Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey: What We Should Learn

By Jason Taylor

Please don’t spend time “praying” for people to be safe. Crack open a book on science, instead, and learn about what you (and each of us) can do to safeguard our planet (and thus each other) from future harm.

No, we can’t end hurricanes. But it’s science which gives us the satellites, ocean buoys (measuring water temperature, wave height, and frequency), and scout planes so meteorologists and computer modelers can discover these giant storms and make predictions about where they are going, and when. This gives people time to get out of the way, instead of waking up dead.

The Bible contains no useful information on discovering or evading hurricanes because the folks who wrote it never experienced one. A lot more lives will be saved by thinking about where it’s safe to build and where it’s not, informed by our understanding of our planet’s climate and what changes are coming our way, whether we like them or not.

Those of us who are not having our lives disrupted, losing our homes or in danger of losing our lives, have space to think about what humans are doing to increase severe weather events. Our job is to pay closer attention to what scientists have been saying about climate change and increased severe weather. 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and is human-caused. Here are two leading climate scientists on Hurricane Harvey:

Michael Mann, Prof of Atmospheric Science, Penn State Univ — “while we cannot say climate change “caused” Hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say is that it exacerbated several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life. Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.”

James Hansen, Prof. of Climate Science, Columbia State Univ — “there are very clear links.” Like Mann, he cites sea level rise due to melting ice as a cause of increased storm surges, and “the strength of storms. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, tropical storms all get their energy from the latent energy of water vapor. And because the atmosphere now holds more water vapor, the strength of those storms can be greater. And so, there are substantial human-made effects on these storms. It’s not debatable now. These are all well-established facts.” This is all quickly findable online.

I listened to the mayor of Tampa blame the federal government for Tampa’s lack of infrastructure preparedness for a hurricane. Republicans deny climate change, blame the federal government and then ask for a federal handout. That hypocrisy must be called out and condemned. When Republicans seek federal assistance it is political. If they don’t want it to be political then the state can handle its own problems. And they shouldn’t get federal assistance until they admit climate change and the value of the federal government.

The bigger question is will the climate change deniers in state and federal offices finally admit what everyone knows? Will the GOP forego their plan to further destroy our economy by lowering taxes on the rich, many of whom are indirectly responsible for the damage through their funding of climate change denial?

Let the fossil fuel industry pick up the tab for these storms. They are the ones who have been profiting from denial. Yes, we have always had hurricanes, but not like these.

Time for the GOP to take responsibility for enabling us to reach the tipping point. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House and urged us to change; but Reagan, the destroyer, removed them. We were warned; it is here. Like the fable of the grasshopper and the ants, we failed to take action to prevent climate change from becoming a global disaster. We pumped more and more carbon into the atmosphere as if there would never be a reckoning, and the GOP has the nerve to blame others for being irresponsible for lesser things!

We can no longer hope to stop climate disruption. Will we also keep our collective head in the sand and refuse to take action to adapt? Will we allow the fossil fuel industry to walk away without any consequences? Do they get to ignore the suffering their lies have brought?



  1. For those who need to search for justifications and explanations in the Bible, they might consider this selection from the Bible”

    Matthew 7:24-27New International Version (NIV)

    The Wise and Foolish Builders
    24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

    Floridians build on heavily porous limestone plus their peninsula will (and already is) experience the changing climate and rising sea levels almost more than any other part of the USA. Regardless of believing climate change as a consequence of human activity or cyclic climate change known to occur, Floridians, all 20,000,000 of them, need to know one thing: You haven’t seen anything yet! Pour your concrete pads in lieu of geology that is porous limestone, sand, and coral instead of bedrock within reasonable depths, and hope for the best, I guess.

    One feels badly for the victims of the changes, yet 900 new people a day (? – I think it is) move down there. I can’t and don’t mean to trivialize the suffering of hurricane victims, yet I wonder what they are thinking living in a place that experiences these terrific storms on a regular – some say increasing – basis. How long can we, as a nation help them rebuilt on a porous base that is barely above sea level?

    As for Houston, with no building codes, what are we to think about those victims of hurricanes and the flooding when they build on flood plains? Or New Orleans? Or coastal America? Unless people along the coasts are ready to become New Atlanteans and evolve or manufacture artificial gills, their fate seems to be to live on houses with 25 foot stilts (?) or whatever it takes to survive regular inundations.

    1. I guess we pick and choose our disasters to a certain extent depending on where we live. If we’re in the Mississippi River area and it floods, people say “well, you shouldn’t live near the biggest river in the U.S. It tends to flood, you know.” If you live out in California, Missouri, or other places considered ‘earthquake country’, then you have people saying “Why are you living where the ground’s gonna move and knock your house down. Are you idiots?” If you live in Tornado Alley…yeah, you get the point.

      Every place we live has risks, fire, flood, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, etc. And things are getting worse along all fronts. However, you’re right that we definitely must take our geography and climate into account to prevent more loss of life, not just put duct tape over the problem and hope for the best. We have been doing that too damned long.

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