Moody’s analytics expect the total cost of both hurricanes Harvey and Irma to exceed $150B, roughly on par with the cost of hurricane Katrina. Economies affecting millions of people are disrupted, infrastructure is damaged, property is lost, and many lives are in danger both during the storm and during the aftermath if there are food supply shortages and people are vulnerable to looting in some worst-case scenarios. My mother lives in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a country that had nothing to do with the creation of global warming because of its tiny environmental footprint, yet the country I grew up in found itself fending off 185 mph winds in the strongest hurricane recorded in the Atlantic, before the hurricane died down and made landfall in America as a weaker, but still significant storm. This was the first time in history two category five storms were recorded in the Atlantic in the same month, and now with the formation of Maria, it is up to three category 5 storms in a month’s span. Climate scientists agree that both the strength and frequency of these superstorms are likely to grow, thanks to human activity driving climate change. Once upon a time (as in before last month), category 5 storms occurred once or twice every few decades. As I am writing this article, a week after the category 5 destruction of hurricane Irma in the Turks and Caicos Islands, they now await landfall of hurricane Maria, previously a category 5 storm and predicted to drop to a 4 by the time it hits us.
Will investing resources into STEM education directly result in a dome around America protecting us from all the effects of global warming? No. However, given our history as a species, I am a firm believer in our ability to adapt to changing environments and antagonistic conditions once we wholeheartedly decide it is time to fix a given problem, however right now America’s students do not crack the top 20 in world rankings in Math, Science or Reading. America has one of the largest populations in the world, so on a global scale, a significant amount of people are receiving a substandard education which will likely result in long-term ingenuity shortfalls as we receive a worse education than our international counterparts. By providing an inferior education to large segments of our population, we are missing out on the potential innovators of tomorrow that could be developing ways to combat climate change while reducing our dependence on finite fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, a major reason why we haven’t made the necessary steps to address the problem is that we do not agree that climate change is an issue and human activity is contributing to it. Only 13% of self-identified conservative Republicans understand that it is an easily verifiable fact, that scientists around the world near-unanimously agree that human industrial activity is causing climate change*. Additionally, while 70% of liberal Democrats trust scientists to give accurate information about climate change, that number falls to 15% for conservative Republicans. Generally speaking, according to trusted, peer-reviewed polls, conservative Republicans are not aware of what scientists actually believe, nor do they trust what scientists actually say.
In the 1960s-70s, America realized it was responsible for about 70% of world production of CFCs* (gases that deplete our ozone), and the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer could threaten the existence of the humans on earth. By 1996, America’s CFC output was near zero, and scientists can now confirm that our ozone layer is no longer shrinking, and the hole looming over Antarctica has shrunk by 10%*. As the Nazis gained momentum in World War II, the world woke up and united against their genocidal agenda. After the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when mainstream news attempted to convince us the zombie apocalypse had arrived, by early 2015, we contained the spread. All three instances are evidence of our ability to adapt to or reverse unfriendly conditions.
Cattle are estimated to be responsible for 38% of the world’s agricultural greenhouse gases, and earlier this year, a university-led study discovered a chemical that could be added to cows’ diets to significantly reduce the amount of methane they produce*. Hemp absorbs carbon dioxide (the most prominent greenhouse gas) faster than any other plant, can be used as biofuel to replace fossil fuels (that emit greenhouse gases), and can be grown extremely cheaply in almost any environmental condition, while giving farmers an extremely profitable product that can be converted to building material, food, clothing and even paper. France recently announced that they intend to end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040. We are already in the process of developing technology and tools to reverse and deal with global warming with limited resources, imagine what we could accomplish if we decided as a country, and planet, to tackle the problem head-on.
For those of you questioning whether or not global warming really had anything to do with the sudden increase of category 5 storms, while it cannot be directly listed as the sole cause of Harvey, Irma or Maria, there is plenty of scientific evidence available with a quick Google search that it has at minimum deeply exasperated the problem as increased temperatures have resulted in more water vapor, that has led to bigger, more powerful storms. As our planet continues to warm because of the gases we put into the atmosphere, scientists have been saying for years that storms will continue increasing in size and strength as the earth’s temperature warms further – so keep that in mind as you hear Republican politicians claim nobody could have seen Harvey, Irma, Maria or Katrina coming.
Less than 2 in 10 Conservative Republicans understand what scientists say about climate, or believe what they are saying, and unfortunately, they currently control all three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial. In order for any progress to be made, we either need to convince the current representatives that human-driven climate change is a problem worth addressing or replace them with politicians that agree it’s an issue, and have a strategy to address it with the ability to get it done. In the coming years, the world will be working on green energy initiatives, while simultaneously attempting to mitigate the effects we believe cannot be avoided at this point, but the United States government recently pulled out the Paris Climate Agreement, and large segments of the population and our government are actively fighting against efforts to save the environment as we know it. Turks and Caicos Islands, many other low-lying countries across the world, and coastal cities, together currently make up a significant amount of our population, and sea level rises are threatening their continued existence. We face many challenges, but if we are investing in the education of the next generation and attacking the issue from every angle possible, there is no doubt in my mind that we can beat every one.
- Fortune.com: “Climate Change didn’t Cause Hurricane Harvey, but it Made it Worse” – Suzana Camargo, Adam Sobel (Aug 29th, 2017)
- The Weather Channel: “America’s Success Story In Saving Ozone Layer Has Added Climate Benefits, Study Says” Pam Wright (Aug 17th, 2017)
- The Atlantic: “What Americans Really Think About Climate Change” Robinson Meyer (April 22nd, 2017)
- Pew Research Center: “Trust in Scientists is low among Republicans, considerably higher among liberal Democrats” (Sept 30th, 2016)
- University of Lethbridge: “University-led study looks to reduce methane gas emissions in cattle” (July 12th, 2017)
- The Huffington Post: “Hemp, and lots of it, Could Be One Climate Change Solution” Graham Hill (3/18/2010)
- The New York Times: “France Plans to End Sales of Gas and Diesel Cars by 2040” Jack Ewing (7/6/2017)