How to deal with an age of disasters


HOUSTON — When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, followed by a strong hurricane in Florida, much of the media response indicated that the severe weather was a sign of catastrophic climate change, payback for mass suburbanization — and even a backlash by Mother Nature against the election of President Donald Trump.

Yet, these assumptions are often exaggerated. Although climate change could well worsen these incidents, this recent surge of hurricanes followed a decade of relative quiescence. Hurricanes, like droughts and heavy rains, are part of the reality along the Gulf Coast and the South Atlantic, just as droughts and earthquakes plague those of us who live in Southern California.

The best response to disasters is not to advance hysterical claims about impending doom, but rather resilience. This means placing primary attention on bolstering our defenses against catastrophic events, whether in protecting against floods, ice storms, earthquakes or droughts.

The limits of original sin

Days after Hurricane Harvey hit, Quartz opined that “Houston’s flooding shows what happens when you ignore science and let developers run rampant.” The Guardian’s climate columnist, George Monbiot, even portrayed the event as a kind of payback for being the world capital of planet-destroying climate change.

In ascribing every disaster — even the Syrian civil war — to human-caused warming, we may be venturing into something more akin to the religious notion of original sin than to rational science. We should want to reduce greenhouse gases, but, as both rational skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg and true believers like NASA’s James Hansen agree, such things as the Paris climate accord are unlikely to make much of an impact on the actual climate in the near term — or even in the medium term.

In the short run, then, who sits in the White House is pretty irrelevant. Having Barack Obama, or even Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” in the White House would not make an appreciable difference in addressing nature’s fury.

Resiliency is the answer

In their passion to blame Trump and others, the mainstream response underestimates the critical importance of building resiliency to counter a sometimes uncooperative climate, particularly in the vulnerable coastal areas that have become home to a growing number of Americans over the past half-century.

The Netherlands has been waging a mostly successful battle against rises in sea levels for several hundred years. Our…



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