The Link Between Hurricane Irene and Climate Change

Last week, the biggest hurricane turned tropical storm in recent history hit the eastern US. We have heard about the tragic deaths that have occurred, the destruction of valuable real estate property and the demise of bridges that have stood for hundreds of years, only to be swept away by massive floods.

But two words were avoided and not even uttered: climate change. Did global warming have a play in this tragedy? 

On August 29th, this last Monday, Democracy Now dedicated their hour-long live-stream podcast to those elusive words and it’s connection to hurricane Irene. It was a very informative hour, and we heard from Peter Shumlin, governor of Vermont, as well as Bill McKibben, one of the hundreds of people arrested for during the protest to the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sand oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

[Most of my facts has been sourced from that podcast, in addition to here and here.]

So what causes a hurricane? Referring to the above diagram, we know that warm, moist air has a role in the creation of a storm hurricane. Now chew on these facts:

  • The world is nearly 2 degrees warmer than in the last hundred years. Even if we went carbon neutral tomorrow, we have another five in the incubator (litterally) from the co2 already emitted int he atmosphere.
  • The world is 4% percent wetter than 40 years ago.

(Warm air holds more moisture, so those above statements make sense.)

  • Last year, 2010, was the warmest year in history with the lowest levels of arctic ice.

In other words, we are in trouble. And we probably haven’t seen the worst yet.


I won’t say that Hurricane Irene was directly caused by climate change. But what you have to understand is that climate change tweaks circumstances– giving hurricanes and other natural disasters optimal breeding ground, and making natural weather patterns more dramatic and extreme.

An example of indirect cause and effect: It’s not the rising temperature in Bolivia that is killing all the crops and causing farmers to lose their livelihood–but the fact that warming temperatures means bugs live for longer, breed more, and then eat and infect the crops.

So what are we to do?

We can’t reverse the damage that has already been done. We have been warned for years what our gas/energy gulping habits are causing– and we’ve continued on anyway.

I quake at what the earth has in store with these changed weather circumstances– certainly we will have to change where and how we interact with out environment to cope with the “new normal” .

But we can keep the world, hopefully, at the level it is at, or at least minimal increase the damage. To do that though, BIG changes need to happen, and until leaders and corporations get on board with changing their habits, we need to change our own.

We can’t wait for others to shift, it starts with you. We need to start the movement towards true sustainable living now. 


Today’s Question:

Do you know someone affected by Hurricane Irene?

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3 Responses to The Link Between Hurricane Irene and Climate Change

  1. Ugh. Unfortunately, yes, I know people affected by Irene. We got lucky where I live with no damage – but I am so sad that I cannot say that for the rest of this lovely little state. It still saddens me to think of it :[
    It’s crazy how much more violent weather and storms have become lately. And the heat waves in the south? *sigh.* If only we could ALL start by making one minor change to help reverse climate change.

  2. Katherine says:

    i was – but hardly. my flight back to school was canceled, but no complaints. a lot of my east coast friends sent me pictures of damage in their areas though — and even though it wasn’t as bad as predicted people don’t realize that whole towns still flooded and there was still a lot of damage and danger. and i agree that climate change is playing a hugeeee role in these storms. the increased level of CO2 in the atmosphere is undeniable — i don’t understand when people say global climate change is a myth! okay, well, i could rant for hours. but i appreciate this post. have a good one!

  3. Pingback: The Peanut Butter Analogy |

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