BY: SYDNEY THEIS
From seemingly nonstop fires in California, which in the past week have destroyed over 2,000 homes and buildings as well as taken 7 lives, to rampant hurricanes that decimate cities and towns in their paths, the effects of climate change across the globe are undeniable. So why hasn’t it gotten any better? As George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. This quote rings true for those of us who live in a country where our most prominent leaders continue to deny climate change and its effects rather than take measures to prevent them from happening. The texts that I read make it clear that in order for history to “not be lived again”, decisive action needs to be taken to face the damage that many have ignored for so long.
So far there have been four major hurricanes this year, and 20 more are still predicted. Hurricane Laura made landfall near Lake Charles Louisiana on Thursday, August 27th, and rose from a Category 1 to a high-end Category 4 in 24 hours. Over the past two days, the storm has left six people dead and widespread damage across Louisiana and East Texas. Experts say that “the ‘rapid intensification’ seen by this storm has been happening more frequently, thanks in part to warming ocean temperatures driven by climate change” (Mooney). Jim Kossin, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that the unusually warm waters are tied in part to human-caused global warming, as most of the heat that is trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gas emissions ends up in the ocean. But Hurricane Laura isn’t the first storm to morph into a major hurricane; 2017’s Hurricane Maria managed an 80 mph increase in a day’s time and is to blame for the deaths of thousands across Puerto Rico. A 2019 study that documented a trend of rapidly intensifying hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean between 1982 and 2009, stated that these speeds would have been unlikely without human-caused climate change (Freedman). While these storms pose an increasingly clear threat to coastal areas, improvements in forecasting the path of this storm accurately predicted its landfall location at almost the exact time, nearly 87 hours in advance.
Over the past two years, wildfires in California have burned over 3 million acres of land, taken hundreds of lives, and have resulted in the loss of multiple national parks. Yet our current administration stubbornly denies the existence of what caused this massive uptick. Climate change, land-use practices, and other factors have also resulted in other fires across the West. The Pine Gulch Fire in Colorado grew to be the largest wildfire in state history, covering almost 140,000 acres over the past two days. “The damages that humans have made has altered the timing of rain, causing summers to be hotter and vegetation periods drier” (Kelly). This leads to severe weather that makes it easier for fires to quickly spread. While California often experiences a “fire season”, more frequent and extreme heat waves cause this period to lengthen and lead to much larger blazes than normal. The 2018 United States National Climate Assessment states that these trends will likely progress over the next several decades (Tharoor) yet has no plan to prevent the imminent danger these areas are in.
While other countries have banded together, taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, America withdrew. Rather than support federal agencies working solely for the benefit of our country, our administration plans to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by 31%. Last year, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that by 2030 the world needs to have gotten rid of carbon emissions entirely but unfortunately the world is far from being on a path anywhere near this goal. Last year’s record increase of carbon-free energy was dwarfed by a massive increase in fossil fuels. If the ultimate goal is net-zero carbon dioxide, then eventually all energy consumption will have to be carbon-free, meaning that carbon dioxide-emitted natural gas will have to also be eliminated (Pielke). While action is being taken, it is accurate to say that the world’s growing supply of carbon-free energy is additive, and not replacing fossil fuels.
facing our history will lead to progress for not just America, but the whole world (seeing as our country is the second highest emitter of CO2 globally). Ignoring the reason behind these disasters won’t stop them from happening and will only lead to increasing destruction. What I am seeing proves to me that history is not being faced with courage, but being denied its entire existence. The only way we can prevent further damage on our planet is to face our history,recognize that there is a problem, and take the steps needed to ensure a safe future for our generation and those to come.