Harvey and the (near) Future

The recent article in Politico Magazine, Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like: It’s time to open our eyes and prepare for the world that’s coming, by Eric Holthaus, is an excellent summary of what we can expect in the very near future as the consequences of climate change occur with greater intensity and frequency.

While Hurricane Harvey would likely have occurred anyway, there is no doubt that a season of record breaking high air and surface water temperatures this year in the Gulf of Mexico feed the record breaking rainfall.

From the article:  Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.

If we don’t talk about the climate context of Harvey, we won’t be able to prevent future disasters and get to work on that better future. Those of us who know this need to say it loudly. As long as our leaders, in words, and the rest of us, in actions, are OK with incremental solutions to a civilization-defining, global-scale problem, we will continue to stumble toward future catastrophes. Climate change requires us to rethink old systems that we’ve assumed will last forever. Putting off radical change—what futurist Alex Steffen calls “predatory delay”—just adds inevitable risk to the system. It’s up to the rest of us to identify this behavior and make it morally repugnant.

Urban planning has to take increasing intensity and frequency of rainfall into account, with better flood control systems.

And as Houston and others look to rebuild housing, smaller, more energy efficient as well as multi-tenant buildings should be built, not more large, single family houses.  Neighborhoods have to be built to be walkable, and public transit systems are critical.  Harvey adds to the urgency to drastically reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The other gigantic issue of flooding from Harvey is the thousands of climate refugees it created.  This will be a rapidly increasing problem we will be facing both nationally and globally.  While our attention has been focused on Harvey, yet another severe monsoon season in South Asia has resulted in over 1,200 deaths and affected millions.  Climate refugees will be increasingly created not only from increasingly severe flooding from storms, but also from rising sea levels, and large areas affected by drought and polluted water supplies.

 

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