It is ironic that Houston and Florida bore the brunt of 2 storms of biblical proportions. These two regions remain at the forefront of climate change denial – Houston is the capital of the World’s oil industry, while Floridian politicians continue to remove references to climate change from their statutes and texts. I don’t celebrate in any way the misery inflicted on millions of people and animals through these hurricanes, however I do hope that some good will come from it – namely, an acceptance by US state and federal governments that climate change is real, and secondly to work on addressing it.
To put it in perspective, the US has just 4.5% of the world’s population, but produces 15% of its GHG emissions. It’s per capita carbon footprint is 4 times the world average. This comes as little surprise to those of us lucky enough to visit the US, and especially areas such as Houston and Florida, where big gas guzzling cars, bigger houses, 24/7 air conditioning, and wanton consumption of shit, all made in China with a big CO2 footprint, is the norm. If anyone needs to see the impact of climate change, its Florida and Texas.
Here is a quote. Dr. Mark Felts, a chiropractor in Florida Keys said residents in the Keys aren’t concerned about climate change. “It probably won’t flood my house in my lifetime,” Felts, 51, said. I wonder how Mr Felts feels about climate change now?
These storms are not just business as usual. They are the harbinger of things to come. Hurricane Irma and Harvey have smashed the record books. Harvey has been listed as the 3rd 500 year flood to hit Houston in just 3 years. Which is a miracle sequence, excluding climate change. When you account for global warming however, it becomes less surprising. Heat is the driving force behind hurricanes and cyclones, so southern USA, and elsewhere exposed to tropical storms, had better start getting used to them. Secondly, increasing temperature leads to increased rainfall, like we saw with Harvey. A single degree increase globally leads to a 7% increase in overall rainfall. These are not made up numbers. They are from Scientists, who have been begging for politicians and the public to take head of global warming.
It’s much more complicated though than just more hurricanes and rainfall. Many arid areas are predicted to get even drier. Has anyone noticed the high number of fires burning out of control in dry regions of the US of late? These are an expected outcome of global warming, despite most people simply ignoring what is staring them in the face.
Already the talk in Houston is about how do we build a better city to prepare for such events. The real question should be “how do we stop climate change?” This of course is not easy. How do you shift societies obsessed with big cars, houses and consumption of shit. They are more likely to build a big wall to stop the floods, rather than accepting that their own actions may be in any way be contributing to the problem.
The real tragedy in all this is it won’t be the US that bears the brunt of climate change, or not for some time at least. Harvey and Irma are estimated to cost upwards of $100b, but that is just 0.5% of USA’s annual GDP. Trump and Pelosi can sign that off with little drama. Bangladesh recently had 30% of its land mass under water due to flooding. 30%… Imagine 30% of the US being underwater!
Climate change is the biggest threat facing mankind, but it’s not the US that will feel the most pain. Numerous tropical islands now find themselves increasingly underwater. Much of Africa is in the worst drought in history. Bangladesh, India and Nepal are all underwater with what Trump might describe as epic floods. These don’t make the news, but sadly, while the USA and other western countries are largely responsible for climate change, it is the poor countries that will feel the greatest impact.
I say this of course knowing my own country is far from squeaky clean. Our per capita CO2 emissions are 7 tons CO2 per year. Compared to Texas at 26 tons we look great, but with a world average below us we are far from perfect. The truth is we all share responsibility for global warming. The solutions are there if we look for them. The hope is that the tragedies of Harvey and Irma might finally convince the skeptics that climate change is real, and if we don’t start making substantive changes, the outlook for many parts of the world is bleak indeed.
By Captain Pete Bethune