Social Update: Changing Weather Patterns
Hurricane Harvey is the beginning of something new. Regardless of climate change deniers and critics of the fundamental science that goes into calling for drastic changes to the way in which we interact with the world around us, the proof is right there. At the time of this writing, Tropical Depression (formerly hurricane) Harvey is still dropping precipitation on Louisiana and moving upwards into Mississippi and Tennessee. Without even being through, the storm system has dumped more than 24.5 trillion gallons of water in the United States. Imagine that number for a moment. Houston alone has received more water in the last week than half of the country has in the entire year. 24.5 trillion gallons of water is an absolutely ridiculous figure.
However, if you're familiar with the science that goes into predicting changes to the Earth like global warming, it's not so hard to understand. The Earth is getting warmer each year. Critics of climate change look from year to year and don't see the difference from one year to the other. But the temperature doesn't have to rise much in order for it to fundamentally change our planet in a variety of interesting, strange, and scary ways. By the end of this century, if predictions are correct, Earth will have warmed by four degrees Celsius. For those of us that are more familiar with Fahrenheit, that's about seven degrees. In other words, the average temperature year round would be seven degrees hotter. I know what you're thinking. The year is 2100 and the temperature has gone up a whole seven degrees. What's the big deal? Without even going into the devastating effects that seven degrees would have on our ecosystem, it would also completely change the weather in terrible ways.
Scientists say that for every single degree Celsius, the atmosphere can hold approximately six percent more water. That means that by 2100, the atmosphere will be holding, on average, 24 percent more water than it currently does. In other words, it's going to rain a lot more. Storms will be very much more likely to occur, carrying about 24 percent more water than they do right now. Additionally, as climate change warms oceans, hurricanes will pack stronger winds which will cause more damage to structures and further endanger human life. The results would be catastrophic. Not to mention that if the atmosphere carried that much extra water, it would completely change the climate that we live in, making it more humid, which would make it feel even hotter. Events like Hurricane Harvey could become the new norm very soon if things continue as they are. In fact, at the time of this writing, Hurricane Irma, currently a category 3 hurricane, is churning in the Atlantic, with some guidance models suggesting that a US landfall is inevitable. Right behind Hurricane Irma, an as of now unnamed system is also developing. Currently, we have had nine named storms this year, which puts us approximately three weeks ahead of a predicted schedule that already had us outpacing last year's totals.
In addition to hurricanes and storms, there's a lot of other things to think about when it comes to climate change. The obvious one is ice melt. From 1960 to 2015, studies show that there is now ten percent less permafrost than there was in 1960. In other words, ground that was previously permanently frozen has now thawed, primarily in the polar ice caps. This causes water to melt into the oceans and makes them rise. Eventually, land that is currently habitable today, may not be habitable in the future. We're talking about hundreds of years in the future, since ocean levels are currently rising at about two inches per year. However, if ice melt increases, this number can rise and we may start seeing eroding coast lines. In particular, Florida and parts of California are at very high risk of flooding.
Extreme weather doesn't just mean flooding and storms, though. It's the subtle changes that can be the most meaningful. Climate change also indicates that certain parts of the world will suffer from prolonged droughts and aridity while others suffer from unprecedented rainfall. This is a result of an increase in water evaporation. Places that are already arid like the Middle East and parts of the United States could be completely uninhabitable in a century. Eventually, the migration of people from their homes to other parts of the world could cause problems and war. In the United States, this obviously isn't likely. However, as parts of the middle east become untenable, migrations into other countries could become desperate, the difference between life and death. The already tense situation that we see in Europe and in other parts of the world could explode as more and more refugees flee their homes amidst war and famine. Even in the United States, as more and more land becomes uninhabitable, overpopulation will become a problem. Add into this, people fleeing areas that have flooded as a result of ice melt, and eventually you have a very serious problem.
At the end of the day, climate change presents itself as a problem that people in the future will have to figure out, and that is exactly why some people choose not to believe in it. It isn't their problem. But it will be the problem of their children and their children's children if they don't start doing something about it now. The world is at a point of no return when it comes to climate change. Change has to start now.