Yes, Houston, you do have a problem, and – as insensitive as it seems to bring it up just now – some of it is your own making.
Let’s be clear upfront. I unreservedly wish that all of your millions of citizens get safely through Tropical Storm Harvey, and the biblical-scale deluge and floods that are forecast to swamp your city in coming days.Houston is facing worsening historic flooding in the coming days as Tropical Storm Harvey dumps rain on the city, swelling rivers to record levels.
But, as the self-styled “world capital of the oil and gas industry”, there’s a connection between rising global greenhouse gas levels and the extreme weather now being inflicted that some of your residents have understood for decades and had a hand in.
Houston and its surrounds are home to some 5000 energy-related firms, 17 of which are counted among the Fortune 500 list of largest US companies.
The nearby Gulf Coast is also one of the biggest oil-refining centres anywhere. Not for nothing, the local football team was named the Houston Oilers before it up-rigged elsewhere to become the Tennessee Titans.
One thing that hasn’t changed for almost 200 years is scientists’ basic understanding humans could alter the chemistry of the atmosphere. By releasing more carbon dioxide, methane (also known as natural gas), and other greenhouse gases, the atmosphere would trap more heat and alter our climate in the process.