As Hurricane Ida accounts for the sixth tropical cyclone to reach landfall since the start of 2020, it raises concerns that climate change is exacerbating the strength of hurricanes. Ida revealed how limited research, poor electrical infrastructure and a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities permeates Louisiana.
As hurricanes sweep across land and obliterate everything in their path, their potency is an omen of what global warming may have in store for humanity.
Congress and the Biden administration will need to ensure that climate change is a top priority. It is critical for Congress to acknowledge that hurricanes are a result of climate change if the country wants to move forward in taking climate change action.
Tackling climate change will not only mediate the effects of hurricanes, but it will address infrastructure issues, energy inefficiency, vulnerable coastal habitats and social inequality.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it caused a catastrophe that ignited a possible correlation between tropical storms and climate change. Climatologists lacked scientific evidence to directly credit the hurricane to global warming. However, they hypothesized that since ocean temperatures increased by more than one degree Fahrenheit, the warmer water is a catalyst to the formation of hurricanes.
Last year, Hurricane Laura left a lasting impression when it surged from a Category 1 to Category 4 hurricane within 24 hours. It was forecasted to peak at a Category 2 storm.
When Hurricane Ida reached land, it escalated at a similar rate and gained its momentum from above average 85-degree water temperatures from the Gulf of Mexico. With heat as an energy source it fuels hurricanes to perform like a Formula-1 race car.
Global warming altered the characteristics of storms with higher winds, increased rainfall and a wider range of inclement weather with more volatility.
Hurricane Ida exposed the vulnerability in Louisiana’s power grid where hundreds of thousands of people were left without power. Louisiana’s primary electrical source, Entergy, is working to restore power in the state.
However, this does not change the power structure and leaves gaping holes in the future. In contrast, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric has begun to move their power lines underground to avoid further fire damage.
Superficial preparations would prolong power outages unless alternative energy sources and structural planning are implemented. As power outages and patience wears thin, communities of color are deeply affected by disasters.
Congress is currently debating climate change legislation that could significantly greatly reduce greenhouse gases. However, given the nature of hurricanes, fires and floods, it is unconscionable that this would even be a debatable issue.
To no surprise, the costs of hurricanes are not doled out equally. Low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by natural disasters. Not only are they more vulnerable, but they are the communities that struggle the most to recover.
According to the research group, Brookings Institute, low-income communities are more likely to live in areas with poor infrastructure, making them more vulnerable to natural disasters, and are less financially equipped to recover, thus experiencing higher rates of poverty following disaster.
As the frequency and intensity of hurricanes continue to grow, so will the effects on marginalized communities. This goes to show the importance of governmental climate action, as we must properly address inequality and environmental racism in the United States.
Researchers are also negatively affected by these hurricanes since much of their fieldwork is destroyed. It’s forcing research to be relocated from coastal areas to wetlands near neighboring cities.
Unfortunately, with coastal regions being high-risk areas, many scientists fear that the relentless storms will discourage researchers from locating there to conduct necessary fieldwork. These areas need to be studied, so scientists can fully understand the ecological impacts of storms and climate change along the coast.
However, the imminent threat of disaster due to climate change has become a barrier to scientific progress.
Although hurricanes can’t be prevented, other actions can be taken to slow the effects of climate change. For example, we can implement substantive climate change reforms. This year the United States has once again signed the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement among 196 parties to limit global warming.
Congress needs to pass the proposed Climate Change bill now. It is part of a $3.5 trillion budget that will invest in climate policy and social programs. This bill promises to move the US to 80% clean energy, eliminating coal-fired electricity by 2030 which would be a major step in reducing global warming.
If this does not pass, voters would have to push for climate change reform as the Earth continues to collapse under our watch.