Nearly five years have passed since Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, flooding thousands of homes and businesses and causing an estimated $30 billion in damage. We described the damage as unimaginable, unthinkable, unprecedented.
Then came 2017. This year, three Category 4-5 hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — struck in rapid-fire succession, wreaking never-before-seen havoc.
Inevitably, the debate began afterward: Did climate change, a.k.a. global warming, cause the hurricanes? The answer, leading scientists tell us, is possibly-probably. The thing is, global warming isn’t predicted to cause more hurricanes in any given year — but rather, more powerful storms.
According to the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, global warming increases temperature not only in our atmosphere, but also in our oceans. Hurricanes feed off warmer waters to gain strength, because warmer waters allow for greater evaporation and energy transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere.
So, while we might be unable to attribute any one hurricane to climate change, we can say, with a high degree of certainty, that global warming is increasing the power of oceanic storms.
According to a recent report published by the nonprofit Universal Ecological Fund, the number of extreme-weather events causing at least $1 billion in damage increased from 21 in the 1980s to 38 in the 1990s to 92 in the 10 years from 2007 to 2016. That’s a more than threefold rise in less than three decades since 1989.
According to the report, the U.S. suffered $147.5 billion in damage and economic losses because of “human-induced climate change” during the 1980s, $211.3 billion during the 1990s and $418.4 billion from 2007 to 2016.
It’s about time that we end the long and contentious debate over whether we “believe” in climate change, as if the phenomenon were a ghost unobservable with even the most basic of scientific instruments. Climate change is readily identifiable. Its effects can be seen at every turn in nature.
It’s also about time that we end the ridiculous debate over whether climate change is caused by the Earth’s natural cycles or by humans spewing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. It is accepted science that it’s caused by both. The Earth is currently in a warming cycle — a slow, incremental increase in temperature that is taking place over millennia, not over decades. By pumping CO2 and methane into the skies, we are, in effect, “forcing” the planet’s natural climate cycle off-kilter, causing it to warm faster than we can adapt to the new normal.
We have but one choice, or, scientists tell us, we will face nature’s wrath for centuries to come: We must — must — severely reduce carbon and methane emissions by mid-century. That means wind, solar and geothermal must soon replace fossil-fuel energy production.