By Brad Dress

Islands will sink, plants will die, wildfires will rage with an unprecedented fury.

If the climate continues to get worse, natural disasters could become much stronger, according to Dale Allen, an associate research scientist who works for The Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Department at this university.

Indeed, the intensity of this hurricane season was unheard of—two Category four and two Category five hurricanes slammed through the same region in less than a month, and the estimated costs from the impacts are projected to be double the amount of Hurricane Katrina, which set records when it hit Louisiana in 2005.

It is estimated that the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey—the first hurricane to hit the U.S. this season— will range from $70 to $190 billion, according to “The New York Times.”

The other three major hurricanes to affect the U.S. this year could reach even more expensive heights; Hurricane Maria crippled the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, leaving 84 percent of the fragmented island without power, and stripping most citizens of homes and water.

The hurricanes, Allen explained, are sensitive to the temperature of the ocean. Weather patterns make these storms form when it is warmest at the end of the summer, but the hotter it gets, the more severe a storm it will create.  If the ocean’s temperature soars above 28 degrees Celsius, then it can lead to “explosive development” in tropical storms and hurricanes.

“The frequency is unclear if there is going to be more [hurricanes],” he said. “But the ones that occur have the potential to be stronger.”

Hurricanes are not the only problem our society may face as the climate worsens:

the recent fires that blazed through Northern California earlier this month were a direct consequence of an extremely dry season California went through this summer, Allen said.

Additionally, crops such as corn will start to wither and die; they will get infected with plant-killing diseases if the weather gets too humid.

For disastrous events such as these, “impacts will get larger” he added, and people will have to start adapting to it. For instance, most people flock to the coast because it is cheaper to live there, but those areas are more prone to flooding. Solutions like erecting wetlands that absorb the damaging water may have to be put in place.

If no solution is affordable, people might have to abandon coastland zones. Certain islands will start to sink, Allen said, and “there will certainly be a change” to places below sea level.

So how do we stop this?

“The decisions we make today affect the next 50 years,” Allen reported. “[The] lifetime of C02 [Carbon Dioxide] is 75 years … If we continue emission rates for the next 30 to 40 years, it is not doable.”

Allen said the U.S. is on track to meet its environmental goals for the next five to 10 years, but pulling out of deals such as the Paris Climate Accord will put America behind eventually.

It falls to the people and the incoming generations to force that change, Allen explained.He said the best way to do that is to always be mindful of “our carbon footprints” or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions emitted from vehicles or factories. Eating less beef would reduce CO2 because raising and slaughtering cattle requires a lot of agriculture, the practice of which causes 15 percent of all carbon emissions in the world, according to “The Guardian.

Allen also encouraged people to purchase electric vehicles or alternative sources of energy such as solar panels. Less expensive options are always on the table: people living closer to where they work or go to school reduces vehicle emissions, and buying green appliances and other technology is always a boost, Allen added.

Students at college can help as well. Carlo Colello heads the Sustainability Committee at this university—an organization that aims to reduce carbon emissions on campus. Colello said there are many groups on campus that support green efforts to curb carbon emissions, such as the Sustainability Committee in the SGA.

If that option is unavailable, he said, students can also apply for the Sustainability minor, and learn how to create policy built around the environment and agriculture.

If everyone were to contribute in some way, most of the problem would be averted. However, therein lies most of the problem—how do you get a majority to commit to helping the environment?

Dylan Selterman, a professor in social psychology at this university, said to meet that accomplishment, citizens must make it “our patriotic duty” to do so.

“You frame the issue in terms of a patriotic sacrifice,” Selterman said. “We should consume less resources, fossil fuels … because it helps the nation, it helps America and it’s about national security.”

But to halt those who wish to continue consuming resources, another option may be what Selterman termed “altruistic punishment.” The idea is that people will sacrifice their own resources to stop others, and to punish them for breaking what would be a social norm.

One related idea would be a carbon tax, which Allen dubbed to be crucial in the environmental fight. Fossil fuel associated products would cost more money, therefore forcing people to make decisions about the cost of things more logically.

To make changes, society needs to mold a moral cause around the environment, and make it “gross and disgusting to harm it,” Selterman said.

The cause is not hopeless, both Selterman and Allen agree.

“There is still time to change,” Allen said. “It’s something we certainly have the technology to solve and possibly the will to.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Texas Military Department’s Flickr account. 

Brad Dress is a junior journalism major and can be reached at dressbrad@gmail.com.

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