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Can We Afford to Continue Ignoring Climate Change?

Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon

Week 7: October 22, 2018

Hurricane Michael was yet another devastating hurricane amongst many to hit the Southeastern United States since 2005. These hurricanes have raised much concern in terms of climate change, and yet many still speculate whether or not climate change is the culprit.

Taking a look at the New York Times article titled, “The Hurricanes, and Climate Change Questions, Keep Coming. Yes, They’re Linked,” we can understand some of the science behind this. While hurricanes are common for the Southeast, the article claims that it is possible that climate change could be contributing to the intensity of these hurricanes, and not necessarily the frequency of them. Simply put, warmer waters feed more energy to hurricanes, and a higher temperature difference between the water and the atmosphere can intensify a hurricane even more. That said, warmer air holds more moisture, which can contribute to heavier rainfall. An additional factor, that sea levels are rising, contributes to a more devastating storm surge.

We can’t be blind to these facts. The effects of warmer air and water is something we learn about in middle school science class. So why are people so skeptical of climate change and its contribution to hurricanes?

An article titled, “Battered by Storms, Florida Panhandle Sees Property Boom…,” in the Wall Street Journal quotes a native Floridian: “These storms have always been part of living down here.” Storms are a norm for this region of the US, and this may be why people are numb to the fact that climate change could be making them worse. We are used to hearing about a devastating hurricane in the region every few years. We mourn over the lives lost and the damage caused by the hurricanes, but we move on when the media moves on. What we do not see is the way the hurricanes are contributing to the development and rising real estate value of Florida.

Would you believe me if I said that the Florida hurricanes contribute to a thriving real estate industry? Government hurricane subsidies are being used for brand new development in the region, encouraging more and more development for tourists and new residents. This is contributing to higher real estate prices, encouraging Florida natives to “cash out” on their property. Not only this, but media coverage of hurricanes is actually calling attention to the “cheap” ocean-front land. More and more tourists are visiting the area in search of the white sand beaches and brand new hotels that are being built. The article titled, “After Opal, Optimism in the Florida Panhandle,” published by the NY Times, states that “The reason, tourism officials say, is that the storms did not compromise the natural resources that attract nearly 7 million visitors a year to northwest Florida.” Who would have thought that such a disaster could actually contribute to such prosperity?

The question some might be asking is: What is so bad about hurricanes causing the real-estate boom in Florida? The problem is, we are being blinded by this positive economic effect, and we are not seeing the negative consequences. Government funding should be helping those in need, not the rich investors. Locals are being bought out of their property because they can no longer afford to live in the area. Development is spreading out into the Florida Panhandle, which endangers one of the most biodiverse areas in the US.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center image of Hurricane Michael

Photo Credit

Something needs to be done about this. First and foremost, people need to be aware of what is going on. We need to understand the consequences of the hurricanes in Florida, and in a more broad sense, the consequences of climate change. We need to consider regulating government emergency relief funding. We need to initiate conservation efforts in the Florida Panhandle. By educating ourselves with this crisis we are taking the first step.