After barrelling through the Abaco Islands and the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian now creeps towards the U.S.’ East Coast. The Category 5 storm, which the National Hurricane Center (NHC) describes as “catastrophic,” held sustained winds of 185mph with gusts of more than 220mph. In perspective, that’s triple the wind speed for scientists to classify it a hurricane.
Experts project that the dangerous storm will hit areas near the Florida coast either late Monday or early Tuesday. They also expect that the storm will strike the Carolinas and Georgia and has the potential to cause significant damage to them. Estimates show that Dorian may hit southeastern coastal regions of the U.S. with 6-12 inches of rainfall. For some areas, they may even see 18 inches of rain. In such cases, Dorian could lead to “life-threatening” flash floods.
Governor DeSantis comments on Dorian
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emphasized the dangers of Hurricane Dorian’s 185mph sustained winds in a news conference on Sunday.
“That’s significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew, which reached landfall at 165mph. It’s significantly stronger than Hurricane Michael, 160mph. South Florida has had one hurricane in our history—the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935—that reached that level, and that was total destruction,” DeSantis said. “The strength of this storm cannot be underestimated.”
Hurricane Dorian acts as the fourth named hurricane of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) updated its forecast for this year’s season to say there would be a 45% chance of above-average activity during the hurricane season.
Usually, roughly 6 hurricanes hit the Atlantic every season, three of which usually become major hurricanes. However, NOAA says the Atlantic could potentially be hit by as many as nine hurricanes this year. 2-4 are expected to qualify as Category 3 storms or higher, with strong winds of 110mph or above.
Global warming exacerbates storms and hurricanes
Although scientists cannot definitively say climate change caused Hurricane Dorian, global warming does exacerbate the effects of storms and hurricanes.
According to NOAA, the past five years have been the warmest on record. And it seems like this trend will continue unless significant measures are taken. With higher temperatures comes rising sea levels, which leads to more frequent, powerful flooding. When the air gets warmer, it also increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. That causes tropical storms to intensify and produce more precipitation.
Warming is also leading storms to be much slower than before. A 2018 study found that in the past seventy years, hurricanes and tropical storms moved around 10% more slowly on average. A slower speed actually makes the effects of storms much more lethal—it gives such storms more time to wreak devastation upon the areas it is hitting, leading to stronger winds and rain and, subsequently, flooding.
Hurricane Dorian is unprecedented for the Bahamas
Although residents of the Bahamas are no strangers to heavy storms, Hurricane Dorian hits the island with unprecedented risks. Due to the storm, meteorologists report an 18-23 feet increase in water levels. Some areas, they say, could face total flooding.
Director of International Affairs for Human Rights Bahamas, Louby Georges, told The New York Times residents, terrified by the powerful storm, packed the shelters. As a result, many people have resorted to churches in Marsh Harbour. However, since the churches aren’t on the official list of shelters, Georges says there are no trained professionals to help with any emergencies, and supplies may run out as the storm worsens.
“People are sending voice notes, people are crying,” he said. “You can hear people hollering in the background.”
As Hurricane Dorian looms on the horizon, so do fears of all the possible wreckage the powerful storm may leave behind. Although there is no clear evidence that the effects of climate change are directly responsible for the strengthening of devastating hurricanes and storms, they certainly amplify the ferocity behind such natural disasters.
Greta Thunberg and fellow youth climate activists testify to Congress
This week, Greta Thunberg is making a case on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, the 16-year old climate activist met with the Senate climate crisis task force, where she testified alongside young climate activists from across the U.S.
And on Wednesday morning, the group testified before Congress again. This time, they spoke at a hearing on Climate Change Leadership, organized by the House Climate Crisis Committee and a Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
Their goal? To demand the U.S. government finally stand up against the climate crisis.
Greta Thunberg and Jamie Margolin urge politicians to unite behind science
Rather than giving prepared remarks, Thunberg kept her statement short and sweet. In under a minute, she submitted the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming to serve as her testimony.
“I don’t want you to listen to me,” she explained. “I want you to listen to the scientists.”
The report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, discusses the increasing threats of global warming. It warns that, without drastic change, the global temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030. And the consequences of that rise in temperature are dire.
By submitting the report to Congress, Thunberg made a simple statement — there’s no time to waste. “I want you to unite behind science, and then I want you to take real action.”
At her meeting on Tuesday with the Senate climate crisis task force, Thunberg made a similar demand. Speaking to Congress as a whole, she said, “I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”
Her fellow activists agree.
Jamie Margolin, the 17-year-old co-founder of the Zero Hour movement, urged Congress to forge a path to climate recovery. To her, there’s still a chance to solve the climate crisis. “But this must start today,” she said. “In fact, it should’ve started yesterday.”
And Vic Barrett, the 20-year-old member of the Alliance of Climate Education, continued the call to action. He pointed out his greatest fears about imminent climate change. How marginalized communities are the most at risk. How, for him and his friends, climate change has become a source of serious mental and physical stress.
“My culture and inheritance are slipping into the sea,” he went on, discussing the threat of rising water levels on the Caribbeans. “My people are going extinct.”
Youth take charge in climate movement
Following their statements, House Speakers commended the young activists for their leadership in the movement against climate change.
But recognition is not what they need from Congress. “We need your leadership,” said the 21-year-old conservationist Benji Backer. “You have remarkable power.”
“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride. It should fill you with shame,” said Margolin.
These testimonials are part of a greater movement initiated by young people across the globe to combat climate change. The face of the movement, Greta Thunberg will continue her efforts to incite policy change this Saturday at the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit in New York.
And on Friday, she will join thousands of other concerned young people as they march against climate change during the Global Climate Strike.
An Environmental Crisis is Looming Over the Horizon in Yemen
The civil war in Yemen has been raging on, with the UN calling it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict between the internationally-recognized government of Yemen and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has led to disease outbreaks, widespread famine, and water scarcity, all of which threaten the livelihoods of millions across the country. On top of this, it now seems to be in a time of environmental crisis.
A large portion of the death toll, which has exceeded 91,600 fatalities since fighting broke out in 2015, can be attributed to civilian deaths from extensive bombing campaigns. Countless bombs have left chemical residue which can attach to particles in the air, seep into the soil, and traverse across vast distances via wind and rain.
In the coming years, climate change and sea level rise will strike Yemen hard. This has been illustrated in the past decade by an unprecedented amount of hurricanes and back-to-back cyclones in a region where tropical storms rarely occur.
Extreme heat is affecting most of the country and will enable tropical diseases like malaria to easily spread. Biodiversity loss is also accelerating across many ecosystems.
The war has undermined critical action in few ways. First, issues like the environment have not received proper attention due to humanitarian aid being the number one priority for most international organizations.
Second, the government has been caught in a fiscal bind in recent years. It has poured all of its resources into pushing back the Houthi resistance. In August, for example, violence escalated when separatists took over the port city of Aden. Mainstream coverage of the war hasn’t helped either; despite the toll the environment is taking, it has largely ignored these issues.
“It’s certain that Yemen is one of the countries most affected by climate change,” Tawfeeq al-Sharjabi, the Yemeni Deputy Water and Environment Minister.
Solar power could help mitigate the environmental crisis
One solution that could alleviate some of Yemen’s problems is solar power. Countries that support the Yemeni government’s efforts, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been developing alternative energy which could prop up Yemen’s energy sector and save billions of dollars in the process.
International organizations have also stepped up. The World Bank is working with local communities to install solar applications in schools and other public facilities. It aims to bring electricity into the lives of over 1.3 million people while also helping Yemen meet its Paris Agreement goals by reducing carbon emissions by as much as 430,000 tons.
On the other hand, as The Cairo Review points out, the drawbacks of solar alternatives may also just push civilians back to traditional fuel sources once they are available again.
A ticking time bomb with global implications
Though many problems manifest on land, issues could soon arise in the seas. In July, the UN warned that the Safer FSO, an oil tanker abandoned in 2015, could explode from a buildup of volatile gases and leak over 1 million barrels of oil.
To put that into perspective, experts warn that it could result in a spill four times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. It would devastate the Red Sea and surrounding bodies of water, reaching as far as Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and even the coast of Egypt.
A spill of this magnitude would effectively block commerce from reaching international destinations through the Red Sea, which accounts for 10% of global trade. Furthermore, it would wreak havoc on marine life for hundreds of miles around and further exacerbate Yemen’s water crisis.
The trouble stems from Houthi control over the tanker, which has prevented maintenance from outside groups. Fortunately, a UN team was recently dispatched to assess the situation after complicated negotiations with the rebel group. Other than that, not much progress has been made.
“The danger increases with every day that goes by,” Doug Weir, policy director of the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told CNBC.
Yemen’s environmental crisis is quickly deteriorating but the country’s conflict has halted important preventative measures from being enacted—the government faces countless issues of its own. Its lack of financial flexibility means that these problems will likely persist into the near future.
Bringing solar technology into the country is a worthy initiative, but it is only one piece of the larger puzzle. Securing the Safer FSO will also require substantial effort.
Yemen needs a coordinated global response to tackle this dilemma. However, given the complexities of international diplomacy, its environmental pleas will likely yield little to no response.
Bill Gates is funding solar geoengineering research. Is it a viable climate change solution?
Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently invested in a drastic approach to lowering the surface temperature of the earth, solar geoengineering. Along with other individuals and 14 companies, he helps to fund the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) at Harvard University. The study has raised a total of $16,225,000 as of August 2019.
What is solar geoengineering?
Solar geoengineering relies on the idea that all of the heat on the earth is from the sun. Certain gasses in the atmosphere keep the heat near the planet. Gasses like carbon dioxide, in this sense, act as insulators, keeping the heat close to the earth instead of letting it escape. gasses like carbon dioxide trapping solar heat in the earth’s atmosphere too well creates the climate change trend.
From this background, two paths of dealing with climate change can be discerned. One is to reduce carbon emissions. This would decrease the amount of it that is in the atmosphere trapping solar heat. The other is to change the amount of solar heat that the earth and the surrounding atmosphere absorb initially. This is the path that solar geoengineering pursues.
To decrease the amount of solar heat that the earth absorbs, a plane would release small particles into the stratosphere, about 50 km above the earth’s surface. These particles will reflect a portion of the sunlight, theoretically creating cooler surface temperatures. However, while many researchers have run simulations, this has never been tried in the actual atmosphere. They have not yet determined the most beneficial article to use, either.
The SCoPEx Project
Later next month, the group anticipates running its first real-world experiment. While computer simulations can be highly accurate, the environment is extremely complex. Thus, running small-scale tests is an essential step before deploying this strategy on a scale that could impact worldwide temperature.
This will involve, per the research website, using a “high-altitude balloon to lift an instrument package approximately 20 km into the atmosphere.” The machine will then release approximately 2kg of naturally occurring chemicals like calcium carbonate and sulfates into the air. The release of these chemicals will create a “perturbed air mass” approximately one kilometer long and 100 meters across. This will allow for measurement of this theoretical idea in a real-world setting. Researchers will outfit the balloon with equipment to measure “aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry, and light scattering.” After particles are released, researchers will use these pieces of equipment to measure the effectiveness of this tactic.
Such a large amount of particles would have to be dispensed that they would spread to cover the entire atmosphere. Thus, this strategy would affect all countries and people on earth. All nations would have to consent in order for this strategy to be used fairly. If the particles were released into the atmosphere without the consent of all countries, it could create tension between nations, or even incite war.
Additionally, many condemn this idea as a lazy approach to dealing with climate change, because it does not address the ultimate cause of the crisis: pollution. Thus, solar geoengineering would have to be used continuously, constantly releasing more and more particles to reflect sunlight, if carbon emissions are not curbed. If carbon emissions continue at their current rates, geoengineering couldn’t be stopped without temperatures rising several degrees as soon as there weren’t particles in the atmosphere anymore.
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