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Editorial: Extreme weather indicates climate change

Prayers for compassion won't effect change

Infographic+created+by+William+Osborne+with+Piktochart.
Infographic created by William Osborne with Piktochart.

Infographic created by William Osborne with Piktochart.

Infographic created by William Osborne with Piktochart.

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As the people of the Caribbean Islands stand amid the wreckage from their respective storms, they’ll think to themselves: “Well, that was downright unpleasant and terrifying — but on the bright side, we can be assured by the fact that some random strangers out there are praying for us.”

Or so you would think, at the very least, upon observing the mainstream American response to the devastating extreme weather events that have recently dominated our cultural sphere. This September kickstarted a succession of destructive and unrelenting tropical cyclones that hit the Atlantic, tearing asunder hundreds of thousands of homes and uprooting vegetation and infrastructure alike. Most recently, as of Wednesday, Sept. 20, Puerto Ricans were confronted with Hurricane Maria, a disaster that struck a country entrenched in an already disastrous imbroglio of bankruptcy and debt.

Within the country, rescue brigades are uncovering corpses and raising the death toll on the daily. Officials are preparing to cope for months on end without electricity and subsequent communications. Puerto Ricans from the star-spangled mainland are, as a result, desperately struggling to contact their friends and family. Yet a frightening majority of the rest of us are doing nothing but populating the media with hashtags of “prayer” and “support,” while remaining blissfully ignorant — or, of our own volition, ignoring altogether — the brewing storm that is foreign aid politics, or the drowned-out cries of environmental scientists as they link together news of a capricious climate with an enlarging international crisis: climate change itself.

Sure, many know of the rudimentary basics to climate change. Most are capable of throwing around terminology like “global warming” or “greenhouse effect,” with relatively reckless abandon. Yet few understand how much of our conscious human behaviors play a part in the scientific whole. The decision to drive an energy-efficient car, or purchase LEDs and not incandescent bulbs at your local Home Depot, are both everyday actions that bear individually small yet holistically significant consequences.

The decision to drive an energy-efficient car, or purchase LEDs and not incandescent bulbs at your local Home Depot, are both everyday actions that bear individually small yet holistically significant consequences.”

Simply put, an increased greenhouse effect is what drives global warming. But the greenhouse effect in and of itself is by no means harmful to our environment; in fact, the inhabitants of this planet would freeze without it. It’s essentially the containment of certain gaseous chemicals inside our atmosphere — water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone being the five most predominant — which traps infrared and ultraviolet rays radiating from the sun, and ultimately warms our planet to acceptable degrees.

Emphasis on the word “acceptable.” Ever since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, man-made machinery has amplified the greenhouse effect to such a harmful and unnatural extent that too much heat is currently trapped within our atmosphere. That’s why you’ll hear many a progressive environmentalist criticize pro-business legislation that removes restrictions on offshore drilling, or mitigates the consequences for coal factories belching out sludge and pollutive emissions. All these processes will either directly or indirectly release more greenhouse gases, inevitably warming the earth and — let’s get back on topic now — polarizing what was once moderate and regulatory weather.

Admittedly, we cannot yet say for certain that climate change directly fuels hurricanes or any other natural disaster. But what climate change actually does is elevate global temperatures which, in turn, precipitate (no pun intended) warmer, more moist air, ultimately causing more intense downpours in a hurricane. According to Kerry Emanuel, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, several scientists believe that global warming is one of the major causes for the influx of hurricanes this year. A warmer planet also causes oceanic thermal expansion and melts land-based ice sheets and glaciers, thus raising sea levels — and intensifying existing hurricanes.

The unrelenting fact of the matter is this: by bolstering unavoidable natural disasters, human-induced climate change has made the bad even worse. According to Phil Malley, an environmental scientist at Columbia University, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are “once in 500-year storms” — meaning that a rainfall event such as these have only a 0.2 percent chance of occurring each year. If there’s anything to discredit the hemming and hawing of climate change skeptics, then it’s that statistic. Random fluctuations of weather and temperature are completely and utterly insufficient in summoning up an explanation for the eleventh hour that has befallen us.

You don’t have to be a government official or a scientist possessing a doctorate in environmental policy to make a difference.”

To make matters worse, scientists behind a 2016 study published in the journal Nature concluded that oceans will rise approximately two meters in total by the end of this century, should carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated. That’s over six feet in elevation; although it may sound like a simple figure, it’s contextually a staggering quantity upon considering the surface area we’re talking about here — that of a vast, all-encompassing ocean. If what we have now is already enough to create 0.2-percent-chance storms, then fear of what awaits us in the future is completely reasonable. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that it’d be unreasonable to be unafraid.

So let’s do something about that. You don’t have to be a government official or a scientist possessing a doctorate in environmental policy to make a difference. Everyday citizens such as ourselves can show our support for legislation that keeps big businesses and corporations in check with caps on their monthly emissions, or standards for energy efficiency. It’s entirely within the realm of anyone’s capacity to phone senators, start petitions and stay informed. Don’t allow any governmental overhaul of the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to stop you from that last one: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still out there, after all.

Upon making yourself an environmentally conscious member of our society, you can then make everyday efforts to reduce your carbon footprint. Schedule carpools; insulate and seal your home; prioritize energy efficiency when purchasing household appliances; buy more organic food; and purchase vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Start important conversations among family and friends regarding the causes and consequences of climate change — and what we can do to make it better.

Just please, don’t stop at a hashtagged prayer.

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