Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
September 16th, 2017
As many of you I am sure, I sat watching cable television news last weekend, mesmerized by what seemed like the slow-motion destruction of much of the state of Florida by Hurricane Irma. While the devastation lived up to its billing as the strongest and largest hurricane ever recorded, there was remarkably little loss of life – a dozen dead in early reports in the U.S. and at least 36 people killed as the storm swept through the Caribbean Islands.
Yet in the many, many hours I watched, only one time did I hear any mention of the 800 pound gorilla in the room - climate change. That was when an anchor asked MSNBS weather man Bill Karins what role climate change might have in this impending disaster. Either under instructions- or because he didn’t want to be controversial – Karins deflected the question and suggested this subject would be studied by experts in the weeks to come.
At that moment, I decided this would be my subject for today. Given the hundreds of hours the three major cable news channels were devoting to Hurricane Irma, and earlier to Hurricane Harvey – why would they not want to allocate substantial time to the scientifically proven reasons there had been two history making hurricanes in the space of two weeks?
Perhaps I missed it but neither in the day time hours nor in prime time did I see any discussion of the subject that no one dares to mention. Climate change didn’t cause these hurricanes- but it did definitely cause them to be as big and as destructive as they became.
Don’t take my word for it. Michael E. Mann, is professor of atmospheric science at at Penn State University and is recognized as one of the world’s experts on climate change. As he wrote in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,
“While we cannot say climate change ‘caused’ Hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say is that it exacerbated several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life. Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.”
NPR’s science correspondent Christopher Joyce, recently reported in layman’s terms on why it matters that the oceans are getting warmer. “Heat drives storms. The more heat you have, the bigger storms you have. What happens is hot water creates water vapor. You know, a cup of coffee - it's got vapor coming off it. So the water vapor rises….and that's what creates the conditions for a hurricane…..and the hotter the oceans, the more fuel you'll get for the hurricane.”
These are established facts. The oceans are getting warmer and sea levels, globally, are rising. Is such analysis so subversive that it should not be a subject for serious discussion amidst many hours of frankly, often overly repetitive news coverage?
At least one person at a high level of the Trump administration apparently thinks so. Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency says, ”To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people or actually facing the effect of the storm is misplaced” He added, “To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to the people of Florida.”
In response to Mr. Pruitt’s remarks, the New York Times quoted Tomas Regalado, the Republican mayor of Miami, as saying, “This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the EPA and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change,” Mr. Regalado told the Miami Herald. “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”
Mayor Regalado knows of what he speaks. His city narrowly escaped major catastrophe when Hurricane Irma unexpectedly crossed the northern coast of Cuba. This took some of the power out of the storm and shifted the direction of its eye toward the west Florida coast instead of heading directly into Miami. But he expects there will be more such hurricanes, quite possibly even stronger ones which could destroy his city.
My guess is that Mr. Pruitt, who is a total climate change denier appointed by Trump to deconstruct the EPA, was not so much concerned about the sensitivities of Floridians generally. Pruitt was trying to protect Governor Rick Scott and much of Florida’s congressional delegation who are climate change deniers in varying degrees. Likewise Texas Governor Greg Abbott and most of the Texas members of congress abhor the very words climate change. So any public discussion about man-made climate change would have taken some of the luster off their collective images of having efficiently handled the run-ups to the hurricane crises.
That would certainly be true of President Trump, who has been basking in the praise of his actions dealing with both Harvey and Irma - but whose policies concerning the environment make him the climate change-denier-in-chief. Someone who is always proclaiming he is making the country safer - while denying and even abetting the most serious long-term threat to the nation and the world – does not want to be reminded of his perfidy.
Yet the news media should not conspire in his deliberate betrayal of trust. And when the American people are being asked to come up with $200 billion to re-build big parts of Florida and Texas, their members of congress who are deniers should have their feet held to the fire. The extent to which they benefit directly and indirectly from the big oil companies and big business in return for lax environmental regulations, needs to be exposed.
But of equal importance, what needs to be exploded is that biggest of big lies, that climate change as the result of man-made greenhouse gases is a hoax. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the most positive evidence yet of just how devastating climate change can be - and will be even more so in the future.
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