Climate Solutions: Hurricane Season

NOAA / CIRA / Colorado State University; image from the satellite GOES-16, taken last week

Dearly Beloved,

Can climate change create super storms like Harvey and Irma? The answer is Yes.

Hurricanes and Climate Change. An explanation that even I can understand:

  • Storms are fueled by warm oceans. Ocean temperatures are elevated lately because of the increased production of CO2 in recent decades. These excess carbon emissions in our atmosphere trap excess heat energy, unsurprisingly. Nearly all of this glut is eventually absorbed by the oceans, which disturbs their chemistry.
  • Meanwhile, and in addition, this extra heat energy disrupts the earth’s natural water cycle: The amount of water vapor evaporating from the oceans increases in warmer air; and, as it travels over land, the supercharged vapor causes extreme precipitation events, such as the 50 inches experience in the Houston area during Harvey.
  • Storm surges in an ocean that’s experiencing sea-level rise are worse than they were previously. When the land involved is “impermeable” — i.e. paved over by development — the water has nowhere to go. What happens then? Floods. And when floodwaters mix with toxic chemicals, waste, and other debris, all hell can break loose.
The New York Times, Mapping Harvey Houston Floods

The merely fierce storms of our childhoods have become unprecedentedly monstrous — shattering records for wind speed, precipitation, sheer size, sustained force, magnitude of recovery expense, and devastating human misery both short-term and for the foreseeable future.

It’s not so far-fetched, really.

In the same way that smoking can cause lung cancer, or drunk driving can cause a car accident, or jogging sockless in tight shoes on a hot day can cause blisters, or binging on gooey donuts can make your jeans tighter, our decisions — to smoke, to drive drunk, to dress foolishly, to gorge — can heighten risk and complicate life.

Similarly, the unbridled flow of carbon emissions into the earth’s atmosphere, exacerbated since 1956, has finally reached its limit. In case you missed it, vast chunks of ice are now melting into arctic seas. And by the way, Alaska’s permafrost is thawing more than expected, releasing additional noxious gasses and changing calculations for the worse.

Now we are gambling, folks.

What to do.

Beware the red-flag question “Do you believe in Climate Change?” You’ll notice it’s a favorite for certain people. Clever guys like EPA Chief Scott Pruitt and even your crazy Uncle Harry can push it around all day and all night like lard on the griddle.

I worry that you might wade into this unproductive conversation at a family wedding, get confused, and give up.

May I suggest 4 simple steps instead?

1. Get informed on the science of global warming. It’s not terribly complicated. If you like game-changing dramatic events or historically lucrative opportunities you will be fascinated. Read a book or an article; sign up for a lecture; watch a film. Send me your favorites and we’ll share them here.

2. Own your way of explaining it. The greenhouse effect is like a stack of blankets covering you on your bed at night. More blankets = more warming. The greenhouse effect is like blankets warming the Earth. Too many blankets and you sweat. OR… Climate change happens when there’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere thatsurrounds our planet. Like if you leave your chapstick under a glass bowl in the hot sun, it melts faster.

3. Tune into credible info channels that you like. Think of them as your Personal Climate Faculty. I curate my PCF almost daily: Yale’s E360, Bloomberg’s Climate Changed and New Energy Finance, the Climate desk led by Hannah Fairfield at The New York Times, the Metcalf Institute directed by Sunshine Menenez, Climate Central, Princeton’s Andlinger Center, Andrew Freedman at Mashable, Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center, Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic, the Capital Weather Gang at the Washington Post. Follow them all as you wish, and via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn. (Even follow me, for heaven’s sake!)

4. After the age of 70, people rarely change their minds. So when your Uncle Harry starts in on whether global warming is “real,” or why he doesn’t “believe in climate change,” maybe invite him to play a game of backgammon instead. Fifty cents a point. Do this for your own precious sanity. It’s a smarter way to gamble.

Leapfrogs. Identifying innovations, products, services, things, and systems that move society easily and painlessly from the tired old carbon-fueled way of life to a modern and thriving world.

Did you know that food waste is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions? And conventional agriculture — especially meat — is another? Say hello to restaurants like Clover Food Labs. Clover was invented by an MIT engineer and Harvard MBA named, tongue-tieingly, Ayr Muir. Clover is where everything you eat and drink is locally sourced, cooked fresh, vegetarian; and where you can compost everything; and where it’s all served up with so much pep, care, and finesse you don’t notice a thing — except how much you love it — until you’re walking back to the office feeling very happy. 13 locations in the Boston area, growing fast. Thank God.

Getting hungry?

Why are mangoes are always on sale at the supermarket? Who knows, but grab one. And an avocado and a peach.

  • Wait for all of them to become perfectly ripe. Their rumps should feel like equally fit, pinchable derrières. You may need to chill one or two in the fridge to arrest ripening while the others catch up.
  • Peel mango, avocado, and peach. Slice-hack into a bowl. Spritz with fresh lemon juice to taste. Fling a handful of pepitas, or pomegranate seeds if you have them. Add a dash of salt. Toss lightly. Serve on a bed of arugula or other greens, or nosh directly.

Good any time of day or night. Easy to bring with you to work or on a plane. Insanely nutritious and refreshing.

Word of the Day: obfuscation. ob·fus·ca·tion >> äbfəˈskāSH(ə)n The act of making something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.

As an octopus shoots black ink in the face of its predators, the enemy relies on obfuscation to confuse all but the most valiant warriors.

Screw It. What’s more frustrating than sitting in traffic? Wrestling with a stubborn jar lid. Get yourself one of these. 8 bucks. You’re welcome.

National Geographic

Originally published at on September 14, 2017.