Images of drought, tornadoes, high heat index, and devastating floods are ubiquitous in today's media. We are all warned that the current frequency of severe storms and weather patterns is increasing and is likely continue to increase. We are told that our only hope to mitigate the impact of our rapidly changing climate is for humans to act now. But what can humans do? We are told by many organizations that we need to pass legislation, tax businesses, give up fossil fuels and essentially live in a smaller carbon footprint.
Is this possible? The current population of the United States is a little more than ten times greater today than it was when the country was founded in 1776. If individual human energy needs are the same now versus then, that means we are consuming ten times more energy. Energy production is certainly more efficient today than it was 200 years ago. Today we have large factories, food production, and transportation that didn't exist then.
At the very least it would be difficult to reduce our individual energy consumption to the levels when this nation was founded. If we did that, would we see a change in weather patterns? We are told by climatologists and certain politicians that we would. Do we have proof that weather severity is worse and that climate change is something we can control?
It is true that economies are being damaged and human lives are being disrupted or lost due to weather events. We see this information constantly in our news sources.
Tornadoes damage homes, floods destroy towns and earthquakes damage infrastructure. Are these all new phenomena? How far back in human history do we have to go to identify when climate did not affect human lives or economies? An article by Susan Allen citing an Egyptian historical record from 3500 years ago says that “the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses.” The article cites the weather pattern being caused by “the red sea trough.” Why would they not cite humans as the cause of climate change? It was devastating enough to record as a time when documentation was limited. Another example of ancient weather patterns effecting human life is in the Christian bible. Noah experienced a flood caused by rain over 40 days and 40 nights and God caused the devastating drought for the Egyptians as Moses tried to free the Israelites. These records were made at a time when presumably the total population was much lower than today. More recent history describes hurricanes in Texas from the 1850's to today. The frequency of hurricanes from this record does not show an everincreasing occurrence of hurricanes but rather a cycle of every 30-60 years. America was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005. Roughly 2,000 people died in that storm surge. The Galveston hurricane in 1900 killed 8,000 people (Roth "Texas Hurricane History'). That was a devastating event, which occurred before the accepted ramp up in global temperature (Lee 4209-4225). In 1900 there were roughly 76 million people and in 2005 there were about 300 million living in the United States ("U.S. Demographic History | U.S. Immigration Policy – Environmental Impact Statement"). It is not likely that humans caused the climate events in 1900 so we cannot infer that humans caused the Katrina weather event in 2005.
Are weather events any more devastating now than they were 3500 years ago during Egyptian times? Certainly not for the people being effected. It seem like it is worse today than ever before because today we have multiple cable news televisions with cameras constantly rolling. Individuals have the ability to take high quality video with portable cell phones. The carnage and devastation that happens is immediately available
to every connected person on the planet in real time and very raw form. We often hear the screams of people being affected by these events as they happen. It is certainly a real and devastating condition that people experience, beyond those directly affected. Today, it seems like the frequency of devastating weather events is higher. What is true is the recorded instance and devastation is high and the available population to be affected is much higher. That condition makes the probability of devastating weather instances to be higher. People lose their lives, homes and property to these weather instances.
Human beings are not off the hook for being responsible for the planet. We do have the power to affect the way we respond to and prepare for weather and climate events. We know that fires happen in California on an annual basis. It seems reasonable to either build fireproof homes or stay out of the mountains where these fires are typically found. Every year the Mississippi River floods in the springtime and river towns are devastated yet we allow homes to be built back in the areas to be repopulated ("National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office.") If homes in the Midwest are likely to be ravished by tornadoes then there should be requirements to build homes that can withstand much higher average winds and provide protection for people. If the oceans are rising, regardless of the cause, we should not allow people to build homes near the shoreline. As populations rise we must find solutions to feed a larger number of people without destroying our forests or devastating our clean water supply. It is time to shift our conversation from a lecture about things that we cannot immediately affect to those things that are within our control. Does everyone in Phoenix, Arizona need a swimming pool? There is certainly not enough water for that and it increases the humidity in that area. We should limit the use of fossil fuels and improve our renewable resources simply because there is a fixed limit to fossil fuels. Most important we should evaluate the maximum population the earth can reasonable accommodate with current known resources and technology.
Extreme weather conditions have been affecting our planet for longer than we know. Records of destructive storms are not limited to present time. It is simply the world population that makes these storms seem like they are worse now than ever before. Before the world was highly populated with large cities all over the place, there wasn't much for the storms to destroy. Now when a destructive weather event occurs, people and infrastructure are everywhere and it is impossible for people and cities to not get hit. There is nothing we can do to stop these weather events from occurring, however we can work together as a society to prevent damages from occurring. The best thing we can do is prepare ourselves for the next destructive storm to hit.