. . . once global warming is something that most people can feel in the course of their daily lives, it will be too late to prevent much larger, potentially catastrophic changes.
Elizabeth Kolbert, writer The New Yorker
Global Warming and Severe Weather
Meteorologists and other scientists studying global warming and climate change agree that an increase in global temperatures has warmed the Earth's oceans and added heat and moisture to the global system. This is a perfect recipe for severe weather and the production of weather conditions ideal for such natural disasters as the wildfires that hit the American West and Australia in recent years. There is plenty of solid science showing how global warming is linked to an increase in severe weather events.
As I write this post, the most recent American "tornado outbreak" occurred on March 2nd, 2012. On that day, nearly 100 tornadoes struck, killing at least 37 people and injuring hundreds in five U.S. states in the South and Midwest. Entire communities were destroyed and - in one particularly tragic case from Indiana - entire families. The destruction in early 2012, followed a disastrous year for tornadoes in 2012. However, this blog isn't the place to argue the science. What does concern me, is the impact severe weather events has on individual mental health and on the health and well-being of communities.
After such an event, survivors stories appear on the news and flood the Internet. (See video below from Joplin tornado survivor.) Then, we forget about the most recent disaster and go on with our lives. We're human after all and most of us have lives too busy to worry about something that hasn't happened to us - yet. That's the irony, some might say tragedy, of global warming and severe weather. If you live in certain parts of the world, the chances are increasing that you may be caught in an extreme weather event. Sadly, once this has happened you will probably be more likely to believe in global warming; however, you may also be homeless, suffering from PTSD, and unable to do anything about the knowledge you have gained.
Next to the Arctic, Australia is one of the places hardest hit by global warming. The Bush Fires of 2009, sometimes referred to as the Black Saturday Fires, killed 173 people, injured over 400 more, and destroyed hundreds of homes and devastated communities. Other areas of Australia have been hit by cyclones, floods, and fires. Not surprisingly, Australia is at the cutting-edge of studying the impact such events have on individuals and communities and developing programs to help survivors heal.
People with PTSD, as I wrote in an earlier post, have difficulty feeling safe again. I have mostly written about this in the context of individual trauma. However, it is equally important to keep in mind how PTSD affects those who have experienced large-scale traumatic events, such as hurricanes, fires, floods, and tornadoes. Feeling "safe" wouldn't be on the agenda any time soon. Climate change deniers would love to write these events off as acts of God or "Mother Nature" run amok. But what if some of these events were preventable? Then, dealing with climate change becomes a moral imperative, not simply a scientific debate. It reminds me of the debate over whether smoking causes cancer. In order to make that claim stick, it isn't necessary to account for ALL lung cancer. To agree that some people who never smoked still get lung cancer, is not the same thing as saying that smoking is safe. In a similar way, saying that global warming doesn't cause ALL severe weather events, is not the same thing as saying it doesn't cause any or there isn't a trend showing an increase of those events: an increase of disrupted lives and disrupted communities.
Here are some final thoughts from an Australian blogger.
What do you think?