Hurricane Florence brings a flood of misery
Hurricane Florence this week turned towns in the Carolinas into virtual islands encircled by historic floodwaters. In Wilmington, N.C., normally a small city of 117,000 people, all roads were cut off. Residents trapped without power lined up for tarps and fresh water. By the middle of the week, the number of deaths had hit 37—including a 1-year-old boy swept away by the waters. The deluge reached biblical proportions, with 36 inches of rain recorded in Elizabethtown, N.C. Volunteers from around the country, including some from Louisiana’s ad hoc “Cajun Navy,” flocked to help, but they’ve had to contend with a cascade of environmental threats. More than 2,000 cubic yards of toxic coal ash leaked from a power plant, and a nuclear power plant was left inaccessible by roads. North Carolina’s industrial agricultural operations were hit hard and more than 100 pig manure lagoons were breached, releasing dangerous bacteria, raw excrement, and chemicals into rivers.
Preliminary estimates of the damage from Florence run to $22 billion. Tens of thousands of people remain displaced. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper pleaded for residents to be patient and not try to return to dangerously flooded areas. “I know it was hard to leave home,” Cooper said. “For many people, this feels like a nightmare that just won’t end.”
What the editorials said
This past summer was “merciless,” said The New York Times. “Heat waves, droughts, and megafires” have already ravaged the country, and now Hurricane Florence’s “one-two punch of wind and rainfall” provides yet another example of “supercharged” extreme weather. To no one’s surprise, the link between hurricane intensity and climate change went unacknowledged in President Trump’s Washington.
One “has to wonder what we as a society are thinking,” said USA Today. The Trump administration’s “willful policy malfeasance” on climate runs the gamut from pulling us out of the Paris climate accord to softening regulations on “everything from auto mileage standards to methane emissions.” Meanwhile, the “misguided” National Flood Insurance Program encourages building in regularly flooded areas. “It is almost as if policymakers are conceiving ways to make such storms more destructive.”
What the columnists said
Catastrophic storms are the consequence of climate change, and we can’t deal with it by shrugging off the science, said Jill Filipovic at CNN.com. The government’s job is to offer disaster prevention, not just relief. We need infrastructure that can withstand stronger storms, like sea walls and elevated roads. But you can’t do that kind of planning when one of the major political parties denies there’s even an issue.
“Even before Hurricane Florence made landfall,” said Roy Spencer in USA Today, people were already trying to blame it on global warming. But the naturally occurring jet stream variation that caused Florence to stall over land “is called weather, not climate change.” Ever wonder why there’s never enough money budgeted for “predictable hurricane relief,” asked Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal, “but an endless gusher after the fact?” It’s because the government subsidizes development and a disastrous flood insurance program that provides “artificial incentive to live and build in high-risk places.” The total property value in storm surge zones is now $17 trillion. That creates huge losses—as well as “victims of climate change” and heart-tugging “media coverage of climate politics.”
“Welcome to the new normal,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. Climate scientists have long warned that tropical cyclones would get “wetter, slower, and more intense—which is exactly what seems to be happening.” According to researchers at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, “human-induced global warming” made Florence 50 miles bigger across, and was responsible for more than 50 percent of Florence’s rainfall. The science is relatively simple. Climate change is no longer theoretical. “It is real, it is all around us, and it is going to get much worse.” ■