At least thirty-five people are dead from the wildfires ravishing the West Coast. So far, hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes as the smoke and flames draw near. Parts of Oregon are measuring the worst air quality in the world, while the fires continue to burn. Last month Hurricane Laura raced through Louisiana, breaking storm records and destroying homes and livelihoods, and this week Hurricane Sally is on the move. How is the United States, a country with advanced technology and scientific know-how, suffering such extreme consequences of natural disasters that put regions in such apocalyptic states? In short, our leaders are ignoring the science that tells us climate change is here, and it is a threat to us all.
There is widespread agreement among scientists that our climate is changing due to a warming planet, and that human activities are driving the change. The main cause: the burning of fossil fuels, which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are the reason Earth is habitable, as they keep the planet warm. The massive increase of these gases put into the atmosphere by humans over the past 150 years is why the global temperature is increasing at a dangerous rate. This rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases affects temperatures, weather patterns—all aspects of Earth’s climate.
Despite the consensus on this science, leaders choose to ignore the scientific facts. In the past three years the Trump administration has rolled back a substantial number of rules regarding climate and the environment. The president has also, as you well know, withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, whereby a group of nations agreed to work towards a global response to climate change. In leaving the accord, the administration has not only put Americans at further risk but all citizens of the globe.
The science tells us that one implication of a changing climate is the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. We bear witness to and feel the ramifications of these increasing disasters every year.
Currently, the Western United States is on fire. In just the past couple of weeks California has endured six of the twenty largest wildfires in modern history. In total, five million acres have burned, and fire season isn’t over yet. Many have left their homes and wonder if they’ll even have a home once they return.
In late August another natural disaster ravaged communities, this time in the Southern US. Hurricane Laura broke records for its intensity and was the seventh named storm to hit land in the United States this year, adding to the list of sixteen named tropical storms stacked up for the 2020 hurricane season. And this week residents of states across the South are grappling with the damage of Hurricane Sally. Flooding, destroyed powerlines, and remnants of infrastructure threaten communities in Florida and Alabama, as coastal Southeastern states brace themselves as the storm moves closer.
This year, hurricane season is extreme; an average season produces twelve storms, but this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicts there will be twenty five. Historically, the ninth named tropical storm doesn’t form until October 4. On September 17 we’re at number nineteen.
The effects of Hurricanes Laura, Sally, and others go beyond the time of the storm. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards claims, “just because [Laura] passed, that doesn’t mean that the threat has passed.” Continued heat waves in Louisiana threaten those who have lost power, homes, and livelihoods. The death toll from that hurricane and residual effects is now up to twenty-five people.
Newsreels of burning forests, flooding towns, and melting ice appearing on our TVs and news sites are ever more common. These images put the present disasters at the forefront. These disasters must be confronted and managed in real time, but so does their source. Just because the disaster fades out of our timelines, doesn’t mean the issue is resolved.
The media images often portray climate change and its effects as overwhelming, inevitable, and surely something that an individual could never take on. It can seem so distant from our individual realities, so why even try to do anything?
On Monday the president visited fire-ravaged California and listened as leaders there tried to persuade him that global warming was changing the climate and making fires worse. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” the state’s secretary for natural resources, Wade Crowfoot, told Trump.
“It’ll start getting cooler. Just you watch,” Trump replied smugly. When Crowfoot replied that he wished the science agreed, Trump retorted, “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.
In fact, scientists do know that climate change is affecting us all now in some way or another—whether it’s a large-scale catastrophe like Hurricane Laura or the wildfires taking over the West, or a small-scale inconvenience, such as a rise in your bread prices due to a drought in the Midwest. It’s time to face reality—these weather events are related to climate change and will become more frequent and will intensify.
Although the largest responsibility lies within decisionmakers, corporations, and those in positions of power, there are ways in which individuals can get involved. See the American Humanist Association’s Here for Climate website to learn more about how you can act for the climate.