Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

Currently: 106° — Complete forecast


Each new disaster is a reminder of our failure to fight climate change

As wildfires rage in California and hurricane reconstruction continues in the Florida Panhandle, Americans desperately need to face the facts about the costs of climate change.

The death and destruction we’ve seen just in the past 15 months scream out for a constructive, solutions-oriented conversation on the issue. More than ever, it should be clear to Republicans who are clinging to the warped fantasy that climate change isn’t happening that they need to face reality and come to the table.

Just look at this list:

Weather disasters

• Hurricane Michael (October 2018, Florida Panhandle): 36 deaths, $25 billion in damage

• Hurricane Florence (August 2018, the Carolinas): 53 deaths, $22 billion

• Tropical Storm Lane (August 2018, Hawaii): 1 death, damages undetermined

• Hurricane Maria (September 2017, Puerto Rico): 2,975 deaths, $90 billion

• Hurricane Irma (September 2017, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands): 129 deaths, $50 million

• Hurricane Harvey (August 2017, Texas): 107 deaths, $125 billion

Major wildfires

• Camp Fire (November 2018, near Sacramento): at least 48 deaths, damages undetermined

• Woolsey Fire (November 2018, Los Angeles and Ventura counties): at least 2 deaths, damages undetermined

• Carr Fire (July 2018, Shasta and Trinity counties): 7 deaths, $1.7 billion

• Tubbs Fire (Oct. 2017 in Napa and Sonoma): 22 deaths, $1.2 billion

The totals: at least 3,380 deaths and at least $314 billion in damage.

And it’s only going to get worse. Warming ocean temperatures will continue to feed strong hurricanes. Rising sea levels will inundate coastal areas. The West will keep burning amid a drought with no end in sight.

In a new study, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported that rainfall from hurricanes could increase by up to a third and wind speeds could be boosted by nearly 30 mph unless greenhouse gas emissions are constrained. For context, consider that Harvey dumped as much as 61 inches of rain in some places and Hurricane Maria packed winds as high as 175 mph.

Keep in mind, too, how long it takes to clean up after these disasters — and the fact that the frequency of them is ratcheting up as the planet warms. In some places, cleanup efforts are either still underway or have barely been completed when the next disaster hits.

Puerto Rico remains in ruins, for instance, with many residents subsisting in damaged homes and some still getting their electricity from generators. Houston is barely out of rebuilding after the catastrophic flooding of Havey. Santa Rosa is still rebuilding after last year’s fires.

And the list goes on. Significant areas of the country remain scarred and battered by hurricanes, fires and drought.

In the Southwest, the slow-motion crisis brought on by the drought continues to play out, with frightening potential ramifications. Lake Mead has a 50/50 chance of dipping to an elevation of 1,075 feet in 2020, which would trigger reductions in allotments to the states that largely rely on the Colorado River for water. The dwindling water supply has sparked political battles between states, left farmers worrying about how to keep their crops alive and brought rise to the wildfires in California and elsewhere. In addition, those fires denude the landscape, which sets the stage for the kind of deadly mudslides that California experienced last year.

On the other end of the scale, rising ocean levels have already resulted in flooding in parts of Miami at high tide, presaging what’s coming to other parts of Florida and the Eastern seaboard. An island off the north coast of Japan is no longer visible, likely because of the rising sea level, while San Francisco recently approved a multimillion-dollar plan to rebuild its sea wall to avoid the fate of Miami. The effects of glacial melting are already playing out.

That being the case, decision-makers who refuse to drop the politics of climate change and instead work toward solutions are putting lives and property at risk.

President Donald Trump’s behavior on the California fires is particularly repulsive.

His threat to withhold federal funding due to what he claimed was poor forest management was a cruel instance of victim-blaming. Would Trump also threaten flood victims along the Mississippi for not managing the river properly? Or tornado victims in the Midwest for not planning properly for tornadoes?

Of course not. This is Trump throwing a petty snit at a state that hasn’t supported him politically and is working to counter his destructive climate policies.

It’s also the work of a president who, in contending that there was “no reason” for the fires other than bad forestry, is attacking science and advancing the denier mentality that has placed the planet on the brink of irreparable damage.

Republicans who choose to follow him down this path should be aware of two things.One, they’re putting lives and property at risk.

Two, both history and American voters will judge them for that.

The death toll and damage numbers don’t lie. For leaders in Congress on down to the local level, it’s inexcusable not to acknowledge what’s going on and start working in good faith to stop it.