Living in Miami, it is hard to ignore the violent effects of climate change and the costly damage that is incurred by increasingly powerful weather systems. 2017 is the first year in many during which major hurricanes are making landfall on the US (unfortunately we are not out of the woods yet!). Of course, hurricanes are a perfectly natural phenomenon that will form regardless of human activity; however, science tells that warmer weather and correspondingly warmer ocean temperatures can increases the strength, size, and intensity of hurricanes. This, as we have witnessed in 2017, is not a positive development.
Since hurricane Harvey and Irma, I have traveled throughout the US. When I tell people that I live in Miami, they immediately inquire about my experience during Irma. I am sure many from Houston and the Caribbean entertain the same questions. What I take from this palpable national interest is that the media will turn any news story into something sensational that can appeal to the masses. In the case of weather, the fact that the media turns hurricane season into a horror, telethon – entertainment for most, a warning for many – is a positive development in the fight against climate change.
We are living in a highly politicized environment, in which it is politically correct to disagree based on belief rather than fact; emotion rather than logic. Such an environment has made it difficult to engage those who do not fully grasp the science behind climate change and its development. I have argued in the past that proponents of environmental sustainability need to paint a harsher picture of the effects of climate change and connect them directly to people’s livelihoods. Too much dismay, droughts in the West and Hurricanes in the East are helping to paint this picture.
A study in Journal Science found that for every degree Celcius that the planet warms, roughly 1.2% of potential US GDP is lost. Just over the past two years, extreme weather has cost the US economy ~USD 240bn annually and this does not fully consider lost income from unemployment and medical spending. Consider Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At the time, it was estimated (around USD200bn) to be the most expensive weather event in US history. Fast forward to 2017, and estimates reach 300bn for Hurricane Harvey (Texas) and Hurricane Irma (Florida); again, most of these costs are at the local and federal level; Maria’s effects in Puerto Rico will materially add to that number. In the last decade alone, Texas had 32 storms with economic losses exceeding USD 1bn each – four times more than in 1990s. To put all of this into perspective, according to the Universal Ecological Fund, USD 300bn is enough money to provide free tuition for the 13.5 million US students enrolled in public colleges and universities for four years! There are wiser ways for the government and ultimately the private sector to invest over the long term.
Wildfires, brought on by extended drought, rage on in California. Hurricanes formed in the Atlantic, build speed and strengthen in the Gulf. These natural weather patterns are by no means caused by climate change but are certainly intensified. Their effects are real and should be discussed not only in terms of their enormity, but also in terms of their long-term costs on society and more specifically the US economy. If I cannot appeal to you with my logic how about with your wallet?