Hurricane Harvey: Is it a sign that climate change is real?

Trump scrapped flood protection standards days before Hurricane Harvey hit the state of Texas

Hurricane Harvey: Is it a sign that climate change is real?

Nature is taking a devastating toll in both the United States and in countries like India, Bangladesh, and Nepal where monsoon rains are causing floods and hundreds of casualties. Directly attributing these individual weather events to global warming is a tricky undertaking for scientists. Hurricane Harvey is the strongest storm to make landfall in the US in more than a decade. The storm, which federal officials have called a “historic” and “landmark event,” dumped at least 30 inches of rain over the weekend with even more on the week after. Recovery efforts have been focused on rescuing tens of thousands of displaced people, amid water-filled highways and homes.

While conditions in the nation's fourth-largest city appeared to improve, authorities warned that the crisis in Houston and across the region is far from over. The storm now brings the longest and hardest part: the reconstruction. But for the Texans individuals, and all nationals, it is also time to ask why there was not a solution against flooding near the gulf, which is the area most hit by hurricanes.

The irony is that less than two weeks ago, Trump rescinded an Obama administration rule that required federal, state, and local agencies to take steps to enhance buildings, highways, and other infrastructure with protections from flooding. Trump’s rollback of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard was part of his executive order billed as a plan to streamline infrastructure projects. He signed the order earlier this month at Trump Tower in New York minutes before the fiery press conference during which he blamed “both sides” for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia incited by a white supremacist rally.

When Trump announced his decision to roll back those flood regulations, he was extensively criticized by emergency management specialists, as well as by environmental activists. Indeed, the former director of public affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Rafael Lemaitre, said that Trump was undoing "the most significant action taken in a generation" to protect infrastructure.

A growing body of research suggests that perceptions of climate change are influenced by experience with climate-related natural disasters. A 2016 analysis in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Science found that between Hurricane Katrina and the pre-election Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the public discourse surrounding extreme weather shifted dramatically from a purely economic and energy discussion to one focused on climate. A 2013 study by the Association for Psychological Science found that direct experiences with intense events like Sandy and Hurricane Irene were more likely to re-orient survivors toward "green" and climate-positive political stances. The fact remains that climate change concerns are at a three-decade high and something like Harvey may only weaken confidence in Trump's climate skepticism.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes that it's "premature" to directly correlate rising greenhouse gas emissions with a higher frequency of US hurricane strikes, the NOAA admits these weather events will only become "more intense" and consequence of the change in the atmosphere.

Yet flooding intensified by climate change has become a dire concern in coastal areas like the southern United States. For years, scientists have warned that the threat of extreme storms like Hurricane Harvey will only worsen because of climate change and that many U.S. cities and states are ill-prepared for large-scale flooding.

 

Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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