In 2017, Hurricane Harvey moved very slowly across parts of Texas (USA) dropping “more than 30 inches of rain in two days and nearly 50 inches over four days.” “Harvey’s rainfall exceeded every known flooding event in American history since 1899.”
The reason for the high rainfall totals was the slow movement of the storm–and a 2018 study reports that “between 1949 and 2016, tropical cyclone translation speeds (how quickly a storm moves) declined 10 percent worldwide.”
While a 10% change may not seem significant, the reality of Hurricane Harvey and other recent storms show the effect–“devastating flooding and billions of dollars of damage” as well as death, trauma, stress, widespread and long-lasting environmental damage, and the list goes on.
What is the cause of the slower storm movement? “Broader evidence suggests that climate change is playing a role.”
The winds that push hurricanes along are influenced by temperature differences between the tropics and the Poles. That temperature difference is getting smaller. As a result, the steering winds are weakening, and the hurricanes and other storms are moving more slowly dropping more rain and causing more destruction.
Most of the world’s fresh water is found frozen in Antarctica. And, that ice is melting today–and the melting is happening at an increasing rate. A new study estimates that the rate of melting “has tripled since 2007.” At this rate, the melting ice will “contribute 6 inches to sea-level rise by 2100.”
While this may not seem threatening occurring over decades, it will cause substantially increased coastal flooding; many coastal areas globally are highly populated. For example, “around Brooklyn (New York, USA) you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15 centimeters (6 inches) then that’s going to happen 20 times a year.”
“Between 1992 and 2017, Antarctica lost 3 trillion tons of ice.” 40% of that occurred since 2012. And, melting ice is not only happening in Antarctica, “Greenland lost an estimated 1 trillion tons of ice between 2011 and 2014“, and there are many other areas of substantial ice loss as well. The melting ice and warming sea water have “all been primarily driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases.” “The rate of sea level rise due to Antarctic ice loss has tripled since 2012.” The main driver of the Antarctic ice melt is actually the edges of the ice sheets interacting with warming ocean water–“forces that you can’t reverse easily.”
Sea level rise is impacting people living on coasts today–including and especially in the U.S. The economic costs will be immense. What can we do to mitigate and adapt?
Lack of fresh water for agricultural use and for human consumption is a growing and very serious problem globally–including rich countries. Read this article (Henry Fountain, New York Times, May 24, 2018) for a look at how climate change is affecting rivers in the western United States. The Rio Grande and the Colorado, two major western U.S. rivers, are experiencing significantly reduced flows due to warmer temperatures, longer and more frequent droughts, less snow and less winter precipitation overall, and the need to serve more people. By May, stretches of the Rio Grande had already completely dried up. “Both of these rivers are poster children for what climate change is doing to the Southwest” U.S. These events are not a theory or a future projection, it is happening today. How can we as a society and as individuals mitigate and adapt?
How and when does an established viewpoint of a society change? What does it take for a society (a very large group of people) to alter its collective opinion? Is there a “tipping point” for public opinion? A recent study using a naming game discovered that when a minority viewpoint became held by “at least 25% of the population,” that viewpoint “was likely to rapidly become the majority viewpoint.” In the naming game, “all participants participated as equals, similar to the way anonymous individuals interact online” through social media. A small minority of people can become powerful/influential by “pure, unwavering commitment to an idea” (Roni Dengler, Science, June 7, 2018).