climate change, close to home

We have to make the climate message more social, because – as I said – if you only talk about glaziers and arctic ice or polar bears or Bangladesh or Pacific Islands – it’s way far for me. But if it’s something that happens in my network with something that people that I care about. Then suddenly it feels much more near and more personal, and more– Urgent too, because it’s here and now in a way.

—Per Espen Stoknes, on the You Are Not So Smart podcast

Last week on The Commons, we covered flooding in Bangladesh, a distant land far, far away. While the news in Bangladesh is terrible, Stoknes is right, it’s just not close enough to home. The opposite is also true – I’m feeling particularly disturbed about the floods happening so close to home and affecting people I know. Maybe these psychologists are onto something.

These storms delivered heavy rainfall, dangerous winds, and persistent flooding across Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere. At least 20 people were killed. In Missouri, this seemed a lot like a case of déjà vu, because we were hit with a remarkably similar storm system in late December 2015.

Interstate 55 in 2015 vs. 2017

Scientists won’t know the exact extent to which climate change played a role in these storms unless they do an “attribution study”. An attribution study of last August’s deadly Louisiana’s storms—classified as a 1,000-year storm in the worst-hit areas and a 500-year storm in others—found that human-caused climate warming increased the chances of the torrential rains by at least 40 percent.

And these floods are costly. Missouri alone has been affected by four separate billion-dollar flood events in the last decade. And if, for some reason, you’re thinking this cost doesn’t affect you, here are all the ways taxpayers chip in for events like this:

  • Relief funds for clean up and aid for flooded areas
  • Federally-subsidized flood insurance
  • Investment in making the regions more resilient to future storms and floods

And while local news coverage recognizes the cost of the storms, our media organizations stop short of making the connection between our greenhouse gas emissions and these “natural disasters”. Thankfully, climatesignals.org has it broken down for us:

  • Climate change loads storms with more rainfall, increasing the threat of flooding.
  • A warmer atmosphere holds and dumps more moisture. Measurements of water vapor in the air during the storm were extraordinarily high.
  • Increasing extreme precipitation is an observed global trend firmly attributed climate change. This storm dumped a wide swath of 100- to 1,000-year rainfall
  • Flooding is increasing in both severity and frequency throughout much of the Mississippi and Missouri River Basins in connection with extreme rainfall.
  • Extreme events driven by natural variability and amplified by climate change are consistent with what climate science projects in a warming world.
  • Climate change may be linked to the slow-moving nature of events such as this by driving changes in atmospheric circulation.