I knew it was coming.. .the sudden darkness and interior silence which marks the loss of power. I filled my bath tub and several containers with drinking water, gathered firewood and prepared a store of canned food days in advance. That hurricane (tropical storm) Dorian would spare my local power lines never occurred to me, given the strength of its leading winds and the losses to our south, both of property and of life.
The lights flickered time and time and time again, and finally blinked out Saturday evening with the howling outside shuttering my small home and flattening my poor garden. As I listened to the wind and rain I heard the ominous crack of trees being bent past their limit in every direction. That evening and all the next day I watched one white spruce in particular which, were it to fall in the wrong direction, wouldn’t be stopped by wall or roof.
I got lucky, emerging from Dorian unscathed and with my property intact, everything littered with leaves ripped from their branches ahead of schedule. Everywhere I’ve gone since, there are downed trees in various stages of being cut into firewood.
It’s difficult asking people to think of climate change at a time like this, especially when you still go without power or are facing uninsured destruction, but it’s important. We as a nation or as global citizens absolutely must acknowledge our exacerbation of storms such as Dorian, and accept the responsibility thereof.
Yes, hurricanes and tropical storms struck our coastline long before the mass burning of fossil fuels, but we have endured category 5 hurricanes each of the last four years, and they’ve followed the predictions of the scientific community.
Average global temperatures have risen little over 1°C since the industrial revolution, and the majority of this warmth has been absorbed by our oceans. Hurricanes feed on warm waters in order to form, so as we’ve heated our oceans, so to have we strengthened our hurricanes. Dorian, in fact, formed over ocean water much warmer than average. Warmer air – another recipient of that 1°C – is capable of storing more moisture, resulting in heavier rainfall during hurricanes. Climate change has been melting glaciers the world over, raising sealevels and empowering storm surges, and the disasters of the last several years suggest that hurricanes are lingering in place longer than they did historically, maximizing their damage to any particular region before fading or moving on.
In summation, climate change is not increasing the frequency of such destructive storms as Dorian, but it is increasing their severity, the speed at which they form, their windspeed, their rainfall, and their capacity for destruction upon making landfall. Dorian’s total cost has yet to be calculated, but tens of billion of dollars are already expected. It has been estimated that, as climate change runs its course, such storms globally could cost hundreds of billion of dollars every year by 2030, reaching the trillions by 2060.
Our flooding of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases has, and will continue to have, consequences for food security, water security, mass extinction, refugee crises, the livability of several regions of the planet and more, but as Dorian demonstrates, it will also change our oceans, making them angrier, deadlier, and in time, entirely inhospitable.
Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author active across the Maritimes.
Shown above is Hurricane Dorian. (NASA photo)