Our hearts go out to all the people in Houston and south Texas for the almost unbelievable devastation that they have suffered. Some areas received a record setting 53 inches of rain. RMS, the world’s leading catastrophic risk-modeling company, puts the economic loss from Harvey as high as $90 billion.
Two 500-year floods have now occurred in Houston in the last 14 months. Looking at the broader picture, wildfires in the U.S. have been increasing over the last 20 years, and monetary losses from natural disasters have been steadily increasing. Even closer to home, we recently witnessed the record breaking fires of last fall in North Georgia and North Carolina.
Is this just our bad luck, or is this connected to climate change? I don’t think we can claim that Harvey was caused by climate change, but we can say that the atmosphere in which many natural disasters occur has fundamentally changed. The last three years have been progressively the hottest in recorded history, and the temperature now is over 1 degree C higher than it was 100 years ago. This all coincides with the highest CO2 levels of the last 400,000 years due to the burning of fossil fuels.
Warmer air holds more moisture, which causes more intense downpours. Hotter temperatures cause more intense storms, and the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico at the time of Harvey was about 7.2 degrees F above average. Hotter temperatures from climate change also cause more droughts interspersed with intense downpours. It is estimated that for every 1 degree C rise in temperature, we get a 50 percent increase in wildfires.
I hope and pray that we take notice of what is happening with our world, for predictions are that it will only get much worse as temperatures continue to rise. It is not too late. Now that solar and wind energy are more affordable, we can rather quickly switch away from fossil fuels. We now have to have the political will to do so and the courage to make the right moral decision. As evidenced from Harvey, we cannot afford not to act!