Singer-songwriter Beyoncé Knowles spoke out on climate change at a telethon for victims of Hurricane Harvey on Sept. 12. “Natural disasters don’t discriminate,” she stated, mentioning several places around the world facing devastation. “We have to [be] prepared for what comes next so tonight we come together in a collective effort to raise our voices, help our communities, to lift our spirits and heal.”
Uttering “climate change” is controversial on its own, especially so soon after Hurricane Irma – just one recent natural disaster in a string of hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and tropical storms to hit North America. But Knowles invoked more than just a buzzword — it is of utmost importance that our nation is making long-term plans to prepare for environmental hazards like storms, flooding and freshwater management. The longer we wait, the more drastic and unrealistic measures to curb them will be in the future.
The United Nations’ disaster-monitoring system observed that India, China and the United States have experienced the most natural disasters since 1995, such as “earthquakes, storms, floods and heatwaves that either cause at least 10 deaths, affect more than 100 people or prompt the declaration of a national emergency.”
But while the number of natural disasters has quadrupled globally since 1970, fewer people are dying as a result of these storms due to advances in emergency response measures. If we can handle Harvey and Irma, we can handle anything, right? Well, it depends.
Part of it depends on if a relationship between catastrophic storms and climate change is an accurate assumption. The argument rests on the fact that hot air can hold more water particles, and that the currents, which are driven by water temperature and wind patterns, could become more intense and influence the weather further. The Union of Concerned Scientists warns that “we must adapt to the likelihood that severe storms are becoming ever more commonplace.” With this summer as an alarming data point, support for this assumption is growing.
Even if this could be disproved, there will still be monster storms, and sea levels will still be rising. The western coast of the United States, particularly California, is getting drier every year as rainfall varies unpredictably between severe rainfall and drought. If nothing else, we have not seen the end — or the worst — of the flooding.
We have the privilege of shrugging these storms off because we have the capital to repair things for our relatively small population. There are many countries that don’t, and we can see how dire these situations become. In South Asia, where the UN said natural disasters were most common, 1,200 people died and at least 41 million were affected by August’s floods. Many of these regions are agrarian and have little revenue beyond their land, but even Mumbai, India’s financial capital, was “brought… to a halt.”
It is also overlooked how simple heat can be a disaster of its own. In 2015, over 1,300 people died over the course of a week in India as a result of a heat wave. The number of days over 100 degrees has been on the rise in this region.
Houston and southern Florida did not see as many casualties, but they could relate to the pain. Record flooding in Houston led to toxic water, further complicating many victims’ search for uncontaminated water.
The most drastic solutions are only on the table if we do nothing. If we resign to a “let it flood and rebuild after” philosophy, flood-prone areas like Florida and coastal cities will be a crippling cost to the nation’s livelihood — and in the most unforgiving conditions they may become uninhabitable. If we do not harness smog-free technology and green building, residents in warmer areas will have to spend a fortune to power cooling mechanisms during the summer. Our most valuable natural resource — the water of the Great Lakes — will be sought by the international community if we do not work to build up and retain the global supply of freshwater.
From a self-preservation perspective, we need to be prepared for the world we live in if we wish to continue to be a livable country. From a humanitarian perspective, we need to be a leader in innovation and preparation. If we are not, news of a massive hurricane will become all the more unnerving.
What we are seeing in the United States — crippling floods and power outages — are a taste of what developing countries have been experiencing for years. Our struggles are as valid as they appear, but if we ignore the atrocious impact of the changing environment around the world, we will find ourselves edging closer and closer to a nation where it’s a struggle to survive the summer.
James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]