by Bill Lightle, Ian Flitcroft and Jack Bernard
“Oh, a storm is threat’ning my very life today; If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away” – Rolling Stones
It isn’t simply storms that are threatening our lives, Mick. Climate change is the underlying reason for storms’ increasing ferocity, and unless we act there will be no shelter for humanity. Human-induced climate change is completely settled science, as uncontroversial as the germ theory of disease, although when browsing the internet and some media you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
The increasing number of strong Atlantic hurricanes is a continuing trend that started in the 1980s. Georgia was spared this time, but stronger, more frequent hurricanes are coming.
Hurricane Florence dumped enough water on the Carolinas to fill Chesapeake Bay. There is now 7 percent more moisture in the atmosphere, moisture Florence turned into low country rain.
For Americans to prosper, we must understand how Florence’s record rainfall fits into the bigger picture of global weather and climate.
Why is the atmosphere becoming more moisture laden and hurricanes more powerful? The answer is climate change, a phrase conspicuously absent from the otherwise plentiful media coverage of Florence.
As the atmosphere and oceans warm through the heat-trapping effects of the greenhouse gases we are emitting, the atmosphere holds increasing amounts of water vapor. Warmer sea surface temperatures result in increasingly violent future hurricanes.
In 2017, we witnessed an Atlantic hurricane season like never before, including: A) Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever; B) Harvey, causing devastating flooding in Texas; and C) Category 5 Maria, tearing through Puerto Rico, killing thousands.
What was an exceptional year will become the new normal as the earth continues to warm. Given the fog of confusion and disinformation that surrounds climate change, it’s worth noting that the US Department of Defense (2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap) spends resources to protect its bases and other assets from the threat of rising sea levels, not something they would do if there was doubt about the science. Per the National Defense Authorization Act, our military explicitly recognizes climate change as a direct threat to national security.
Americans living in Atlantic seaboard coastal communities are also dealing with the direct effects of sea level rise, caused by global warming. According to a Forbes magazine article (July 31, 2018), home values in Georgia and four other Southeastern states, have taken a $7.4 billion hit from sea level rise induced flooding. The impact on the property market is a direct result of increased risks of flooding and rising seas levels. As the sea level rises by three or more feet, by the end of the century many coastal properties will be underwater during storms.
Besides increasing damage from hurricanes and rising sea levels, what else can Georgians expect due to changing climate? The Obama Administration enacted strict car emission regulations, rescinded by Trump. With Trump’s emission policies, temperatures are expected to rise more rapidly, causing more prolonged and hotter heat waves.
Periods of extreme heat and higher temperatures increase heat stress, respiratory illnesses, and heat-related deaths. High temperatures also contribute to poor air quality, particularly increased ozone in urban areas, posing a risk to people with asthma and COPD. Georgia’s rural counties will be hard hit as heat waves damage crops and stress livestock. Warmer temperatures will also increase the risk of fires and cause an increase in agricultural pests and disease.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that we can take steps to avoid the worst scenarios, and that first step is to recognize and depoliticize the problem. Remember, the EPA was started by Nixon.
Climate change is harmful to both Democrats and Republicans, evangelicals and atheists, conservatives and liberals. Now is the time to take specific measures to control emissions, find alternatives to mining and limit pollution of our air and water, if not for our sake, then for the sake of our children and grandchildren. It is imperative you hold your elected officials accountable in 2018 and 2020 for their track record and commitment to addressing climate change.
A retired Fayette County teacher, Bill Lightle is a candidate for Georgia State Senate (District 16). Dr. Ian Flitcroft taught climate science at UGA-Griffin Campus and managed the Georgia Weather Network. Jack Bernard, a retired SVP with a healthcare firm, is the former Director of Health Planning for the State of Georgia.