Can we weather the storms of climate change?

Jace Boland, Science and Technology Writer

Climate change is an established threat. It has already affected the planet in a multitude of ways and will continue to threaten civilization for decades. But what disasters can humanity expect to face in the coming years? Along with higher temperatures and rapidly rising sea levels, Earth will be subjected to more dangerous categories of hurricanes, heightened chances of drought and catastrophe, and world hunger caused by loss of agriculture. 

In 2005, The United States suffered severe losses for many years afterward due to Hurricane Katrina. Floodwalls and levees came crashing down, drowning cities and killing nearly 2,000 people. Katrina caused $108 billion in damage and displaced over one million people in the Gulf Coast Region, according to Live Science. Katrina was a category 3 storm. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions states, “For the continental United States in the Atlantic Basin, models project a 45-87 percent increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes despite a possible decrease in the frequency of storms.” Katrina, as a Category 3, was extremely destructive, but caused nowhere near the devastation Category 4 and 5 hurricanes will be. 

A Category 4 hurricane is classified by the National Hurricane Center as having winds reaching 130-156 mph that can cause severe damage to well-built homes. These strong winds can tear off roofs and even walls, snap most trees and power poles, cause power outages that can span months, and render most of the affected area uninhabitable for weeks or months. A Category 5 hurricane has winds upward of 157 mph. In the event of these winds, “a high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas,” in addition to the uninhabitability and power outage effects of a Category 4. Additionally, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions says “scientists expect a 2-11% increase in average maximum wind speed,” and, according to NASA, a nine-year period with no hurricanes Category 3 or higher hitting land in the United States will only occur once every 177 years. 

Additionally, climate and weather expect that “Greater sea levels will threaten the low-lying coastal areas such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh, millions of areas of land will be at danger from flooding; causing people to leave their homes. Low lying areas in cities will be hugely affected by the rising sea.” Climate change could also cause more shortage of water in already dry areas, and increased rainfall in wet ones. Bryce Young ’21 is “most concerned about agriculture and how the places to farm viably will decrease due to the rising sea levels and shifting environments. Our world already has troubles with world hunger and if the land we can farm on decreases, then food prices will skyrocket and more people will be impoverished leading to a higher death rate.” Brazil, most of Africa, and southern Asia’s agriculture will be slammed due to heat waves, and rising water levels will swallow agricultural land in coastal areas across the globe. In 2018, trade between Brazil and the US was estimated at $105 billion by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, as well as being the US’ 17th largest supplier of goods. A blow to Brazil’s agriculture could result in the loss of billions of dollars in trade for the United States. 

Climate change will not come cheap. While industry benefits from the pollution caused to the earth now, governments and private organizations will suffer heavy financial losses in disaster control, damage repair, and preventative measures over the coming decades. Courtney McKinley, Upper School Physics teacher, says, “Having these big climate events costs a lot of money, and eventually it [comes down to] how much we can really spend to keep mitigating the effects. How many levees can we build? How much damage control can we do?” Yale Climate Connections writes about two potential scenarios for climate change. Essentially, in one scenario, global warming is reduced to a five degree change by the end of the century, and in the other, eight degrees. The report states that the second scenario would cost the United States economy $224 billion. By comparison, $224 billion is the cost of over 4 billion barrels of crude oil, 725,250 Lamborghinis, over one million average homes, or more than a third of the US’ total trade exports in 2017.

What can be done to stop it? There are many things the average citizen can do, starting with making smarter consumer choices such as cutting out red meat, switching to sustainable energy, or growing food in a garden. However, large-scale global change needs to start with the government, corporations and other institutions. “I would like to see the government pass the Green New Deal and other legislation that would address the full scope of the climate emergency,” says Rohan Mandayam ’23, “it’s essential that we as human beings collaborate to stop the climate crisis before we reach a global temperature rise that cannot be reversed. I am confident that once people understand the scale of this crisis, they will help to combat it.” While the world is rapidly deteriorating without a doubt, it is not beyond saving. McKinley believes there is still hope — and that that hope resides within the next generation. “I think [it] is so powerful, that the youth — the people that this is going to affect the most — are saying ‘No,  we’re not going to stand for this, we’re about to be old enough to vote, so you’re either going to get it together and put the rules in place that we want to see, or you’re not going to be around to be in these positions of power.’” Though prospects are grim, it isn’t too late to work against the deterioration of the weather and the planet. It’s crucial for any hope of a brighter future to stand on the side of the earth and to refuse anything less than a life unburdened by the shadow of climate change.