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Editorial: Recent weather patterns linked to unaddressed climate change

While millions of people are still fighting against severe flooding and hurricane devastation in a handful of countries, news reports are turning their eye toward new storms gaining momentum. It seems that the world can’t catch its breath under the onslaught of big storms. Questions of ‘why?’ are now cropping up, and the familiar ring of “climate change” is sounding from the scientific community.

A common dissent against the reality of climate change is based on the misunderstanding of weather versus climate. Weather tracks the short-term fluctuations of our day-to-day experience. Climate concerns those long-term trends and averages of weather patterns — usually over a few decades of time. Weather means that some days you’ll be cold when you go outside, despite hearing that global “warming” is a growing problem. The global climate is warming, which causes problems for overall weather trends, rather than each day at a time.

Climate change as an isolated factor does not cause more hurricanes. However, there is wide consensus among scientists that the warming of oceans is affecting the devastating impact of these hurricanes. This is why conversations about climate change are crucial. Storms are escalating into hurricanes quicker, and their impacts are growing to devastating levels.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean stretches between June 1 and Nov. 30 with an average of 11 storms throughout a season. In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) upped the estimate to “above average” and hypothesized that as many as 19 big storms could occur in the 2017 season. NOAA further explained that five factors impacted this change in activity, including warmer sea surface temperatures and enhanced storm activity from June and July.

TIME writes that a “widely accepted physical law established centuries ago” helps to explain why warmer oceans are so devastating. This is the Clausius–Clapeyron equation. Simply put, this equation suggests  that the atmosphere can hold seven percent more water with each 1 degree temperature increase. While seven percent isn’t a scary number, its climatology implications could equate to a few trillion more gallons of rainfall from hurricanes like Harvey.

Without the impacts of climate change on our planet, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma would still have been intense storms. But warmer oceans means more water, thus more rain and flooding. NPR reports that “…heat is the fuel that takes garden-variety storms and supercharges them.” The Atlantic Ocean has been, in some parts, anywhere from 0.5 to 1.0 degrees warmer than average.

We are feeling the effects of global climate change. Regardless of how we want to explain climate change, we need to have more meaningful conversations about the implications for more severe storm seasons in the future. This is much more difficult than it sounds and should be.

President Donald Trump has been unclear with his views on climate change. In November 2011, Trump tweeted that snow in New York was an indication that global warming isn’t real, posting “So much for Global Warming.” Trump suggested throughout 2014 and 2015 that global warming is a hoax — created by the Chinese government, expensive and taking away jobs. During his election campaign, Trump suggested that humans may have an impact on climate.

So far, Trump has claimed support of individual issues like clean air and water, without directly affirming that climate change is a serious issue. He claims to be “open” on the issue. But openness is not what we need from our president. We need action. We need the firm hand that Trump prides himself on. What we’ve seen instead falls short.

Before Hurricane Harvey was coming toward U.S. land, Trump signed an executive order which rolled back an Obama-era policy that directly addressed flood-risk in public infrastructure. This policy aimed to put pressure on infrastructure projects. Contractors would need to take into account the likelihood of rising sea levels, ensuring that buildings would be better equipped to handle storms, like Hurricane Harvey.

The policy, signed in 2015, hadn’t taken effect yet — but Trump has signed to cut it, despite overwhelming evidence from this past month alone that we need to better prepare for natural disasters in this changing world. Trump cited the quick, inexpensive building of infrastructure as backing for his decision. Obama had explained this policy in part as a safeguard against wasting American dollars put into infrastructure projects, as well as the best choice to approach rising sea levels.

The conversation about money has merit, but safety of American citizens should precede all talk of taxes and “quick” building. With the continued devastation happening globally, we need to confront climate change head-on and take informed action — to protect American money and efforts, but more importantly, their lives.

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