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    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Warming the climate, ignoring the facts

    Earlier this week, as Hurricane Florence exploded in strength and began a track toward the United States that hurricane experts described as unprecedented, came news from the Trump administration that it was easing restrictions on one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.

    It was sort of like a doctor assessing warning signs of heart disease and recommending more chips and sodas.

    You’ve heard it many times before, no one storm can be tied to the effects of climate change. But in the case of Florence, there is considerable circumstantial evidence. It traversed ocean waters with temperatures that were significantly above normal, contributing to its intensification. Normally hurricanes that develop in latitudes as high as Florence spin out to sea. But Florence was blocked by an anomalously strong high pressure system to its north. That set the cyclone on path largely due west. As it approached the North and South Carolina coasts Thursday night, forecast models predicted it to slow and drift southwest, an unheard of track.

    This will bring the potential over the next couple of days for Florence to drop record amounts of rain, as Hurricane Harvey did just a year earlier, in August 2017, when it stalled over the Houston area and produced rains of biblical proportions — in excess of 40 inches in some locations.

    Examination of weather records by the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies found that extreme, flooding rainstorms are up about 35 percent in the past 35 years. Warmer air can carry more water. It is basic science.

    Meanwhile a forecast model created at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predicts that warming ocean waters will produce more tropical storms and, more ominously, storms that undergo rapid intensification. In 2015 in the eastern Pacific, Hurricane Patricia cranked up to 210 mph, more than 50 mph higher that the wind speed to be classified a Category 5 hurricane.

    Maybe it is time for a Category 6. Speeding up climate change could get us there.

    Regardless of the connection between these unusual storms and climate change, the course being set by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump makes no sense, unless the profits of the fossil fuel industry is the highest priority.

    Under the direction of Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry, the agency that is supposed to be protecting our environment has been repealing one rule after another intended to curb greenhouse emissions.

    The latest announcement was the rollback of requirements for regular inspection of oil and gas drill sites to detect and cap methane leaks. Methane is 25 times more powerful in trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and about one-third of methane releases come from oil and gas operations.

    Under the new guidelines, reports the New York Times, inspections must now take place only once every one or two years, depending on the yield of the well, allowing for prolonged releases of methane but cutting operational costs.

    The EPA earlier announced it was easing restrictions on burning of methane from drilling operations.

    “It’s a neat pair,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies, told the New York Times.

    “It all depends on who you trust,” she continued. “That (Obama) administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry.”

    She actually said that.

    Failing to try to curb the rate of climate change — and instead pursuing policies that knowingly accelerate it — is both short-sighted and selfish, putting the profit interests of powerful lobbies ahead of the interests of future generations.

    The change in methane rules followed earlier announcements on the easing of motor vehicle emission standards and restrictions on pollution from coal-fired power plants.

    The fact that the 2017 hurricane season was the most destructive recorded gave this administration no pause. It included Puerto Rico being struck by two powerful hurricanes, Irma and Maria. A report last July by FEMA detailed multiple failures in its response to this unprecedented disaster on that U.S. territory. In some parts of the island electricity was out for nearly a year.

    More recently an independent study by George Washington University’s Miklen Institute of Public Health, commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, estimated 2,975 deaths could be attributed to the storm and its aftermath.

    No, nevermind. Trump this week insisted the relief work “was an incredible, unsung success” and later tweeted that “3,000 people did not die,” blaming Democrats for cooking up the numbers.

    Why should we expect Trump to care about the facts surrounding climate change? He sees no need for facts.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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