Now is precisely the time to talk about Climate Change

Climate Change, Hurricane Irma
Satellite image of Hurricane Irma

US environmental chief Scott Pruitt has said that now is not the time for discussion about climate change, and a senior Tory has said it is “inhuman” to discuss climate change after a set of deadly hurricanes ripped through the Atlantic. But with an unprecedented set of hurricanes hitting the Caribbean and mainland America in the space of weeks now is precisely the time to be talking about climate change, as this could be a sign of foreboding of what is to come.

“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,” Mr Pruitt told CNN. Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas asked the government whether it would be working to address the danger of climate change, after it said it would send resources to help British overseas territories that have been hit by Hurricane Irma. But Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told Ms Lucas that it was a “misjudgement” to talk about global warming after the deadly storm. Ms Lucas described Sir Alan’s statement as “unreal”.

Hurricane scientists have never seen an image like this before

Hurricane Harvey delivered such an unprecedented amount of rain that it left meteorologists without words, as it dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana, it looks to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. Flooding continues to affect large areas of Houston, Beaumont and other areas of Texas. Hurricane Irma has the strongest winds of any hurricane to form in the open Atlantic, with sustained wind speeds of 295 kph and has already battered the Caribbean, with the island of Barbuda reporting that 95% of properties have been destroyed, and as it continues its course it will likely cause flooding and massive damage in low lying areas of Florida: the destruction could be extreme. Hurricane Jose is still to come, Hurricane Katia is also forming off the coast of Mexico. This is the first time that three hurricanes have the potential to make landfall at the same time.

A girl wades in water in front of flooded buildings in Bangladesh

Typhoon Hato and extreme monsoon floods also continue to batter South-East Asia, where they are less prepared to deal with such a catastrophe and the need for humanitarian aid is greater. This is a global issue, one that will be one of the huge challenges for the world as more and more people end up displaced and migrating away from territory savaged by extreme weather. If we choose to ignore it now, the problems will hit us twice as bad in the long run.

Climate experts have said that similar extreme weather events are likely in the coming years, and that governments across the world must plan for how to deal with them. We are heading quickly towards unprecedented and unequal levels of human suffering, say climate and resilience experts.

The warning signs are there, so why do so many people still deny that climate change is an issue, or even deny its existence in the first place?

Scientists always struggle to talk about particularly severe natural disasters because they are by definition rare, and the smaller the data set the more likely it is that what you think is a real signal is actually just a fluke. It is difficult to say for certain that climate change causes such hurricanes and extreme weather – but it seems certain that climate change is making hurricanes more powerful for longer periods of time.

Hurricanes need the energy from the warm, humid air above tropical oceans to keep up their strength. A hurricane begins as a tropical storm, when winds coming from different directions converge. Warm air rises around the storm’s centre and cools, and the moisture condenses to form clouds and rain. Condensation releases latent heat, which powers hurricanes. If the layer of warm water isn’t at least 200 feet deep, a tropical storm could die before gaining hurricane strength.

Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath

The potential for destruction is also greater because warmer temperatures mean the air can hold more moisture, so hurricanes produce more rain, causing more floods. Rising sea levels, due to the melting of the ice caps, also lead to greater and greater surges after a storm.

Even if we do not have the methods of substantiating that climate change is definitely to blame for the number and strength of hurricanes we have seen, if we delay looking towards affirmative action it could be too late. Science is progressive, but climate change denial is actually retrogressive.

Planet Earth’s climate is in upheaval and we know exactly what is causing it. Global warming. 97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming. Denying Hurricane Harvey and Irma’s climate links and refusing to face up to the dangers of climate change will only worsen future suffering.

Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.

It’s not just severe weather that is the only threat of climate change. As landscapes and habitats literally shift, wildlife must quickly adjust. Experts predict that one-fourth of Earth’s species will be headed for extinction by 2050 if the warming trend continues at its current rate. Rising seas threaten to inundate low-lying areas and islands, threaten dense coastal populations. Droughts and forest fires will be on the increase. Many key economic sectors – from fishing to energy to water utilities – will feel long-term impacts of climate change. Smog pollution can worsen respiratory allergies and asthma.

Extreme weather will also hit closer to home, and could kill 150,000 people each year in Europe by the end of the century, say scientists.

Mr Trump, who has begun the withdrawal process for the US to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by nearly 200 countries in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions and contain global warming, once called climate change a “hoax” perpetuated by the Chinese. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump tweeted.

This approach is one that is shared by a number of “climate change deniers” and is deeply worrying in the face of such disasters, but hardly surprising if you a look a little further into why Trump and co might be so ready to overlook climate change as a plausible threat.

The shocking image of the starving polar bear was shot by photographer Kerstin Langenberger off the Barents Sea on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard

30% of global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010 can be traced to products sold by just 90 large corporations. There is a lot of money in keeping climate change legislation out of law. Alan Duncan, who criticised Caroline Lucas over her hurricane climate change comments, has links to the oil industry – surprise, surprise.

These people should be ridiculed and denied a platform on which to espouse their views of denial. Would we listen to anyone who still claims that the sun goes round the Earth, or that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago?

In a Queen’s Speech dominated by Brexit the Government failed to propose any meaningful plan on tackling climate change. In their time in government, the Tories have killed off nine green policies that aimed to promote green energy and lower our carbon emissions, and their flood policy is a shambles: so as well as pressuring people like Donald trump, we must also put pressure on our own government who seem to prefer to pander to big oil companies rather than their responsibility for the health of the planet.

Politicians, on the whole, tend to focus on the immediate, rather than the long-term. But this is no excuse. The entire planet is at risk. Giving companies unlimited license to make private profits while society underwrites the risk will end badly for everyone.

Global warming moves in slow motion, what motivates humans are short-term concerns. That is why we should talk about the issue while the water is still waist-high and the storms are still ongoing. Progress has to be made, and the best time to do this is when there is an immediate emotional connection. We must put climate change on the agenda now.

It may be possible, in some senses, for some to explain Harvey and Irma away as freak accidents to suit their own narrative. Perhaps, for some, it may even be comforting, but climate change is a real threat to humanity and in the long term we will suffer – the effects will be worse than most could have ever imagined if we do not act.