A Note On Climate Change
How many times do we need to hear adjectives in their superlative form before we spot a pattern: largest, rainiest, driest, deadliest? Records, by their nature, are not meant to be set annually. And yet that’s what is happening. The costliest year for natural disasters in the United States was 2017. One of the longest and most severe droughts in California history concluded for most parts of the state in 2017. The five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2006, with 2017 expected to be one of the warmest yet again.
I have researched climate change policy for over a decade now. For a long time, we assumed that climate policy was stalled because it was a problem for the future. Or it would affect other people. Poorer people. Animals. Ecosystems. We assumed those parts of the world were separate from us. That we were somehow insulated. I didn’t expect to see it in my own backyard so soon.
Climate change devastated ecosystems, species and neighborhoods in Houston and much of struggling Puerto Rico last year. Now climate change has ravaged one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. We know now that even the richest among us is not insulated.
These extreme events are getting worse. But when I read the news after each fresh disaster, I rarely see a mention of climate change. Whether it’s coverage of a fire in my backyard or a powerful hurricane in the Caribbean, this bigger story is usually missing. To say that it is too soon to talk about the causes of a crisis is wrongheaded. We must connect the dots.
Climate change helped cost my friends’ businesses’ revenue. Climate change helped put my community in chaos for weeks. Climate change paved the way for lost lives next door. If climate victims here and across the globe understood that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels played a role in their losses, perhaps they would rise up to demand policy changes.
We know this could happen because research from the political scientist Regina Bateson, now a congressional candidate in California, shows that being a crime victim can spur people into activism. Perhaps some of the people affected by the fires in California, the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas, and the drought in the Dakotas will be similarly motivated. Maybe some of these climate change victims will become the climate policy champions we sorely need.
It is never too soon after one of these disasters to speak truth about climate change’s role. If anything, it is too late. If we do not name the problem, we cannot hope to solve it. For my community, as much as yours, I hope we will.
Dr. William Olkowski.