Opinion\Reporter Journal\Zhao Huanxin

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma leave destruction and a warning

By ZHAO HUANXIN | | Updated: 2017-09-12 01:45

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma leave destruction and a warning

Women use plastic garbage bags as waders on a flooded street following Hurricane Irma in North Miami, Florida on Monday. REUTERS / CARLO ALLEGRI

It is sobering to learn that Florida, known among Chinese for being a popular tourist destination and a place where heads of state of the two countries held their first meeting in April, is being devastated by the Hurricane Irma.

Before Irma barreled toward south Florida on Sunday, Chinese netizens in the blogosphere had expressed concerns about the Sunshine State, whose low elevation and 1,000 miles of coastline have made it one of the world's most vulnerable regions to sea-level rises and extreme weather events driven by global warming.

The reality on the ground now – rows of inundated streets, thousands of evacuees and billions of dollars of property losses—is more thought-provoking. While it is important to deal with the aftermath of an immediate disaster, like moving people out of harm's way and offering aid, it is equally important to heed nature's warning and learn a lesson for long-term safety.

Against the backdrop that the Trump administration has opted to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris accord to curb global warming, critics have claimed that Florida's Republican governor has ignored climate change risks and possible impact on the third-most-populous US state.

"The science has been brought on a silver platter to Governor (Rick) Scott, and he's chosen not to do anything," the Chicago Tribune reported last Friday, citing Kathy Baughman McLeod, a conservation expert who served on the Florida Energy and Climate Commission, which was effectively dismantled after Scott took office in 2011.

Chinese media have presented a series of reports on the devastation wrought by back-to-back hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and on the governments' relief efforts, including President Donald Trump's monitoring of the gargantuan Irma 24/7 on Sunday.

Most conspicuously, Beijing's State broadcaster, its news agency and leading national newspapers like the People's Daily, have, citing either their reporters' accounts or climate scientists and meteorologists from Germany and the United Sates, tried to connect the dots between the extreme weather disasters and climate change.

The Chinese reports and predications are basically prudent. One analysis quoted the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, which doesn't directly link climate change to the hurricanes, but said their impacts were "very likely worsened due to human-caused global warming".

Also, widely reported was a statement from the World Meteorological Organization, which said that hurricanes in a warmer climate are likely to become more intense, and category 4 hurricanes like Harvey will more likely increase over the 21st century.

In contrast, some US news outlets are bolder – or quieter to some extent, according to a report of Quartz, a digital US news outlet. It said on Sept 9 that major news networks, like ABC and NBC, are failing to explain that Hurricane Harvey was fueled by climate change, and "in doing so, they are helping to keep the climate crisis a quiet crisis".

Quartz pointed out that while Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt chided journalists for connecting Harvey to climate change, those who did so were performing an essential public service.

Hurricane Harvey killed at least 70 people in Texas and Irma claimed the lives of 24 when it hit the Caribbean last week before boring through Florida.

Marianne Lavelle of InsideClimate News, said on Sept 8 that the toll on Texas and risks to Florida from massive storms in an era of global warming did little to sway officials who deny climate change.

That probably has prompted the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environment advocacy group in New York, to call for making hurricanes Harvey and Irma turning points in the fight for climate action.

It's safe to say that one can learn many things from a single disaster for the good of the future, let alone the one-to-two punch of Harvey and Irma.

Their catastrophic destruction should serve as a wake-up call for political leaders as well as residents to ramp up efforts in disaster preparedness, and in the long run, reducing global warming.

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