Fricke column: From climate change to climate crisis
October 5, 2017
"According to a cautious analysis by the influential climate scientist James Hansen, the accumulated man-made global warming pollution already built up in the Earth's atmosphere traps as much extra heat every day as would be released by the explosion of 400,000 Hiroshima-class nuclear bombs."
— Al Gore guest column; Rolling Stone; July 3-17, 2014
Forget climate change. We've got climate crisis or climate chaos.
In my column last month, I wrote about climate change just prior to Hurricane Harvey hitting Houston and Hurricane Irma hitting Florida and the Caribbean islands. The devastation of these hurricanes as well as Hurricane Maria devastating Puerto Rico recently demonstrates that we are in a climate crisis.
Where are we so far on the human cost in lives in these recent storms? According to a recent chart published by The Washington Times (09/19/17), Harvey has resulted in 82 deaths and Irma 69 deaths so far. Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated Louisiana and surrounding states, resulted in the largest death toll at 1,833.
Where are we so far on the financial damage of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma? Accuweather.com estimates that Harvey's damage is $190 billion and Irma is $100 billion.
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The damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is still being assessed. Hurricanes Irma and Maria almost obliterated several Caribbean islands. Here are the top 10 prior to the recent ones (in billions of dollars): Katrina, $108 billion (2005); Sandy, $75 billion (2012); Ike, $37.5 billion (2008); Wilma, $29.4 billion (2005); Andrew, $26.5 billion (1992); Ivan, $23.3 billion (2004); Irene, $16.6 billion (2011); Charley, $16.3 billion (2004); Matthew, $15 billion (2016); Rita, $12 billion (2005). Overall, this list contained 45 hurricanes that cost more than $1 billion. Notice the frequency of these hurricanes and their levels of damage.
What is causing this level of hurricanes? The combination of warmer air and warmer water is the main culprit. Climate scientists report that carbon pollution penetrates ocean waters, causing abnormal warming.
According to recent Associated Press coverage, Jeff Masters, a former hurricane hunter meteorologist and meteorology director of Weather Underground, stated that warm water fuels the energy for these severe storms. Ocean waters need to be around 79 degrees to sustain a hurricane. Harvey was over an area in the Gulf of Mexico where the water was 87 degrees.
The combination of warm air and warm water results in a large amount of moisture accumulation. According to several sources,19 trillion gallons of water fell as rain over Houston and surrounding areas. Houston's overdevelopment in recent decades and paving over wetlands can be blamed for the extensive flooding. There was nowhere for this volume of water to go.
The Army Corps of Engineers spent $15 billion on a new system of levees in the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The historic rainfall that became the "1,000-year flood" in New Orleans in August 2016 burst that engineering effort. That flood was a result of this warm air-warm water phenomenon. This was a lot of taxpayer money down the drain.
President Obama conducted a large offshore drilling auction for the Gulf of Mexico right after the New Orleans flood disaster. I never understood Obama's obsession with offshore drilling. The pollution and methane leaks from offshore drilling continue to heat the ocean floors. The small amount of fossil fuel product from offshore drilling is not worth it. It is time to shut these operations down.
It is time for some serious joint strategic planning on the parts of a few federal agencies, governors and mayors. The economic disruptions due to these recent storms and the security of millions of lives has to be weighed heavily. Important decisions need to be made as whether to rebuild and rezone the devastated areas.
Moving populations away from these dangerous hurricane-prone areas would be a commonsense solution. Returning most of these areas to natural habitats and recreational uses would make common sense as well. Building new communities in safer weather zones would provide jobs and more security for these relocated Americans.
Congress needs to make some smart business decisions right now. It needs to require the Federal Reserve to convert its $4 trillion bonus cash acquired during the Great Recession of 2008 to help rebuild America's infrastructure. Let's not use taxpayer money for this. A portion of this extra cash could be converted to low-interest loans for new homes and businesses for the flood victims in new non-flood-prone areas of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. America may never get this opportunity again.
Randy Fricke lives in New Castle and is an environmental advocate and a political activist. He is the author of "If I Were President/Saving Main Street America."
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