Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas two years ago, killing almost 70 people. Since then, scientists from around the country have recovered the fingerprints of one culprit that made the storm so deadly: climate change.
Two separate studies have found the storm’s record rainfall was worsened by 15 to 38 percent due to warming temperatures. Similarly, a government report produced last year by 13 federal agencies including NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency cited Harvey’s severity as “consistent with what might be expected as the planet warms.”
Late last year, Gov. Greg Abbott was asked about the role of climate change exacerbating disasters like Harvey. “I’m not a scientist,” he responded, according to the Dallas Morning News. Weeks later, scientists from Texas A&M, the University of Texas, and Rice University wrote a letter to Abbott linking climate change to Harvey’s deadly flooding.
As Harvey and the state’s heat waves have demonstrated, climate change has already hit home in Texas — and the state’s Republican leadership has done little (really nothing) to prevent the looming climate tinderbox. Several climate change-related bills filed earlier this year would have allowed the state to study and plan for climate change, but they died in Republican-led committees.
“I’m consistently frustrated in the legislature because the Republican majority has either ignored or denied the existence of climate change,” Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who filed one of the bills told The Signal recently. “We’re not dumb. Texans aren’t dumb. We see this happening in real time.”
“I couldn’t even get a hearing,” Anchia said of his bill to establish a commission to study the effects of climate change in Texas. “[Republicans] know that it’s happening. They see the science from NASA, from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). I fear that we’re reaching a tipping point.”
Scientists have sounded the alarm on aspects of climate change that pose an existential threat to the Lone Star State: more severe and more frequent wildfires and droughts, more severe and more frequent flooding, more tornados, more beach erosion, more destruction of the ecosystem, and more deaths. In the future, the impact of climate will be more pronounced, whether on the state’s agriculture and cattle business or the health of Texans, who will make more frequent hospital visits to deal with heat-related illnesses like cardiac arrest, respiratory illness, and allergies.
Even business, to varying degrees, is effectively admitting there’s a problem.
“The top brass at international oil companies, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, have publicly promised to reduce emissions, calling for a carbon tax that would encourage the private sector to develop market-efficient solutions,” wrote Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson. “[Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey] said many of these companies have been working on climate change mitigation technologies for years; they just don’t talk about them. Probably for fear they might have to mention the global crisis they spent even more years ignoring.”
As the date of Harvey’s landfall stretches further into the past, the storm’s enduring legacy will not only be the billions in economic damage, or the new drainage improvements in Houston, but one of the first storms to be turbocharged by climate change.