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Hurricane season ends, climate change remains

November 30, 2018

The “official” hurricane season ends today, so feel free to celebrate another year without one of those nasty visitors from the Gulf of Mexico. But don’t be complacent. We’re out of danger for a few months — maybe — but the long-term implications of climate change are not going anywhere. They’re here for the foreseeable future, and we’ll be fortunate if the situation gets better during our children’s lives.

The proof is all around is us, in ways that are impossible to deny any more. Climate extremes of drought and floods plague different parts of our nation and the world, but virtually all scientists say the root cause is higher global temperatures brought about by decades of carbon dioxide emissions from cars, factories, power plants, etc.

In Texas and South Carolina, hurricanes like Harvey and Florence turn into slow-moving water monsters that dump tons of rain and inundate places that hadn’t flooded in decades. In Alaska, winters are noticeably warmer and shorter. In the Mideast, the Dead Sea is rapidly drying up, diminishing by 3 feet a year and causing some to speculate that it could be gone by 2050. Paradoxically, sea levels are rising across the rest of the globe, covering up shorelines from the Bolivar Peninsula to the East Coast, where historic lighthouses have to either be moved or torn down.

It’s a grim outlook, and humans obviously can’t control the daily weather. But there are plenty of things we can be doing to reduce long-term carbon emissions, from encouraging better gas mileage for cars and trucks to burning less coal to create electricity. For a while, the federal government was on board. But the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 reversed much of the momentum. Trump famously withdrew from the Paris climate treaty, making the United States just one of three countries on the planet to ignore that historic accomplishment. (Hello, Syria and Nicaragua.)

Yet the political changes of 2016 now face the results of the 2018 elections. Democrats have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and they will surely be sending more climate-friendly legislation to the Senate. That body remains in Republican control, with an even bigger margin of 53-47. But the Senate has often been the more thoughtful chamber, and some of its Republican members could well take a fresh look at those House bills. We’d like to think that Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz could be in that group, though the chances are frankly not high.

Doing nothing should not be an option, from the local level to Congress and the United Nations. Climate change affects all of us, from homeowners in low-elevation areas to farmers and ranchers worrying about next summer’s temperatures. We can keep adjusting the way we live, or we can try to stop making a bad problem worse. That choice should be obvious.

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