Hurricane Sally has just pummeled the Florida Panhandle and the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama. Though it landed as “only” a Category 2, what made it disastrous was its slow crawl, drowning Gulf of Mexico communities in Book of Genesis-type flooding. Hurricanes these days have slowed down, science says, as temperatures warm.
Science also says that climate change helps feed the fiery apocalypse now tormenting California, Oregon and Washington. Asked about this when visiting the region, President Donald Trump responded, “I don’t think science knows.”
I happen to believe that Trump somewhat follows the science. In the new Bob Woodward book, Trump claims to have understood the threat of the rampaging coronavirus right from the start. And witness how a phalanx of guards at his rallies keep him far removed from his crowded, maskless supporters.
So it’s not that he doesn’t have some idea of the science. It’s that the science is an inconvenience. Science offers a guide to address these crises, but doing so would require too much work and too much money, and, frankly, distract from the stock market.
We don’t expect Trump to insult the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast residents the way he taunted Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, throwing rolls of paper towels at them. Rather, he will tell them he loves them. For many, that little pat on the head will be enough.
Floods are to Florida what fires are to California. Higher temperatures melting the ice caps is not a future event. By 2040, Florida sea levels will probably rise as many as 12 inches, according to an analysis by Resources for the Future. Contemplate what that means in a state where coastal flooding is common, even on sunny days. Problem left unattended, saltwater would invade the water system, degrading water quality, and 300,000 homes would be endangered.
Most climate scientists agree that warming has already made hurricanes more numerous and more deadly. As Louisiana continues to reel from Hurricane Laura, the National Hurricane Center is tracking four named storms in the Atlantic and the Gulf. The latest one is named Vicky, which means that the World Meteorological Organization is about to run out the alphabet.
And it’s not just the coasts. Historic flooding has repeatedly devastated towns along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
And how about the recent derecho — the crazy intense windstorm that cut a swath from South Dakota to Ohio? It’s true that derechos have been around for a long time. The term was coined in 1880 by a University of Iowa professor, who described it as “a straight blow of the prairie.” (“Derecho” is Spanish for “straight.”)
A storm is classified as a derecho if wind damage extends more than 240 miles. This one covered 770 miles. It destroyed much of the region’s corn and soybean crop, flipped trucks and stripped places like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bare.
Gene Takle, a distinguished professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, tells Iowa Public Radio that he was “nervous” about attributing derechos to climate change. (Other scientists are less reticent.) But Takle added that “Iowa knows tornadoes, flooding, blizzards and drought.” These weather events have been linked to warming.
The U.S. Forest Service is currently modeling wildfire projections. South Florida’s flood maps are now being updated. Other data analysts, such as the Rhodium Group, are also assessing various climate risks. Their arrows point to large parts of this country eventually becoming uninhabitable by human beings. And the result could be mass migrations. Duluth, Minnesota, may become the climatic promised land.
It appears that science does know an awful lot, and any country that doesn’t listen to it is in deep, deep trouble. That would be us.
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