(definitely worth 5 minutes and 42 seconds of your time)
With Hurricane Irma (now the strongest-ever hurricane in the Atlantic basin) bearing down on U.S. soil less than two weeks after Harvey made landfall, where it caused yet-to-recede record flooding in Houston and elsewhere, there’s never been a more important time to talk about climate change. It’s true that no one storm can be blamed exclusively on our warmer world, but every storm is now taking place in a system that is more likely to produce bigger, wetter storms, with rising sea level and bigger storm surges.
It’s vitally important to connect the dots, even as network television news fails to mention climate change during its breathless reporting about how the last “1-in-500-year storm was just 18 months ago,” or that “downpours in Houston have doubled in the last 30 years.” Our reliance on fossil fuels for energy is ratcheting up the amount of heat trapped by our atmosphere, and that is warming the oceans as well as the air, causing increasing evaporation and heavier, more sustained downpours.
It’s ironic that one of the biggest casualties from Harvey has been the oil industry, with 16% of U.S. oil refining capacity temporarily shuttered due to the storm, according to Goldman Sachs, and a (likely temporary) spike in gas prices. By burning oil, coal, and natural gas, we’re pushing our climate to extremes, whether that is unprecedented heat waves, wildfires, or torrential rain. 97% of climate scientists publishing in the field agree on this, whether the EPA under Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt keeps climate information under wraps on its website and refuses to fund climate-related projects, or not. According to NASA, July 2017 was the hottest month ever, even in the absence of an El Niño event, and was the 281st straight warmer-than-average month. The last time the world saw a below-average month was in 1985. This trend is not good for people.
What does that have to do with diesel fuel, the subject of our latest (and as usual, seriously silly) Don’t Just Sit There - Do Something! episode? It may seem far removed, but, everything on spaceship Earth is connected to everything else. Diesel fuel is, of course, oil-based, and oil is a fossil fuel. As it turns out, diesel vehicles are responsible for 7% of the heat-trapping pollution we produce in the U.S. - and many thousands of respiratory, cardiovascular, and cancer health problems. Diesel sounds great if you’re talking about a football player, a wrestler, a gladiator, or a movie star, but as a fuel, it has the same complications as any other fossil fuel: climate and health problems. Which (hey, there’s an upside!) means that reducing diesel use is a double win.
Hope for the Future
The good news, as always, is that humans are adaptable, and resilient. As we work to rebuild the Gulf Coast, again, and brace for impact in the Southeast, let’s remember that to actually solve the worsening problem, we need to not just rebuild our cities and our nation’s energy infrastructure, but to rebuild smarter, and transition to a clean energy economy. It’s imperative that we support each other, help the communities hardest hit, and work for a better future: one where we use our technology and ingenuity, produce less air pollution of all kinds, and keep climate change in check.