Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Elizabeth Kolbert: An Honest Conversation About Climate Change Is Needed in Wake of Irma & Harvey

Kelly McClenthen and her boyfriend, Daniel Harrison, walk through floodwaters in Bonita Springs, Florida, on Monday, September 11. Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm Monday, but its heavy winds and rain still pose a threat as it plows into Georgia and other parts of the Deep South. (Credit: CNN) Click to Enlarge.
Elizabeth Kolbert is an award-winning journalist and staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where she has reported extensively on climate change.  Her most recent piece is headlined Hurricane Harvey and the Storms to Come.  She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her 2015 book, The Sixth Extinction.
ELIZABETH KOLBERT: Well, there are a few things that are pretty clear.  One is simply that sea levels are rising.  And sea level rise is actually accelerating, owing in large part to ice melt, accelerating ice melt, off of Greenland, actually.  So we know that pretty clearly.  And if you have higher sea levels, obviously, when you get a storm surge, it’s going to go higher and further inland.  So that’s a very, you know, basic connection between hurricanes and sea level rise.

Then we also know that hurricanes draw their power—how they get their energy is from the surface waters of the ocean.  So, that’s why we only get hurricanes in the summertime, right? Because they need warm water.  And as water temperatures rise, theories suggest and models suggest that hurricane strength is going to rise.  So, you’re getting this kind of weird argument about hurricane frequency.  That’s not clear, what’s going to happen to hurricane frequency as water temperatures rise.  But hurricane strength should rise, and we probably are already seeing that.

And the third thing we know is that warmer air holds more moisture.  We’re getting more evaporation.  And as you get more evaporation, you’re going to get more rain.  And that’s pretty clear that we’re also seeing that, too, not necessarily in hurricanes, but just in rainfall, in general.  We’re getting more of these very massive downpours.  And that’s quite well documented.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the—there’s two things going on.  You have the president of the United States; in Texas, you have the leadership, the Republican leadership there—all well-known climate change deniers.  But then you also have the media, which, outside of Fox, MSNBC, CNN have been fiercely critical of President Trump.  But when it comes to coverage of these hurricanes—and it’s almost wall-to-wall coverage, explaining everything scientifically, how the surge is happening, except using the words "climate change" or "global warming" or "climate chaos."  Can you talk about the lack of discussion of climate change in this wall-to-wall coverage of these severe, more frequent hurricanes that we’re seeing?

ELIZABETH KOLBERT: Well, I think that there is a couple things going on, and some of them are legitimate.  I don’t, you know, want to criticize all my colleagues in the news media who are trying to do a very difficult job under difficult circumstances of standing outside in a hurricane. But, you know, any individual hurricane—so you always get this conversation.  Any individual hurricane and the behavior of any individual hurricane, there are so many random factors in the weather system, so that is not an event that can be directly traced to climate change.  And so you get this constant, you know, "Can we actually attribute this to climate change?"  And the answer is no.  You know, we can’t attribute Harvey to climate change; we can’t attribute Irma to climate change.  We can’t attribute even their strength to climate change.  We can only say, you know, that these are the kinds of events that have been predicted by the models of climate change.  And over time, you get these big data sets, and you can say more and more.  So, I don’t—I think that people are in a complicated situation right now while a hurricane is going on.

Then there’s also—and this is a political—you know, people accusing journalists of politicizing a hurricane.  And other people point out, "Look, you know, by pointing out the connection between fierce storms and climate change, we are now politicizing a hurricane."  It’s actually the reverse.  People who are refusing to point that out are politicizing the science.  The science is very clear on this.

Read more at Elizabeth Kolbert:  An Honest Conversation About Climate Change Is Needed in Wake of Irma & Harvey

No comments:

Post a Comment