I’m no scientist. I can barely explain the difference between velocity and acceleration. I can never remember which are stalagmites and which are stalactites. I don’t understand how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, except for on a spiritual/metaphorical/literary level.
But I can tell you a thing or two about the weather.
Growing up in New England, we had a continental climate – four distinct seasons. In the summer, it was hot. In the fall, the leaves changed colors and the air chilled. In the winter, it snowed – sometimes a lot. And in the spring, the renewal process began.
And so it went. Reliably. Every year. It was all very poetic.
There were no hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, droughts, wildfires – nothing. Nothing too extreme. Nothing property- or life-threatening. At worst, we’d get a blizzard here and there, but for me, that usually just meant that I didn’t have to go to school. Not the worst thing in the world.
I actually remember there was a particularly bad thunderstorm one night. My brothers and I were all huddled in my parents’ bed – a real Sound of Music moment. My older brother, who’s still one of the smartest people I know, decided that this was a teachable moment for me. He explained how ideal the weather conditions were for spawning a tornado. He went on to further explain how devastating it would be if one did touch down. We could easily go down into the basement, but the house probably wouldn’t survive the hit.
I was rightfully terrified, but we made it through the night with no tornadoes and the house in tact. By morning, the city was back to normal, as it had always been.
Long story short, the weather was never a regular source of anxiety or contention for me – until I moved to Texas. I was 11.
The first year we moved to Houston, I was stressed. Not because of my new school or my new neighborhood – because of the weather.
It seemed as though it could never just rain in Texas. There was always a thunderstorm accompanying the rain. And not just any thunderstorm – a severe one. And what do severe thunderstorms entail? I’m glad you asked. These storms bring with them the potential for heavy rains and flash flooding, formidable gusts of wind, golf ball-sized hail, and tornadoes.
So as you can imagine, I couldn’t deal.
What ended up happening was I became a bit obsessive. If something was coming, there was nothing I could do about it, but I could at least be ready for it. I figured I could get ahead of the anxiety and fear. I rightly assumed that if I knew more about what the hell was going on out there, it wouldn’t seem as scary.
And it helped. I would often have The Weather Channel playing on the TV.
I learned about the different seasons – first came tornado season, followed by hurricane season.
I learned about how hurricanes form and why they tend to be stronger and bigger later in the season.
I read about past storms and the devastation they left in their paths.
I saved beautiful pictures of fork lightning and marveled at how difficult those shots must have been to capture.
I poured over images of destruction every time a tornado would touch down in the Kansas.
I went even further and started looking at tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions…you name it.
But at the end of the day, I had managed to desensitize myself to the clouds and the warnings. I realized that with all of the storms that had passed through, I had survived them all. I started to understand that weather people are so dramatic sometimes. I had found strength and courage in knowledge.
But let’s skip ahead ~18 years to today.
As the city of Houston is barely recovering from Hurricane Harvey, Irma is churning her way towards Florida. Irma’s the biggest and strongest storm any of us have ever seen in the Atlantic, and she’s not slowing down. The forecasts are grim, and all of Florida is on edge. Several islands in the Caribbean have already been leveled – and that’s not a hyperbolic statement.
President Trump said Irma will be “not good.” (Again, why do we care what this guy has to say…?)
She’s already record-breaking, and she hasn’t even made landfall on the mainland yet.
Just as Harvey was record-breaking.
Just as Sandy was record-breaking.
Just as Katrina was record-breaking.
Just as Houston has suffered from several record-breaking floods within the past few years.
All “once in a lifetime” storms.
But…you see the issue with that, right?
No, I’m no scientist. I’m not a meteorologist or a climatologist. At best, I’m an environmentalist at heart who does very little to actually help the environment besides not killing things and recycling glass bottles.
Still, I do know that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem. I know that when scientists from around the globe have consistently warned us about potential consequences of our actions – consequences that we are actively seeing play out with increasing regularity and intensity – they might be on to something. I also know that I don’t know enough about global warming or the Greenhouse Effect to say conclusively who or what caused it, but I don’t need to be an expert. We already have experts who have offered their explanations, and I’ve read those. Far be it for me to presume that I know better than they do.
As I discovered at a very young age, the more I knew about a problem, the most confident I felt facing it. Our collective knowledge is waning, but that doesn’t need to be the case.
Our planet is changing, and not for the better.
Those who deny this, more often than not, have an ulterior short-sighted motive. What reason would there be to not take energy-saving measures besides a profit-driven one? Otherwise, what would be the harm? A bit of inconvenience here and there?
One argument that many climate change-deniers put forth is that it would be too expensive to transition our industries from fossil fuels to renewables, and since climate change isn’t real, what’s the point? Of course, that’s bullsh*t. Coal factories across the nation are closing due to the fact that it’s a dying industry and it is no longer profitable. Trump wanted to appease the out-of-work coal workers during his election campaign, and his promise was to revive a dying and frankly, harmful industry in order to appease a portion of the population. But again, why give people jobs in an industry that is obsolete and no longer offers any real value?
While we’re at it, let’s bring back the railroad industry for all of those workers. And cassette tapes. And JNCO jeans. And Milli Vanilli – I bet those guys want their jobs back.
Change is good, and it’s inevitable. Now is not the time to go backwards. We’ve got to learn to roll with the punches by first accepting where we are and how we got here. We have to possess the insight to see that change is happening, and then determine what the best steps forward are. Yes, sometimes there are sacrifices and casualties. And yes, those who refuse to adapt will be left behind.
But as a nation – as a planet – we can’t afford to be stubborn or deliberately uninformed. We can’t afford to deny that which is blatantly in front of us. We can’t discredit our scientists and experts who have studied these topics in far greater detail and depth than you or I ever will.
We must come together to innovate and engineer our future. And we have to do it now.