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As you read this, the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is spewing lava and causing acid rain on the Big Island; wildfires have burned through 196,092 acres in California, following its five-year-long drought; the summer’s second hurricane is barrelling towards southern Florida; and “historic” flooding and resulting landslides in Japan have claimed the lives of 155 people and counting.
Puerto Rico is still recovering after being devastated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and yet once again faces flash-flooding and continued power outages as the remnants of tropical storm Beryl roll over the island, bringing lots of heavy rain and wind. (This feels like one big dark cloud.)
You may be inclined to blame good ol’ Mother Nature, but how natural is the extreme weather we’ve been seeing?
THE NATURE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
From wildfires to hurricanes, climate scientists for years have pointed to global warming as the cause of more extreme weather, both present and future. Global warming (the rise and fall of the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere) is a natural and recurring phenomenon, but the Industrial Revolution has greatly hastened what was previously a naturally controlled trend.
Basically, our chemical emissions from technologies such as cars are getting caught in the atmosphere and trapping heat inside, causing the global temperature to rise rapidly. It’s therefore no surprise that wildfires, hurricanes, and heavy rains (resulting in flooding, landslides, etc.) – which are all the result of warm weather patterns – would occur much more frequently than we’ve previously seen on record.
So, to address the question of whether or not the increase in extreme weather and natural disasters has anything to do with climate change, the short answer is: yes — and it’s only getting worse.
FIRE IN THE HOLE
If climate change is triggering more storms, ergo more rainfall, then certainly the droughts causing the California wildfires have little to do with global warming, right?
Also, California isn’t the only place battling extreme wildfires right now. England, one of the rainiest places in Europe, has called in the army to deal with a raging wildfire in the Greater Manchester area and Australia is keeping its near-regular bushfires under constant watch. While climate change presents as tropical storms in some areas of the world, in others it simply brings warmer and windier weather that dries out vegetation and spreads small flames into bigger ones. All you need is the spark from a cigarette butt or railway car on a train track to get an entire region ablaze.
WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOAT
Maybe the Doomsday preppers aren’t, like, totally crazy?
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which includes upwards of 1,300 scientists from all over the world, the natural disaster effects of climate change are going to worsen, last longer and expand regionally, but the people who will experience the brunt of it will likely be our grandchildren.
From longer and larger droughts that will lead to longer and larger wildfires; melting polar caps that will raise the sea level and wipe out coastal development; and longer and more intense heat waves that will spark even crazier weather (such as a possibility of a Category 6 hurricane, which doesn’t even exist yet), we’re not ruling out a Doomsday prep class and backyard bunker for when the sh*t hits the fan.
No, really – take your Florida vacations while you can because if the polar ice caps continue melting at their current rate, the Sunshine State won’t be around much longer. (The same can be said for most of the east and west coasts of Canada and the U.S., as well as all of the Netherlands and half of England, just to name a few. Oh, and all the polar bears will probably be dead, too. But we digress.)
IT’S ALL SPANISH TO US
You may have heard the terms “El Niño” and “La Niña” thrown around a lot when it comes to natural disasters like hurricanes and other tropical storms, but let’s clear up some confusion: they don’t refer to popular Telenovela characters.
Instead, think ocean currents: El Niño is actually the name for a band of warm water that develops in the eastern equatorial Pacific and moves westward, while La Niña is its literal opposite. With this warm water, comes hotter air temperatures and increased rainfall to the tropical Pacific with reductions of the same in Indonesia and Australasia. (La Niña is the subsequent shift back, with cooler temperatures.) Here in Canada, we call these “seasons.”
On the surface, this event sounds a lot like a scene from Moana – and it is, if you’re thinking of hell-hath-no-fury rage monster Te Fiti. Because warm air rises (remember science class?), and rising warm air creates the perfect recipe for extreme storms, scientists have begun to wonder if there is a correlation between an increasing number of El Niño events and climate change. For example, remember the 2016 heat wave that killed 30% of the Great Barrier Reef? Well, some point to El Niño as the culprit, but bear in mind that temperatures are rising everywhere…
SO WHAT’S EVERYONE DOING ABOUT IT?
In a global society where political turmoil can arise in a short 240 characters, the increasing frequency and intensity of our natural disasters is bringing governments together worldwide to find achievable and sustainable solutions to the world’s sudden increase in natural crises.
From tackling issues like poverty and building resilient communities to action on climate change, governments are aware of the increasing risks (and losses) and many are making necessary efforts to combat them. (That is, most governments: President Trump pulled the United States out of one of these global efforts — the Paris Agreement – last year, a move akin to sending residents of New Orleans life jackets with a note that says, “Next time, you’re on your own.”)
AND WHAT SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT IT?
So those are the pros (and cons) of natural disasters on the governmental level, but what should individuals do to avoid a Hunger Games-esque dystopia?
Recycling? Check. Carpool? Check.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to cut it. Research indicates that reparations can only be made when we take on “high-impact solutions” to such a high-impact problem. In other words, drastic times call for drastic measures, and one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint and ensure your granddaughter isn’t the real-life Katniss Everdeen is for couples to have one fewer child each.
Before you freak out, take a look at the numbers: if every family in the U.S. had one fewer child, the positive environmental impact would be the equivalent of 684 teenagers adopting comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives. And that’s not to say you shouldn’t have kids: a couple that has two children isn’t increasing the worldwide population trend since, when they die, their kids simply take their place – unlike a couple with three or more children who are then creating a population surplus.
Another somewhat drastic but perhaps more politically popular solution includes adopting a plant-based diet, which is 99% more effective than using reusable shopping bags whenever you get groceries.
Looks like it’s go vegan or go home – let’s just hope your home isn’t near a coast or large glacier.