by Taro Porschke
We have been seeing endless amounts of natural disasters in the past few months to years, and along with them, the havoc they entail. Whatever your beliefs on the subject may be, it is irrefutable that the Earth’s climate is, in fact, changing and that this change is affecting natural disasters.
Now, more than ever, we’re seeing more wildfires, more floods, more heavy rains and storms, more droughts and heat warnings, and, because of all that, more death. The reason? Climate change.
The Maui wildfires, which first started on August 8, killed 94 people and was, as The Washington Post put it,
“...the deadliest [wildfire] in the U.S. in 100 years.”
But, along with it came far more implications. For one, the entire historic town of Lahaina was destroyed, ruining precious pieces of history. Estimates concerning economic toll range anywhere from $1.3 to $5 billion, and because of the fires, tourism in the area has come to a full stop – and residents of Maui especially do not want tourism back anytime soon.
Other locations are being forced to take precautions, too. On the morning of Sept. 19th, Australian officials declared a total fire ban for the Greater Sydney area along with coastal areas to the south – the first such ban in around three years – prompting several schools to close because of high wildfire risk.
Looking at fire maps and statistics, we can see that as of Oct. 16th, in the US, there are 15 active large fires that have burned over 280,000 acres of land cumulatively. We can see, looking at wildfire statistics over the years, that, although our technology and awareness for resolving and preventing wildfires has improved greatly, wildfire statistics are often not going down – they’re usually stagnating or increasing. Climate change plays a large role in this, since changes in climate usually create warmer and drier conditions which wildfires thrive off of.
It’s not just wildfires, either. On Sept. 16th, two dams broke in Libya, releasing huge floods that would kill 3,958 people and counting; other organizations suggest a death toll of at least 11,300. The reason for the breaching of the dams? Abnormally strong storms and rains - products of climate change. Scientists part of the World Weather Attribution initiative explicitly said that they,
“…found planet-warming pollution made the deadly rainfall in Libya up to 50 times more likely to occur and 50% worse.”
As a result, the Libyan city of Derna is a wasteland, eastern Libya is devastated, around 30,000 people are displaced, and millions will have to be spent to try and resolve everything.
Droughts are also heavily affected by climate change, and something to be worried about - the droughts happening in Brazil right now are a testament to that.
Brazil is currently being afflicted by a huge drought that has led to several wildfires and has pushed the water level in one of Brazil's key ports, the Port of Manaus, to its lowest point in 121 years. The drought has also affected biodiversity within the Amazon, as aquatic animals are left without any water to live in and terrestrial animals are left with little food to feed on. Reports find that more than 100 dolphins have been found dead due to the droughts.
More than 250,000 people have been affected by the drought so far, a figure likely to double by the conclusion of the year. The drought makes it extremely difficult for people to come by food and water, with
"eight Brazilian states record[ing] the lowest rainfall in the period from July to September in over 40 years..."
Climate change and the warmer temperatures associated with it accelerate evaporation, reducing surface water and drying out soils, which coincides with more frequent, stronger and lengthier droughts.
Turning to something probably more relatable for us Floridians, hurricanes are probably the easiest natural disaster to examine. As oceans get warmer, hurricanes have more water to pull strength from, as well as warmer air which allows hurricanes to hold more water vapor. What do climate change and global warming entail? Warmer waters.
One study finds that, although hurricanes in the past have greatly fluctuated in strength,
"...the latest increase in the proportion of North Atlantic hurricanes undergoing rapid intensification is a bit too large to be explained by natural variability alone."
On the grand scale, we are nowhere near reaching our goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. We have made progress, but it has not been enough - reports predict that if we continue how we are right now in the status quo, emissions will increase by 10.6% by 2030. The problem is that greenhouse gas emissions, according to analysis done by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), need to be cut by 43% by 2030 - a monumental figure.
As a whole, we should be wary of and analyze what is yet to come, in terms of natural disasters and climate change in general. In the next few decades, unprecedented things are likely to happen, as they always have, but now we have something that directly influences the entire Earth.
Climate change and everything that comes with it should not be taken lightly, and even if you might not be acting in such a way that is environmentally healthy, everyone should at least understand and know about the consequences of climate change.