This Saturday marks the beginning of hurricane season, the six month period between June 1 and November 30 that typically ushers in the bulk of Atlantic hurricanes. The season’s opening day is a good opportunity to reflect on the significance of hurricanes, climate change, and what our role is in it all.
With freak storms like Irene and Sandy that devastated the Northeast in 2011 and 2012 and monster storms like Katrina and Rita that slammed the Gulf Coast in 2005, the question remains: what effects, if any, may climate change have on hurricanes? As coastal residents know all too well, storms such as these impact lives in ways that are unparalleled to most Americans. They have spawned legacies of destruction, grief, and poverty. Climate change may have fueled these storms, making them stronger or more intense. Looking forward, climate change is projected help fuel even more destructive storms in the near future.
Scientists project that Atlantic storms are to be more intense in a warmer world and that, in part due to sea level rise, they will cause more flooding. This means that big storms could get bigger and there may be more destruction, more people displaced, and more livelihoods ruined.
The good news is that in spite of their destructive nature, hurricanes have a propensity to also bring out the best in communities. In their aftermath, some of the greatest catastrophes to hit our country have helped write some of our greatest stories of hope, rebuilding, resilience, and community. These elements of humanity are what we need to put to work to protect ourselves and others from similar catastrophes in the future.Research has shown that the communities best equipped to deal with disasters, such as hurricanes, are the communities in which people know each other, have established working relationships with each other, and know how to communicate and collaborate with one another. These factors make a community more resilient than other factors that may seem more logical, such as wealth and education. This underscores the critical fact that people helping people is a profound and powerful experience.
This is the spirit we need to tap to mitigate and adapt to climate change. But rather that waiting for a disaster to use that latent people-power, let’s instead use it now–to organize, educate, and ultimately fight back against the big polluters fueling climate change.
As hurricane season commences, take a moment to think about what you can do or who you can talk to about helping to implement climate solutions and lessen our coastal communities’ vulnerability.