John Stossel is presumably bright enough to understand the nature of climate change; he just isn’t paying attention.
He avoids in-depth assessment because the implications threaten his lock-step libertarian ideology. The impending crisis will demand concerted nationwide interventions, some of which will be costly in the short term. Feel-good measures undertaken by hardy individualists — riding a bike to work or turning off the lights when we leave a room — just won’t do the trick.
Not everyone will have seen through the fossil-fuel industry’s well-funded campaign to convince us that climate change isn’t real (and anyway, if it is real, it’s not our fault, and it won’t be hard to live with it, since it’s not really doing anything that we haven’t seen before). They will resist investing in necessary interventions.
Stossel flaunts a previous government statement as though it were a damning admission that scientists regard climate change as irrelevant to hurricanes. Neither NOAA’s models nor its ”analyses of trends in Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm counts over the past 120-plus years support the notion that greenhouse gas-induced warming leads to large increases in either tropical storm or overall hurricane numbers.”
If Stossel had been paying attention, he’d know scientists have been stating this publicly and often for a long time. Climate change isn’t necessarily boosting the number of hurricanes.
Hurricanes are essentially vast weather machines. Their fuel is the heat energy trapped in ocean waters, and that energy builds as the planet warms. The more fuel available, the more powerful the engine, and the faster it runs.
We saw Irma swerving in and out from coast to ocean and back, sucking energy from the water and then blasting back onto land stronger, wetter and faster.
Climate does indeed fluctuate, albeit slowly, while weather changes much more rapidly. Yes, that has always been the case. Now we see, as predicted, that climate change is turning these normal weather patterns into disasters.
Rainfall accompanying Harvey’s high winds exceeded any amounts we’ve ever seen before; downpours were measured in feet, not inches. Never before have we seen four major Atlantic hurricanes, each packing a high-category wallop, lined up like eager fans outside a concert. There might not be more of them “overall,” but when they form devastating clusters, their impact on our ability to rebound is magnified.
“First, two big storms don’t mean much,” claims Stossel, writing before there were four storms to confront.
I suspect the people whose houses were obliterated; who can’t find enough fuel, water, food and power, if any at all; whose livelihoods vanished; who see toxic chemical pollutants washed into local waterways and aquifers; whose lives are endangered by loss of vital medical services as well as by flooding and wind-driven debris — these people might scoff at the notion that these storms “don’t mean much.”
Yes, a lot more people died in the Galveston hurricane of 1900. One remarkable feature of the latest hurricane-chain is the relatively low loss of life. How come?
Thank science. Our revolutionary ability to spot a storm during its initial formation, serially measure storm strength, speed and direction, and issue the earliest possible warnings, led to timely precautions and evacuations that kept this death toll low. In 1900 Galveston, the best they could do when high winds and storm surges roared ashore was duck and swim.
Stossel cites hurricanes in 1926, 1935, 1947 and 1961 as “evidence” that recent storms are just same ‘ol, same ‘ol. But what if all four had happened in concert, one right after another? In all its ferocity, a storm chain like this is truly unprecedented. Welcome to 2017, and beyond.
How does climate change contribute to the current hurricane season?
Sea levels are rising. Since 1960, Texas Gulf Coast oceans have risen by more than a foot. Storm surges are higher as a result.
Warmer oceans mean more rain. The Gulf was up to 7.2 Fahrenheit degrees hotter than usual before Harvey, causing extra water to evaporate into the storm, dumping more rain onshore. Harvey produced the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours.
Warm air holds more water vapor, so when it does rain, all that extra water intensifies the downpour.
In Harvey’s case, the weather pattern stalled. Even after easing to tropical storm status, it hovered over the Houston area, still unloading rain. This prolonged pause had its origins, of all places, in the Arctic, as a phenomenon known as “Arctic amplification.” The culprit was a stalled jet stream.
Here’s another NOAA observation. “Enhanced warming of the Arctic affects the jet stream by slowing its west-to-east winds and by promoting larger north-south meanders in the flow. With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe but these will vary in location, intensity and timescales.”
If climate-change-induced amplification of hurricanes is a canary in the coal mine, it’s only one in a whole flock of canaries. Widening weather extremes are hitting other areas of the world, causing unprecedented floods, droughts, heat waves and famines. It’s not all about us.
Floods and droughts and famines are not new, but this isn’t your grandfather’s climate.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired
family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.