a year.
It is a future that, for people in countries such as Bangladesh, has already arrived, almost unremarked on by the rich world’s media.
It is the act of not talking that makes this nightmare likely to materialise.


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