By Ryan Cooper
This destruction is a window into the future of climate change. This is what happens when humanity fails to either meaningfully restrict greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the damage that is certainly coming.
Now, before the inevitable pedant brigade pounces in, that doesn’t mean Harvey was definitely caused by climate change. Global temperatures have only markedly increased for a few decades, and extreme weather events are rare and random by definition. It will take many more years for enough data to be collected to be able to establish causality.
But what we can say is that climate science predicts with high confidence that increased temperatures will increase the likelihood of extreme weather.
It will make hurricanes that do form stronger. It may also increase the number of hurricanes, though that’s harder to predict with certainty. It’s also besides the point. A storm doesn’t need to qualify as a hurricane to pose many of the same dangers. Simple big storms can still have high winds, tornadoes, and especially flooding, which is the major danger along the Gulf Coast.
And when it comes to attributing an increased flooding trend directly to climate change, we are on firmer ground (so to speak). As the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report notes, models predict that increasing temperature ought to cause greater precipitation extremes in both directions — both drought and flooding, though there are likely more areas of heavy precipitation. As climate scientist Michael Mann writes, “Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused warming.”