The nightmare of Harvey and climate change

Parts of the Houston area set a record for rainfall from Harvey storm in the United States. The unofficial five-day total in some Texas locations reached 51 inches on Tuesday. That easily tops the previous five-day record for the contiguous U.S. in Medina, Texas, into 1978. The flooding has resulted in at least 30 deaths, with more than 30,000 people forced from their homes, 3,500 people were rescued from the Houston police. Hundreds of thousands of people will require federal help for several years. Greg Abbott, governor of Texas, calling Harvey “one of the largest disasters America has ever faced”.
harvey climate change

The question of whether human-caused climate change might have contributed to what is the worst flood in the history of the United States is already circulating. Some scientists have pointed to the tropical storm as further evidence of the dangers of climate change. 

World Weather Attribution is considering whether to conduct a similar “attribution analysis” of Tropical Storm Harvey once all rainfall figures are recorded. Climate scientists say singling out this one hurricane as a global-warming-driven anomaly would be a mistake. But they also argue that climate change can worsen the hurricanes that do occur. Precipitation events have been on the rise in recent decades and several have been shown to be more likely because of climate change. Penn State University professor of meteorology, Michael Mann, state that warming temperatures “worsened the impact” of the storm. Human-caused climate warming increased the intensity of the torrential Louisiana rains by at least 10 percent, according to a team of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and partner scientists with World Weather Attribution. The same report stated that the likelihood of such an event had been raised 40 percent by global warming.

Despite all this data, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is “premature” to conclude that there has already been an increase in Atlantic-born hurricanes due to temperatures that have risen globally. However, researchers are also increasingly certain that the warming of the atmosphere and oceans is likely to fuel longer or more destructive hurricanes. While the number of hurricanes may actually fall, scientists warn the remaining events will likely be stronger. Kevin E. Trenberth, Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said as much as 30% of Harvey’s rainfall could be attributed to global warming.
While it all seems purely to do with technical matters, there are nonetheless considerable political implications and politics can also be affected by matters of organisation that highlighting in particular the health risks for people.

Barack Obama’s administration established the Federal Flood Risk Management Standards, a rule that sought to flood-proof new federal infrastructure projects by demanding they incorporate the latest climate change science. Obama’s regulation meant roads, buildings and other infrastructure needed to be constructed to take climate change into account and be built to withstand the effects of such climate change, including rising sea levels in coastal areas. Last week, Trump announced he would scrap the rule. Donald Trump signed away Obama-era flood standards just weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, in a bid to get infrastructure projects approved more quickly.

In defiance of the spirit of this important Directive, conservative groups have mobilized to downplay or mock any association between the storm and climate change. The Heartland Institute, a prominent conservative group that produced a blueprint of cuts to the EPA that has been mirrored by the Trump administration’s budget, quoted a group of scientists to ridicule the climate change dimension of Harvey.

But in the meantime in USA thousands of people are homeless and are without work. In South Asia monsoon rains and heavy flooding have killed upwards of 1,400 people in the past month, affecting 40 million people across the region.

Unfortunately nature is taking a devastating toll in both the U.S. mainland and in countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Directly attributing these individual weather events to global warming is a tricky undertaking for scientists. Anyhow more precipitation in less time, as well as in changing geographies in some cases, is surpassing the preparations and coping capacity of the communities.

The media must remain free from ties, agreements and conventions in order to maintain its integrity. On the contrary, in relation to Asia and USA, the media is getting very different treatment about dead people in floods. This is what happens when we speak truth to power and when west magazines don’t care about million people living in poverty!

More images at this New York Times article.

Massimiliano Fanni Canelles

Viceprimario al reparto di Accettazione ed Emergenza dell'Ospedale ¨Franz Tappeiner¨di Merano nella Südtiroler Sanitätsbetrieb – Azienda sanitaria dell'Alto Adige – da giugno 2019. Attualmente in prima linea nella gestione clinica e nell'organizzazione per l'emergenza Coronavirus. In particolare responsabile del reparto di infettivi e semi – intensiva del Pronto Soccorso dell'ospedale di Merano. 


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