Hurricane Laura And The Wildfires: This Is Climate Change Hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves and disease outbreaks are all a preview of our hotter future. Dramatically cutting greenhouse gas emissions would help.

Everything Is Unprecedented. Welcome To Your Hotter Earth

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This week's news includes a hurricane, a tropical storm and wildfires across the West - all reflections of climate change. Here's NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Camilo Mora is a climate scientist, works at the University of Hawaii. And this year, especially this last week, has left him so frustrated because humans knew this was coming.

CAMILO MORA: Keep in mind that all these things are related. And so CO2 is increasing the temperature.

HERSHER: Hotter temperatures mean more moisture evaporates into the air.

MORA: Evaporation of water leads to drought. That in turn leads to heat waves and wildfires. In places that are humid, the same evaporation leads to massive precipitation that then is commonly followed by flood. So we have come to understand this. And to be honest with you, who cares, right?

HERSHER: I mean, he cares. But he's saying it can feel like he and other scientists are screaming into the void when they tell people climate change is dangerous. Last year, Mora and a team of top climate scientists published a study, and their conclusion was that, in the future, lots of disasters will happen all at once, which probably sounds familiar.

So this week feels like a preview of the future, is that right?

MORA: Yes. The future is looking at us. And to be honest with you, when these things happen and people get surprised, I just ask myself - I mean, no offense to anybody - but what the hell, man? Like, this thing - we have known these things for the longest of times.

HERSHER: If humans cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, immediately, it will make the future safer. But emissions keep going up, not down, which means warmer air, which means heat waves, which means more intense wildfires like the ones in California and Colorado and warmer water, which means hurricanes like Laura that get really powerful really fast.

JEFF MASTERS: Now, this is concerning since hurricanes that rapidly intensify before landfall are the hardest ones to prepare for.

HERSHER: Jeff Masters is a meteorologist who writes for Yale University's Climate Connections.

MASTERS: Whenever you get ocean temperatures that are much above average, you're asking for trouble. And we've seen some of the warmest ocean temperatures on record for the Atlantic basin.

HERSHER: In some parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the water is near 90 degrees. That's what helped Laura go from a relatively weak storm to a monster in less than 24 hours.

MASTERS: I mean, heat is energy. And if you're putting heat into a system, you're going to expect higher-energy events.

HERSHER: A hot ocean was the fuel for Hurricane Laura's devastating wind and water. The same was true for Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Michael, Florence, Irma - the list goes on from just the last three years. And then there's the pandemic - a warmer world makes disease outbreaks more likely, as humans and animals move around and come into contact in new ways. The only way out, scientists continue to say, is to stop releasing greenhouse gases.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.


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