Judith Enck: Climate Change And Hurricanes

Sep 19, 2017

There were just a few days between the time when Hurricane Harvey caused historic flooding in Texas and Louisiana and when Hurricane Irma slammed into the Carribean, Florida and Georgia.

We all prayed that that the hurricanes would not kill, injure or cause massive suffering.  These hurricanes did all of that, and caused billions of dollars in damage.

During that tiny gap between hurricanes, President Trump nominated William Wehrum as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation.  In Washington-speak, if Mr. Wehrum is confirmed by the  U.S. Senate, he will be the most important federal government staff on climate change.

Mr. Wehrum is a lawyer for the energy industry. His firm represents the American Petroleum Institute and American Chemical Council – the top trade associations that oppose clean air and sensible climate change policies.  His policies are so bad that when nominated by George W. Bush for the same position, he was blocked in the Senate.

If confirmed, Mr. Wehrum will be working at an EPA that in a few months has rolled back the nation’s most important climate change rules and policies that took many years to enact.

His new boss, President Trump, claims that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government. 

He will be working for a president who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Change accord, bringing a marching band to the White House to trumpet this horrible announcement.

In other words, he will fit right in.  

These poorly informed climate change positions will cost American lives.

Our planet is warming.

Climate change does not cause hurricanes.  But, it makes them much worse in three major ways:

1.       Warmer water temperature is like rocket fuel, making storms much more intense.

2.       Warmer weather heats the water, causing more evaporation, which increases moisture in the atmosphere.  This means more rain.

3.       Melting glaciers raise sea level, making storm surges bigger and making coastal communities flood more.

A recent article in “Popular Science” put it best: “Climate change may have been the difference between being hit by a tricycle and being hit by a truck.”

There is a lot that the private sector, individuals, and local governments can do.  

But we have to be bold and move fast.

I applaud New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy for investigating Exxon Mobil’s role on climate change.

Communities are committing to 100 percent renewable energy.

A growing list of governments and  institutions have divested  from  fossil fuel investments. 

This all helps, but having the federal government actively promote the extraction and burning of oil, coal and gas will do permanent damage to our world.

If the destruction from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma does not convince the Trump administration to change course, I fear that nothing will.

Judith Enck is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.   She recently served as Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, appointed by President Barack Obama.

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