Harvey and Irma Changing US Climate Conversation

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The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean have led US political leaders to urged renewed attention to the threat of climate change.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Republican Mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado, said “This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the EPA and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change. If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.

Scientists believe that climate change has intensified the effects of storms like Harvey and Irma as rising sea levels and rising surface water temperatures make the effects of cyclically occurring tropical storms worse. Texas-based Canadian scientist Katharine Hayhoe said of Harvey, “The hurricane is a naturally occurring hazard that is exacerbated by climate change.”

While some leading Trump Administration officials, like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, continue to downplay the role of climate change, for others these events may prove to be a turning point.

For example, Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican Presidential candidate, when asked about the hurricanes stated “We have to understand that the climate may be changing.” McCain urged renewed consideration of nuclear power as an alternative to coal.

It will be seen over the coming months, as Florida and Texas begin billions of dollars of reconstruction, to see whether the renewed attention on climate change will lead to lasting changes in American political discourse.

As these disasters start putting climate change back on the US political agenda, Canadians need to pay attention as our own climate discussions are inevitably linked to those of our largest trading partner.