A massive flood in Yellowstone, a derecho in the Midwest, wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico, and severe heat waves in Texas and central US all struck yesterday — some are still going on. While it’s hard to link climate change to individual events, this is exactly the type of event you’d expect climate change to fuel.
People at cabins in Yellowstone got a first-hand view of the rising river banks. In the case of a cabin in Gardiner, Indiana, water levels rose until they basically reached the door.
Understandably, officials evacuated visitors and closed the park.
Yellowstone Park closed for the first time in 34 years as unprecedented flooding (and a forecast of even more rain to come) and subsequent mudslides caused major road and bridge failures. A freak event, you could argue, and completely unrelated to the storm that hit Indiana, with winds of up to 80 miles per hour and torrential rain; or the wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico that were fueled by strong winds; or the 110°F heatwave in Dallas, Texas (and Kansas, and Oklahoma, and Nebraska, and several other states). All these are individual events. All of these can happen without climate change. But climate change is making them more likely and more intense. We’re living in the climate future researchers warned us about.
Take the Yellowstone floods, for instance. In June, precipitation across much of the river basins that run through Yellowstone Park were 200%, 300%, or even 400% more intense than the region’s average. Yellowstone is far from the only affected area — among other areas, New Orleans is also experiencing severe floods.
“This is one of the clear ways climate change is affecting us now,” tweeted Marshall Shepherd, meteorologist, professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Geography, and former president of the American Meteorological Society. “Scientific literature is very clear on link to intensity. Don’t focus on amounts, the signal is in rates.”
Other observers were even more blunt.
“It’s happening. The climate crisis is here,” tweeted Edgar McGregor, Climatology senior at San Jose State University. “Each one of these disasters was possible before anthropomorphic climate change, but now they’ve become stronger and more frequent. We CANNOT adapt to this. We must act now! This is getting intense!”
Of course, climate is not weather. Weather is what’s going on now, climate is a long-term average — so it’s tricky to stay that what’s happening now is because of climate patterns. But what’s happening in general (which includes what’s happening now) points at climate change.
Climate change is causing both floods and droughts, and in general, extreme weather. Droughts make wildfires more likely. Climate change is also affecting wind patterns and making heatwaves more likely. These are all patterns we’re seeing now. We’re seeing the effects of man-made climate change.
What’s going on in the US is pretty extreme, but it’s also part of the new normal. Depending on our current and future actions (and especially how much greenhouse gas we continue to spew), things can improve, stay as they are, or (if we continue on our current path) get much worse.
Climate change can be discouraging and depressing. After all, it’s a large-scale, planetary process — what can any of us do? In truth, we need systemic, societal change to truly tackle climate change. But that change has to start from somewhere. According to Imperial College London, one of the most important things you can do is talk to those in power and let them know that climate matters to you. Another indirect but potentially very impactful matter is using your money: invest your money responsibly, buy from sustainable companies, and avoid those that are contributing to the climate problem. Of course, individual action also matters. Eating less meat is a good place to start (as agriculture contributes to one third of our greenhouse gas emissions and red meat in particular is a big contributor to this). Cutting down on flying and personal car usage is also impactful, as is cutting down on unnecessary consumption and waste.
The climate die is not yet cast, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Without serious and rapid action, we’ll be seeing many more days like yesterday soon.