On Monday, Shellbie Johnson, 4 years old, began to have trouble breathing. Her wheezing quickly turned into a full-blown asthma attack. Every mother of a child with asthma knows that heart-stopping sound, as a child struggles to fill her lungs with air. Struggles to stay alive.
Sarah Johnson raced her toddler to the emergency room -- in the middle of an unfolding catastrophe the likes of which the people of Moore, Oklahoma had never seen. Their entire town was struggling to stay alive. The tornado that slammed into Moore has claimed at least 24 lives -- at last count. At the hospital, the ER nurses were hunkered down on the ground; Sarah threw a mattress over her daughter to protect her as they huddled against a wall and took a direct hit from the twister.
As a parent, my heart breaks for all the lives torn into pieces by the twister. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Moore.
As a person who is profoundly concerned about the way we are messing with nature -- my heart breaks again. No one is going to tell you that climate change causes a particular tornado. That would be silly. It is hard to know yet whether we'll see fewer tornadoes in some places because of less turbulence-causing wind shear, or more tornadoes because of more heat and humidity. Texas' recent drought may have meant fewer tornadoes.
But every climate scientist today is concerned about the extreme weather events we are experiencing; they are happening in the context of climate change. Those twisters remind us of the savage power of the natural world.
Doing something about climate change is not going to help the people whose lives are already upended by tornadoes -- or floods, hurricanes and droughts. But no parent can simply throw up her hands and ignore the trouble we are racing right into -- because someday, in the not too distant future, each and every one of us will be imperiled.