Twin Hurricanes, Raging Fires, Covid-19. Is This Our New Normal?
By: Ari Karlin
It’s no surprise to anyone who doesn’t live under a rock that 2020 just seems to be getting worse and worse as the year goes by. However, is it only 2020 that we have to be worried about?
Throughout most of this year, we’ve had to deal with one of the worst public health crises since the 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The United States government didn’t handle the Covid-19 pandemic like they should have and now, according to the CDC, the U.S has over 5,750,000 Covid-19 cases and 177,000 total deaths. While the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the United States, we’re also beginning to feel the full effects of climate change.
Recently, a mix of strong heat waves, dry vegetation, and more than 20,000 lightning strikes have started hundreds of fires in California. At this very moment, the state of California is battling raging fires that have burned over 1.4 million acres. Two of these fires have already been ranked in the top 5 worst fires in California’s history and this is just the beginning of the state’s wildfire season.
Not only do these fires pose a major threat on their own but they’ve also led to hundreds of thousands of evacuations and poor air quality. This is really bad because during a time of an air-borne pandemic that specifically targets your respiratory system, poor air quality is the last thing that you want to have to deal with. The hundreds of wildfires have heavily impacted air quality in numerous areas and the California Air Resources Board stated that "most, if not all, major urban areas in California have been affected by poor air over the past week."
Climate change has made these annual fires far worse than usual. Since the early 1970s, California’s annual burned area has grown by nearly 500% due to climate change. According to a study published in the journal Earth’s Future, "The clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change thus far has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire.” When the temperature increases and a surrounding area becomes much drier, it becomes much more susceptible to burning. Add in a heatwave that brought one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded and 11% of California’s annual lightning in a short period of time and you get devastating wildfires.
On the Southern Coast of the United States right in the Gulf of Mexico, two hurricanes were forecasted to hit within miles of each other over a 48-hour period. There has never been anything like this before in modern meteorological history. While hurricane Marco did dissipate because
of a large wind shear in the upper atmosphere, Laura has hit the southwestern Louisiana Coast as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.
It’s crazy to think that in just 24 hours, hurricane Laura’s sustained wind speeds nearly doubled from 75 mph to 150 mph. This rapid intensification tied for the fastest on record in the Gulf of Mexico and was highly influenced by the warm ocean waters caused by climate change giving extra energy to Laura. It could be compared to eating a big and healthy meal right before a sports game for extra energy. Climate change is causing hurricanes to become much more powerful and intense by increasing rainfall, intensifying storm surge and flooding, and creating higher wind speeds. Melting sea ice has already caused sea levels to rise and this has led to storm surge and flooding being much worse than they already would be.
Nearly 470,000 homes and businesses have lost power in Texas and Louisiana due to Hurricane Laura. It’s considered to be one of the most powerful storms to hit the Gulf Coast in decades and it definitely won’t be the last. As of 5 A.M. on Thursday, a storm surge of over nine feet has been observed in some parts of coastal southwest Louisiana.
So, what does this all mean; are we destined to live in an apocalyptic world full of extreme weather events and crisis combinations leading to the 6th mass extinction? The answer is no. We still have a chance to turn things around and have a livable future. The world only has nine years left to reverse the climate crisis and in order to do so, we must act now! We have to demand that our local, state, and federal governments do something about this. We must demand an end to the age of fossil fuels and other unsustainable practices if we are to have any chance at a livable future. Vote in the November election like your life depends on it, because it does.
Ari Karlin is a 15 year old Artist & Activist with Fridays For Future Miami.