Living as I do on the West Coast, in Oregon to be exact, it's tempting for me to be thankful that we don't get nasty hurricanes like Florence, which has dumped an astounding amount of rain on North Carolina and neighboring states, and killed 11 people so far.
Florence already has set rainfall records and left tens of thousands of people in shelters and more than 1 million homes without power. Officials confirmed at least 11 deaths, including one Saturday in South Carolina.
But Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and other officials repeatedly warned Saturday that although people might think the worst of the storm is over, the volume of rainwater it will drop in the coming days will cause flooding not seen in a generation — if ever.
But actually I should be feeling more emotions than just thankfulness. Like, sadness, guilt, and anger. Why? Because scientists know that human-caused global warming is making storms like Florence considerably more powerful, and hence, more deadly.
Since I'm a human who has contributed to rising greenhouse gas emissions by the simple fact of living in an industrialized nation for the past 69 years, I feel sadness because people are dying from weather events exacerbated by higher temperatures.
I feel guilt because I know that even though my wife and I do our best to live in an environmentally-wise manner, there's more that we could and should have done to reduce our personal carbon footprint.
And I feel anger because I know that our country's president, Donald Trump, is doing his best to dismantle Obama-era efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, including withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord.
Before I talk about what I, and everybody else who cares about our one and only Planet Earth, should do to help reduce the chance of more storms like Hurricane Florence, I need to address people reading this blog post who question whether global warming really has made Florence more deadly and destructive than it would have been otherwise.
Here's some links, and excerpts from each, for your perusal:
Hurricane Florence is a climate change triple threat
In this sense, the sometimes fractious debate about whether we’ll see more or fewer storms in a warmer world is somewhat misplaced. What matters is that there is a consensus we’ll see stronger and worse flood-producing storms – and, in fact, we’re seeing them already. That brings us to Hurricane Florence: a climatologically-amplified triple threat.
...Some headlines have reported that Florence is a warning of what is to come. But in reality, it is a warning of what has already arrived. Far worse is to come if we don’t get serious, in a hurry, about acting on climate change.
Global warming didn't cause Florence, scientists say, but it's making hurricanes more intense
A warmer world makes for nastier hurricanes. They are wetter, possess more energy and intensify faster. Their storm surges are more destructive because climate change has already made the seas rise. And lately, the storms seem to be stalling more often and thus dumping more rain.
Hurricane Florence's Slow Speed is Ominous
According to a paper published earlier this year in the scientific journal Nature, hurricanes are now moving more slowly across the Earth than they once did. From 1949 to 2016, the speed of tropical cyclones worldwide over land decreased by 10 percent.
In the North Atlantic, where both Harvey and Florence originated, hurricanes have slowed some 20 percent in their track speed. (This study did not account for 2017’s slow storms, including Harvey.)
“Storms can get worse without getting more intense” if they’re slow moving, James Kossin, the author of that paper and an atmospheric research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told me at the time.
...The paper did not formally attribute this effect to human-caused climate change, but scientists have long hypothesized that tropical cyclones will move more slowly in a warmer world. That’s because a warmer world will have more stagnant, slow-moving air masses, which will stall out storms of all types around the world.
A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed
As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, the atmospheric circulation changes. These changes vary by region and time of year, but there is evidence that anthropogenic warming causes a general weakening of summertime tropical circulation.
...The unprecedented rainfall totals associated with the ‘stall’ of Hurricane Harvey over Texas in 2017 provide a notable example of the relationship between regional rainfall amounts and tropical-cyclone translation speed.
Hopefully these stories have convinced any global warming skeptics perusing this post that climate change is making storms like Florence more powerful. Or at least that this is such a distinct possibility, it makes sense to reduce greenhouse gas emissions just in case.
(An analogy: if you smoke cigarettes, science can't say for sure that you will get lung cancer. But science can say that if you smoke, your chance of getting lung cancer is much higher than it would be if you didn't smoke. Thus most people these days have decided not to smoke, being aware of the probabilities.)
What to do, then? Here's some suggestions.
(1) Vote for Democrats. Facts shouldn't have a liberal bias, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, though, they do -- since most Republican politicians at both the federal and state level have become either global warming deniers, or global warming minimizers. Meaning, they either say that global warming isn't happening, or if it is, there isn't much we can do about it.
So make sure that you cast a vote for Democrats in the upcoming mid-term election. And after that, in the 2020 presidential-year election. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that the habitability of our planet for humans depends on this, given the degree to which the United States contributes to greenhouse gas pollution.
(2) Make global warming a local issue. Where I live, Salem, Oregon, recently elected progressives on the City Council were successful in making a citywide greenhouse gas inventory part of the Strategic Plan that guides City Hall priorities.
The progressives also have stalled an unwise proposal for a billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette River that would increase considerably carbon emissions in Salem. Now the bridge idea needs to be killed off entirely by the City Council and better transportation options embraced.
(3) Do little things, since they add up to big things. It's easy to become disheartened when the Trump administration, Big Oil, and other despoilers of the environment are working against efforts to slow down global warming.
But there are many bright spots, including a report that "a group of almost 400 of the world’s leading investors, controlling over $30tn [trillion] (£23tn) in assets, have agreed to work together to back initiatives to combat climate change and help meet the objectives of the Paris agreement."
However, everybody who isn't one of the world's leading investors also can do something to reduce their carbon footprint. Ride a bike more. Drive less. Become a vegetarian or vegan. Recycle. Instead of flying, vacation close to home. (Check out "25+ Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.")