Oct 16, 2017 (San Diego) Harvey, Maria, and Ophelia will enter the record books. Not because they were particularly destructive, they were. But because they happened in the same year. This year gave us something not that usual. Destructive storms, both in the Pacific and the Atlantic.
This is hardly good news. Nor is the shock and surprise on the part of the president give us any warm fuzzy. He is reacting like a man who refuses to accept something that 97 percent of climate scientists accept: Climate change is real, and these storms are a symptom of the phenomena.
It is not the storms themselves. Each one of those storms is just one more weather event. Weather alone is not a trend. Many weather events provide a pattern, that over the course of decades show that change.
The National Environmental Education Foundation has this to say on the subject:
The intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes and the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have increased since the 1980s. These increases are due in part to warmer sea surface temperatures in the areas where Atlantic hurricanes form and pass through. An active area of research involves determining how much of this sea surface temperature increase can be attributed to natural causes versus human causes and whether the frequency and duration of hurricanes will continue to increase in the future.
While there is uncertainty as to whether the frequency and duration of hurricanes will increase, scientists project that storm intensity and rainfall rates will increase in the future. Hurricane-related impacts can be magnified by other environmental factors such as increasing sea levels. Additionally, a growing concentration of people and properties in coastal areas where hurricanes strike can result in increased damages when these storms make landfall. For example, sea levels rose a foot over the last century off the coast of New York City. As a result, the storm surge, flooding, and associated damages to infrastructure and communities were more severe when Hurricane Sandy hit than they would have been a few decades ago.
And this is what we are facing. Not an individual storm, or a particularly bad year. We are facing a clear trend that points to climate change.
Then there are the fires affecting the west, not just California. Last winter the drought finally broke. The rain came down, we even had landslides. The hills became green as new brush and grasses took hold. Then came the summer. This summer we had some very hot days. The heatwaves were longer lasting and deeper than we have seen in the past.
As the Atlantic asked why these fires came? With the rain, we should have had a less intense season. This year is the most intense fire season on record. They posted this before the fires in Sonoma County started:
The answer lies in the summer’s record-breaking heat, say wildfire experts. Days of near-100-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures cooked the Mountain West in early July, and a scorching heat wave lingered over the Pacific Northwest in early August.
“This will become an important year for [anecdotes about] the importance of temperature. Despite the fact that these forests were really soaked down this winter and spring, these heat waves have dried things out enough to promote really large fires,” says Park Williams, a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
So when President Donald Trump says that none of this has precedent, he has a point. All this is unprecedented, but not unexpected. Climate scientists have been warning of cycles like this for years.
The current administration might not believe that climate change is real. Moreover, they want to bring from the dead an industry that is in its death throes, no war on coal need, just basic economic forces of supply and demand. But what we are facing is precisely the results of what they refuse to name. The first step in fixing any problem is to face facts. None of this was unpredicted.
Every year, if anything, shows that the expectations in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, were underestimating the speed of the changes we are facing. However, we also need to be open about it. While it is important to report on the number of dead so far, (41 and expected to rise). Or the number of homeless, in the tens of thousands at this point. Or the fact that shelters are at capacity. Or that until this morning the president did not mention the fires or California, it is far more important to note that all this has been predicted. We can either build to mitigate, or we can keep denying this.
Sooner or later the insurance industry will force changes, as they refuse to ensure houses near flood zones or fire zones. Like coal, that will be supply and demand talking. Irma and Harvey alone stand at $70 billion, according to one insurer. This is a short range cost. In reality, if we add government response and damage to grids and power systems, we are already over $150 billion
Oh and how about the Norcal fires? At this point, it is estimated at $85 Billion dollars.
These are short-term costs. Recovery takes on average 10 years, and the billions will continue to stack. How recovery is carried out will also influence how we do next disaster. Will Houston allow buildings back where they were? Will they rebuild mangrove fields? Will they require buildings to account for ocean rise? Will Santa Rosa build for fire? These are not idle questions.
For the moment the United States has seen a dip in jobs for the first time in 7 years We expect the president to blame these natural disasters for it, never mind they could be an opportunity for either disaster capitalism or building for climate change resiliency.