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Climate change: For the night is dark and full of terrors

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

After seeing what hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and, to a lesser extent, Katia have done to countries in this region over the past three weeks you cannot ignore all the signs that mankind is being affected by global warming.

Scientists are still bewildered at the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, where most affected areas received more than 40 inches of rain over four days.

The combined strength and longevity of Hurricane Irma as it churned its way through the eastern and northern Caribbean up to Florida have also provided further proof to scientists that the globe is reacting to accumulated changes in climatic conditions.

Indeed, some scientists are warning that the recent combination of Atlantic hurricanes is sending a signal of environmental damage that is likely to result in similar activity in the future.

Just this week, the Independent newspaper in Britain reported Mr Philip Williamson, Natural Environment Research Council science coordinator at the University of East Anglia, as saying: “Perhaps Harvey was happenstance, and Irma could be coincidence, but Jose following close behind has to be climate change in action. Damaging hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons occur in tropical parts of the world at the time of year when the sea is warmest. So if the world gets warmer still, the risk increases — it's as simple as that.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that sea surface temperature increased during the 20th century and continues to rise.

According to the EPA, the temperature rose at an average rate of 0.13F per decade from 1901 through 2015. In fact, sea surface temperature, the EPA pointed out, has been consistently higher during the past three decades than at any other time since reliable observations began in 1880.

Here in this region, scientists have also told us that the waters in the Gulf of Mexico are approximately 1.5 degrees warmer above what they were over the period 1980 to 2010.

In fact, Sir Brian Hoskins from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, in a recent BBC Radio 4 interview, argued that the increase sea surface temperature in the Gulf means “the potential for a stronger storm is there, and with the contribution of global warming to the warmer waters in the Gulf, it's almost inevitable that there was a contribution to that”.

While we accept that climate change may not trigger hurricanes generally, we believe that the phenomenon is influencing the impact that storms are having, including immense flooding, greater storm surges and, in the case of Hurricane Irma, stronger wind speeds.

The people among us who deny the existence of climate change should pull their heads from the sand and look at the damage that hurricanes and other weather events are having on the environment and on people's lives, particularly in developing countries with weak infrastructure and economies that are not strong enough to recover quickly.

Just this week Pope Francis raised this very issue, saying that the effects of climate change are very visible. “Those who deny it,” he said, “should go to the scientists and ask them. They are very clear, very precise.”

To those who still remain unconvinced, surely, it's better to be safe than sorry.