I grew up in Michigan and expect severe winter weather occasionally. However this year set a record in sub-zero wind chills. It is the first time I remember spending holiday celebrations through early January in multiple layers of winter clothes. It is not only the Midwest suffering this winter. In its coverage of the January California mudslides and the destruction of homes in wealthy Santa Barbara county, The New York Times recently noted that it is only the latest in a string of natural disasters signaling evidence of climate change.
Late last year was punctuated by three devastating hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria. The newspaper reported that “ extreme weather that scientists say is partly attributed to climate change” caused more than $306 billion in damage, a record that surpassed even the $215 billion cost of natural disasters in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The figure goes up dramatically if you include damage from fires and rains in California this year.
And that’s the mainland. Months after two category 5 hurricanes pummeled Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, both are still struggling to get all the lights on – nearly half of Puerto Rico’s more than 3 million people still do not have electricity. That’s more than 100 days after Maria cut a brutal path across the island.
There’s still a lot of resistance to the idea of climate change and its causes. My hope is that attention will shift from denial to focus on the optimism and innovation that defined America for so long – optimism that that we can lead the world in softening this disaster with sensible actions. We already have the research and expertise to prevail. Extreme temperatures, hot or cold, are here and increasingly impossible to deny.