The 2017 Hurricane Season And The Connection To Global Warming

Hurricane Irma has caused devastation in the Caribbean, affecting an estimated 1.2 million people and leaving at least 25 dead. On Friday, September 8th, the small island of Barbuda was decimated by the deadly Category five storm, destroying 95% of its buildings and leaving half of its residents homeless, according to BBC News. However, neighbouring Antigua, with a population of 80,000, was not affected after Hurricane Irma averted the area and made landfall in Florida on Sunday, September 10, with Category 3 force torrential rains and 130mph winds, according to the US National Weather Service. Other islands in the Caribbean have been inundated and Hurricane Irma has sparked a humanitarian crisis in both St. Martin and Barbuda, with 60% of the homes in St. Martin now uninhabitable, reports BBC News. As a result, millions have been ordered to leave their homes and seek shelter. Evacuations have taken place across the Caribbean; one million people, including 50,000 tourists, were evacuated in Cuba and 20,000 were evacuated in the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, Puerto Rico’s three million residents were left without any electricity, gas, or safe drinking water. Hurricane Irma is one of the strongest storms to ever hit the Atlantic, and the BBC News reports that it has caused more than $10 billion in damages throughout the islands of St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the British and US Virgin Islands.

Sir Ronald Sanders, ambassador to the US from Antigua and Barbuda stated that  “we have reached out for assistance to the U.S., but I’ve been told they could not promise anything because, I suppose, they have challenges of their own in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We will have to look to the broader international community.” He estimates that reconstruction efforts could cost $150 million or more in aid following the disaster for food, shelter, and medical supplies. Nonetheless, the Washington Post reports that the US government, along with British and Dutch military authorities are showing strong support for the Caribbean in response to the catastrophe. The US military has responded to the emergency by dispatching the Army Corp of Engineers due to power outages, National Guard troops, and three Navy vessels, as well as cargo planes equipped with “thousand of pounds of supplies” to the Caribbean. They are carrying out search and rescue missions and providing hurricane victims with fuel and gas, power generators, water, and medical supplies. UNICEF reports that children are most vulnerable during a hurricane and millions of children are at risk in the Caribbean. Further, governments must bolster infrastructure in the Caribbean to become more resilient and reduce the impact of any natural disasters in the future. In order to deal with these situations more effectively, governments should prepare risk management strategies before any natural disaster occurs.

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency stated that “Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States in either Florida or some of the south-eastern states,” as “storm surge has the highest potential to kill the highest amount of people and cause the most amount of damage.” Following the destruction in Houston, Texas, caused by Hurricane Harvey, which is considered one of the most destructive hurricanes in US history with a death toll of 30, the White House is requesting $14.5 billion from Congress for recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana. Further, Harvey is predicted to be the most expensive storm in US history, with estimates upwards of $190 billion, according to The New York Times.

Haiti, who is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, was also impacted by the storm. Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti on October 4, 2016, affecting 2.1 million people and leaving Haiti’s Southern peninsula in devastation. BBC News also reports that Haiti’s South was 90% destroyed. Hurricane Matthew caused an ecological disaster and obstructed Haiti’s struggling agriculture, stripping many farmers and fisherman of their livelihoods. Moreover, the majority of Haiti’s rural population rely on subsistence agriculture to make a living and to obtain food. Sustainable agriculture practices and technological enhancements are imperative as climate change will increase the challenge of meeting agricultural demands in Africa and around the world. Governments must bolster infrastructure in the Caribbean to reduce the devastation of potential future natural disasters. Again, governments must prioritize risk management prior to natural disasters, which is much more effective than waiting for natural disasters to occur then solving the problem afterwards. Additionally, the UN sent the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) to Haiti after the disaster. Germany is one of the biggest donors to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, which was established specifically for natural disasters, providing $55 million to the Fund in 2016, according to Deutsche Welle.

Although hurricanes are not an anomaly, the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Hurricane Harvey in the US may be signs of a warming Earth. Climate change has caused major disruptions to natural ecosystems around the world. We have seen extreme weather patterns throughout the globe caused by human activities that have led to rising sea levels, ocean acidification, temperature rise and desertification. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) states that we reached a level of 404.48 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere as of December 2016, surpassing the planetary boundary of 350 ppm. Combating climate change is also imperative as it threatens regional food security; climate change and global warming can have destabilizing effects, as rising temperatures will diminish the world’s’ ability to feed itself by reducing agricultural productivity and water availability. Coastal zones and marine ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to climate change. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), about 25 % of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions end up in our oceans and our oceans are 30% more acidic than in the preindustrial period. Consequently, ocean acidification interferes with critical ecological cycles as they put coral reefs, one of the world’s most important ecosystems, at risk of annual bleaching. The UNEP also states that current world fishing practices are unsustainable as 30% of the world’s fish stocks are over-exploited.

The government must implement laws and regulations that help accelerate the transition towards sustainable energy. However, there appears to be a lack of political will in the US and around the world. Senator James Inhofe, who is the Chair of the Senate Environment Committee is a prominent denier of climate change and called climate change the greatest hoax, according to the Washington Post. One of his criticisms of global warming is that parts of eastern US had colder than normal temperatures in 2015, which to him implies that Earth is not, in fact, getting warmer. What Inhofe fails to recognize is that climate change causes extreme weather patterns, which is why we’re witnessing extremes on both ends of the spectrum. Furthermore, the effects of climate change and global warming are slow and gradual; because climate change is occurring at a global scale, it’s hard to place the blame on any one nation. With that said, there must be a collective, concentrated effort among nations towards combating and mitigating climate change, and a move towards sustainable energy and development. Climate change has grave consequences for the environment, and the adverse effects of climate change on the world will hinder human livelihood and the habitability of planet Earth.

Luisa Tembo