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Hurricane Harvey: Devastation, and a reminder

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on August 28, 2017
National Guard soldiers rescue stranded Houstonians from flooding in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey is a terrifying storm, unleashing torrential rain, causing massive flooding, and creating a slowly mounting death toll. Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, has been inundated. 

Is this a harbinger of things to come?

Climate scientists have been telling us for years that, due to climate change, we can anticipate more frequent intense storms. That's because on our warming planet, the oceans absorb much of the heat. Warmer water evaporates more readily, increasing the amount of humidity in the atmosphere and fueling storms.

That means greater likelihood of a future with more Harveys: heavier rainfall, more "beyond-anything-experienced" flooding, and more of the other deadly harms inflicted by intense storms. 

People trapped in flooded homes are in danger of accidents and drowning. 

Floodwaters carry dangerous substances. Depending on what they encounter, they may bear gasoline from roadways, pollutants from industrial sites and refineries, and harmful chemicals from coal ash ponds or fracking sites. 

Garbage and sewage may also join the toxic stew swirling down flooded streets and rivers, raising the risk of waterborne diseases. Drinking water sources may be contaminated. 

Even after the floodwaters recede, dangers remain. Besides the hazardous substances that may coat homes, streets, schools and other buildings, residents may contend with mold and mosquitoes, rats and other disease-carriers. The absence of electricity and clean drinking water makes the situation even more perilous.

All of these dangers remind us that we must take urgent action now against climate change:

  • Scale back our use of fossil fuels. Reject fracking, pipelines, and coal-fired power plants.
  • Reduce our need for fossil fuels. Promote fuel-efficient vehicles, mass transit options, and smart-growth planning.
  • Transition as soon as possible to clean, carbon-free energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal.

As Hurricane Harvey demonstrates, our homes, health and lives may depend on it.

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