October 17, 2017 Brian Calvert / High Country News & The National Geographic Channel
Climate change is no longer a hypothetical threat. This summer, it showed up in force. Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Gulf Coast, dumping trillions of gallons of rain on Houston and causing so much damage it will take years for Texas to recover. Other superstorms devastated Florida and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, heatwaves killed trees, dried soil and triggered massive wildfires out West. The country is full of people determined to address climate change. If only that were true of our national leaders.
Climate Change Is Our New Reality A summer of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires
made it clear: the climate is changing Brian Calvert / High Country News Editorial
(September 18, 2017) -- Climate change is no longer a hypothetical threat from some distant future. This summer, it showed up in force.
In Texas, Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Gulf Coast and inundated Houston, dumping many trillions of gallons of water in rain and causing so much damage it will take years for the state to recover. There is no definitive science saying that climate change causes specific hurricanes.
But what we do know is that global warming has raised sea levels, which strengthens hurricane storm surges. It also increases precipitation, the real destructor in Texas. That's because warmer air holds more water, which falls as rain -- in the case of Harvey, record-breaking rain that has caused perhaps $180 billion in damage.
Montana, meanwhile, has a different problem. In the past century, the state has warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves are more common than they once were, and drought has killed trees, dried soil and increased the risk of wildfires.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2016 that the number of above-100-degree days that Montana experiences each year is likely to double. This summer, drought and dry weather have created a terrible fire season.
At the time of this writing, 4,000 firefighters, 125 aircraft and 350 National Guard troops are fighting more than 40 active wildfires in Montana alone. Well over 600,000 acres have already burned there, with no end in sight.
Hurricanes and wildfires are real threats to life and property. They cost lives and money, and while they cannot be prevented, they can be prepared for. But doing so requires acknowledging that these extreme weather events are bound to get worse, and that is something our current policymakers can't seem to do. The president insists that climate change is a "hoax" and won't allow government agencies to even mention it.
In this issue, we're asking a seemingly obvious question: What if -- just what if -- climate change is not a hoax? What if there is no global conspiracy of scientists (or the Chinese) manipulating data to trick people into reducing the use of fossil fuel?
Who in the American West accepts the reality of climate change and is working to lessen its impact? We sent writers across the region, from the Pacific Coast to Alaska, Arizona to Wyoming, to see where and how climate change is affecting the West, its people and its politics.
What we learned is that though the West is extremely vulnerable to a changing climate, it is also full of people who are determined to address it. If only that were true of our national leaders, flying over flood-stricken Texas or fire-ravaged Montana and wondering why in the heck things seem so out of control.
Brian Calvert is Editor-in-chief of High Country News
ACTION ALERT: These Are #Climate Facts. Share Widely. National Geographic Channel
* The US wildfire season in the west is now two and a half months longer than it was just 40 years ago. * Wildfires are now four times more common and burn six times as much forest area. * Some of today's fires are so big and so hot they burn the soil itself. And when that happens, it can take up to a thousand years for the trees to grow back. * By 2050, wildfires in the United States will be twice as destructive as they are now and each year will burn 20 million acres. * An estimated 339,000 people die each year from smoke from wildfires. * By 2050, when we are expected to lose half of all the forests in the American West.
Years of Living Dangerously National Geographic Channel
(October 20, 2016) – "Years of Living Dangerously: SEASON TWO" premiered on Sunday, October 30, 2016 exclusively on National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 45 languages. Featuring some of Hollywood's biggest influencers, activists and actors who are passionate about environmental issues, celebrity "green campaigners" -- including David Letterman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Cameron, and Saturday Night Live's Cecily Strong -- give first-person accounts of the effects of climate change across the planet.