Hurricane politics on display with Harvey, like fractivism, simply ignores the evidence and pushes reason and science to the side to exacerbate the problem.
A hurricane hit the Texas coast in 1900 and became the deadliest natural disaster in US history with a death toll range from 6,000 to 12,000. Granted, hurricane science was not well developed, nor was there proper communication channels available to give much of an advanced warning about a possible storm, but deadly storms such as this Category 4 storm have been around since the dawn of time. Hurricane politics, like fractivism, hasn’t been around quite that long, but its practitioners seem determined to dispense with all reason and science in pursuit of their campaigns.
Texas is no stranger to big storms and the massive rainfalls that accompany them. In 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette dropped 42 inches of rain in 24 hours following Amelia in 1978, which produced a total of 48 inches. These records were broken by Hurricane Harvey which has topped 51 inches thus far. However, what we are seeing more and more of is the claim that only man-made climate change is responsible for these storms and that they will continue to get worse.
A recent article was written by Penn State modeler Michael Mann on The Guardian cites supposed “proof” Harvey was more deadly because of climate change. Titled as “It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly,” the story is how warmer waters combined with higher levels somehow caused the storm to be stronger than it would have been a decade ago. Mann tends to sue his critics for libel his critics so perhaps I shouldn’t bring this up, but numerous other professionals have noted his “hockey stick” temperature chart glosses over the Medieval Warm Period and only ticks up in the 20th century. Curiously, he has refused to comply with a court order to hand over his graph’s data to help others understand why.
Mann’s claims are backed up to some degree by National Academies of Science (NAS) which, based on historical and future modeling, says severe storms will increase due to man-made climate changes. Importantly, though, based on the infrequency of the events and limited recorded data, they make this conclusion with “lower confidence.” Is this “lower confidence” part of the downward trend in kinetic energy of Atlantic hurricanes over the past decade? Perhaps.
Roy Spencer, Ph.D., former Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center contradicts Mann’s statements. Spencer says the destructiveness of Harvey is a result of the slow-moving storm itself. He has charted every Category 3 and above hurricane since 1870 and noticed hurricane strength is not reliant on average water temperatures. He also criticizes Mann’s article directly, stating:
“I don’t know of any portion of global warming theory that would explain why Harvey stalled over southeast Texas. Michael Mann’s claim in The Guardian that it’s due to the jet stream being pushed farther north from global warming makes me think he doesn’t actually follow weather like those of us who have actual schooling in meteorology (my degree is a Ph.D. in Meteorology). We didn’t have a warm August in the U.S. pushing the jet stream farther north.”
Looking back to 1900, Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that politics played a role of the Galveston hurricane by blocking communications from Cuba. He said, “The Galveston hurricane made people realize you can’t play politics with a weather bureau,” but that is what’s happening now. We pass on the blame for natural disasters by blaming climate, but we overlook the politics that would have prevented much of the recent flooding from Katrina, Sandy, and now Harvey. Things such as abuse of the flood insurance program, for example, discussion of which might have taken place were we not wasting time trying use storms for ideological leverage
Man-made climate change or not; one storm does not make a case. We should be focused on real science and on risk-prevention; avoiding building and rebuilding in flood-prone areas, investing in infrastructure and, yes, doing meaningful things, among which we might agree is reducing carbon emissions. Whatever the relationship of those emissions to global warming, there is every reason to attempt to reduce them where we can. Both sides of the debate should have no problem with that and the easiest way to do it, now well established, is to shift from coal and oil to natural gas. The US has made more strides toward reducing those emissions than any other nation because it’s made those shifts—thanks to fracking.
Therefore, shouldn’t this be the lesson of Harvey; that we need to get away from silly arguments about climate change causing a particular storm called Harvey and do something for a change? That something can include many things from a policy perspective, but the first step is to avoid the hurricane politics and get back to reason and science along with a little more humanity. The one bright side of this disaster, in fact, is seeing that in times of crisis, beyond the muck of hurricane politics and punditry, people rise to the occasion and simply help one another – and in today’s age, we needed to be reminded of that.