New science, government studies highlight climate change’s urgency
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
For over a year, we have witnessed one weather disaster after another besiege the United States mainland and beyond. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria took place in 2017, while California wildfires also burned. This hurricane season, we saw Florence and Michael take Southern states hostage with a fury of wind and floodwaters, only to be paralleled with more California fires.
"What next?" we ask. According to two new science and government studies, we can look forward to more compounded ecological catastrophes producing dramatic social changes.
A new Nature Climate Change study, by 23 authors who review 3,000 papers, states our century’s end is a climate scenario characterized by chaos and multiple related weather events: "... some parts of the world could face as many as six climate-related crises at the same time."
The solution? Reduce carbon emissions now.
We couldn’t get more of a direct warning from the science community, but if you need more proof, take a look at the states of California and Florida, both undergoing serious climate-related crises.
California’s permanent state of existence these days seems to be mitigation of multiple related threats, as the study indicates. Drought-caused wildfires are common and the latest round is now contained. The death count in the Camp and Woolsley fires is now at 87, with hundreds still reported missing. The Camp fire that devastated the city of Paradise and surrounding areas is now 100 percent contained and has burned down more than 18,000 structures and 153,000 acres.
The Woolsey fire burned more than 96,000 acres from Los Angeles to Ventura counties, destroying 1,600 structures. Vegetation has burned off, leading to lack of water absorption and runoff that could cause mudslide problems.
Dangerous mudslides happened after last January’s Thomas fire in Santa Barbara County. The link between fire and mudslides is another good example of multiple related threats in the climate change era.
California’s terrible air quality index due to fires is yet another example of the multiple effects model that incorporates social and community quality of life: drought and extreme heat waves cause fires that create poor air quality and numerous health problems.
Nature Climate Change’s multiple effects model can also be applied to compounding social problems produced by climate crises: public safety and health, housing, jobs, and infrastructure are all impacted during and after weather events.
Speaking of health problems, mental stress — especially for children — is taking its toll due to Hurricane Michael’s aftermath, with the death toll rumors to be upwards of 60 dead. If you can imagine being a child in these unstable and scarce conditions, you can project future social problems as a young generation endures the harshest marks of these catastrophes.
Areas, like the Florida Panhandle’s Bay County, still struggle under the weight of knowing a generation has lost their longleaf pines. The Florida Department of Agriculture reports that the agriculture industry alone lost $1.49 billion, with $1.3 billion lost in timber.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the estimated cost of Harvey and Irma was $125 and $50 billion in damages. Maria cost $90 billion. Weather events cost an estimated $306.2 billion in 2017 alone. The NOAA has not acknowledged Hurricane Michael’s cost yet, but other estimates hover anywhere from $8 billion paid to insurers to $53 billion overall.
We look to the NOAA because Hurricane Michael’s severity was said to be strengthened by climate change’s warming of waters: "Climate change and the warmer waters it brings mean storms can become freakish monsters in mere days — in Michael’s case just three days after starting as a tropical depression near the Yucatan Peninsula."
Since we are witnessing record-breaking wildfire and hurricane impacts in California and Florida, many reason, we need to act now. Action is acknowledged in the just released climate change assessment by 13 federal agencies.
The Los Angeles Times writes: "The assessment leaves no doubt that humans are to blame for the changing climate, and that the extent of the harm we will experience depends on decisions we make today."
The National Climate Assessment happens every four years, mandated by law. This second volume follows a physical sciences-focused volume, and it recognizes climate change is human produced. This is quite a shocking counterpoint to President Trump’s views.
It even recognizes social inequality’s role in compounding a multiple-effects web, including more death. The report explains how climate-related deaths can occur in the future: waterborne and foodborne diseases; diseases carried by insects; respiratory and other illnesses; and cold and heat related deaths.
It also recognizes inequality’s role in disaster preparedness: "People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts."
This means that if you are lower-income, you are more likely to die in these conditions.
Finally, the report recognizes climate change can eradicate up to 10 percent of the American economy by 2100 — a good reason for some to mitigate and adapt to climate change’s impacts now.
This assessment, the recent Nature Climate Change study, and the IPCC report from October, are vital new tools in lawsuits and actions seeking corporate and government accountability to hardest impacted communities.
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