4 bottles of water per resident?
This is not a “doom and gloom” story or an exaggerated title. This is the reality for a lot of people in Texas right now. The Town of Galveston posted the following statement on its Facebook page, “We still have water available for residents in need. If you need water, stop by the McGuire Dent Recreation Center to collect it. The warm-up center here is also open, so come on, charge your phone and warm up. However, the part of the message that sparked me was the end: “Limited to four bottles per capita. First come first served. ”At that point, I recognized a good time to learn about the impacts of extreme weather, climate change and resilience.
As a climatologist, I received questions all week on the link between this cold epidemic and climate change. My standard answer is: “It’s February and it’s winter, cold outbreaks can occur. »I point them too to studies that suggest climate change may lead to more disruption of the polar vortex, which could lead to more extreme cold outbreaks in the future. I know this is counterintuitive for many readers, but a lot of the science can be. However, this discussion is beyond the scope of my intention here. Associated press writer Seth Borenstein this week offers a great introduction on climate change, cold epidemics and the polar vortex.
I want to discuss the human toll of extreme weather events. I often cringe when people concerned about climate change go straight to the polar bear story or the hyperbolic example of the entire Greenland ice cap melting. By the way, I’m concerned about bears as well, but extreme weather and climate events impact our lives every day (and right now). Shirley Williams is from Galveston, Texas. When she shared the city’s Facebook post, she said, “It’s so heartbreaking. Only 4 bottles of water while supplies last, and that’s if you have transportation to get there. ”
Williams was speaking from the point of view of empathy, but his lament is poignant. It captures many elements of how an extreme weather event affects our daily life and well-being. Water is a basic necessity for life, and for many of us, heat is too. The recent winter storm was predicted days or weeks in advance, but the infrastructure citizens depend on was not prepared for it. Main energy supply resources in renewable energies and the natural gas sectors have been compromised. The water supply lines broke. Many roads were impassable because of the ice storm. Even if you could drive, there was no guarantee that you would find gas or a recharge (in the case of electric vehicles). A relative of mine who works in the medical profession in Texas texted me this when I contacted him to verify, “It’s bad in here. No power. The water is running out. Hospitals filled with patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia and burns from household fires.
Its text doesn’t look like a description of Texas in 2021. It looks like a war zone or a disaster zone. Yet that’s exactly what she describes, and we’ve seen it before: Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires, 2016 Louisiana floods, Chicago heat wave. from 1995, etc. In 2020 alone, 22 weather-climate events that exceeded $ 1 billion on the coasts, beating the previous record of 16 events. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “In the past 41 years (1980-2020), years with 10 separate catastrophic events or more than $ 1 billion include 1998, 2008, 2011-2012 and 2015-2020.”
When I promised the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity decades ago, I remember members teaching us the 5 Ps: Advance planning prevents poor performance. If anything, COVID-19 should have been a very bright warning signal. Experts in public health and infectious diseases warned us decades ago that a pandemic of this magnitude is looming. Even on the eve of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning on January 30, 2020 about the threat of a crippling pandemic. Yet most countries, including the United States, ignored WHO recommendations calling for an aggressive program of testing, tracing and social distancing.
Climate experts have done the same with extreme events. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to push for action until the worst case scenarios are realized. I still remember the faces of the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina or the despair in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The Climate and Energy Solutions Center defines climate resilience as “the ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to dangerous events, trends or climate-related disruptions”. Every government organization, business, school, church, and home needs to incorporate thinking about climate resilience in the future.
Many companies have understood this. Last year, AT&T funded five universities to help communities in the Southeastern United States assess the risks associated with climate change and build resilience to the ongoing crisis. AT&T website stresses that “climate change is one of the most pressing challenges in the world, and weather events associated with climate change pose a significant threat to the security of communities and infrastructure around the world”.
Ultimately, Texas disorder is a convergence of many factors, and unfortunately political maneuvers began. My hope is that proactive thinking is an outcome as we move forward, because “four bottles of water” to citizens in need, although an important gesture, is unacceptable.