Published 9:58 PM EDT Sep 12, 2018
An alien intelligence visiting our planet this week would be shocked by how people can at once be fearful and feckless about the consequences of a warming planet.
While there is no evidence that climate change creates any given storm — such as Hurricane Florence, ruthlessly bearing down on the East Coast — there is no scientific debate that the planet is warming and that seas are rising due in part to melting ice sheets. And there is reasonably strong scientific consensus that warmer air holds more water vapor, producing more rain, and that higher ocean temperatures fuel a cyclone's power. In addition, it's indisputable that rising sea levels worsen one crucial destructive element of any hurricane — the storm surge of sea water that sweeps inland wreaking havoc.
Despite this growing body of knowledge, and even as Florence makes its terrifying debut, news arrived this week that the Trump administration is seeking to ease drilling-industry restrictions and allow even more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
Even as the nation braces for what could be one of the most destructive manifestations of a warming planet — a hurricane of potentially historic proportions — policies are being drafted that could render the planet even more vulnerable.
Isn't this the definition of insanity?
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The rule changes proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, first reported this week by The New York Times, would weaken Obama-era restrictions aimed at preventing oil- and gas-drilling operations from leaking methane, a pollutant 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
President Donald Trump has labeled climate change a hoax, and easing methane restrictions is his latest effort to dismantle President Barack Obama's framework for fighting climate change. After announcing that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Trump has proposed rolling back vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and junking Obama's Clean Power Plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generating plants.
All of this is being done under the mantle of deregulation. Easing restrictions on the methane leaking into the atmosphere will save the oil and gas industry $484 million by 2025, according to an EPA estimate. But consider this:
►Three of the five costliest hurricanes in U.S. history were last year (Harvey, Irma and Maria) and caused a combined $265 billion in damage.
►Hurricanes Irma and Harvey represented the first time in 166 years of record-keeping that two Category 4 hurricanes made U.S. landfall in one year.
►Harvey dumped more than 60 inches in Texas, and two studies have determined that global warming hiked that rainfall by 15%-38%.
Forecasters now fear that Florence could prove to be the Harvey of the East Coast.
And there's the price in lives lost. Maria killed at least 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, earning it a place as America's second deadliest storm since a hurricane killed 8,000 to 12,000 people in Galveston, Texas, in 1900.
Surveys this year show that three out of four Americans now believe that global warming is real, and large majorities agree that humans are at least partially responsible with the burning of fossil fuels and the release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
As the fury of Hurricane Florence descends on the southeastern USA, its ferocity juiced by warm waters and a warming atmosphere, Americans may begin questioning the wisdom of policies that can only make such catastrophes worse.
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