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Harvey and Irma: A Wake Up Call to Climate Change

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Gustavus chapter.

Every morning when I wake up, my iPhone kindly provides me with headlines from a variety of news sources, inviting me to read about the latest happenings of the world. For the past week the headlines have, to no surprise, been focused on Hurricane Irma. Considering this is the second record-breaking hurricane within the past month, I hoped hurricane headlines would lead to conversations about climate change. But as I browsed the first twenty headlines about Irma on my News app, the phrase ‘climate change’ was nowhere to be found.

In the wake of Harvey and Irma, failing to discuss climate change is like failing to mention bacteria while discussing sickness; the two are so interrelated that it doesn’t make sense to talk about one without the other. Since their testimony in front of Congress in 1988, climate scientists have been warning government officials that human contributions to climate change (such as burning fossil fuels, mass animal agriculture, and fracking) exacerbate natural disasters, such as hurricanes. These human activities change our atmospheric makeup and, as explained in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, this causes the earth – and its oceans – to heat up. When hurricanes come into contact with these warmer waters, the heat increase the intensity of the storm, leading to destructive winds and flooding, as seen during the wake of Katrina, Irene, Harvey, and now Irma.

Graph via CNN.com

The frequency of these natural disasters should be a warning sign, a battle cry, that it’s time to start taking responsibility for our contribution to climate change. We may not be able to reverse the damage that has already been done, but we do have the power to prevent things from getting worse. As journalist Naomi Klein expresses in an article about Hurricane Harvey, “Talking honestly about what is fueling this era of serial disasters… is our last chance for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.” Between the six million Floridians without power, the 27 victims already dead, and the billions of dollars in damages resulting from Irma, Klein’s words are more important than ever. We only get one planet and, unless we make some major changes, natural disasters will claim even more victims. 


President of Her Campus at Gustavus Senior Communication Studies 2018 TFA Corp Member Collegiate Fellow HGTV enthusiast