each hurricane batters lands, flattens homes, floods streets, leaving
hundreds of people struggling to get back to business, scientists try to
answer a crucial question: Is global warming making hurricanes worse?
Which, in other words is the same as asking, is our lifestyle making
hurricanes stronger? And, would changes in our lifestyle contribute to
planetary health? So far, research, mostly based on mathematical models,
isn't giving us a conclusive answer.
The fine balance of
the Earth has been gradually disrupted by modern daily life, and changes
in that balance in many ways affect our individual health. But in this
polemic issue, interpretations of the studies are biased by our strong
tendency towards denial. Accepting that we're somehow responsible for
the Earth's wellness would force us into mindful living. And we are
sturdily resistant to changes. We're looking for comfort, no matter the
environmental price we have to pay.
A new study by Kerry
Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, published in the
journal Nature, concludes that hurricanes have become stronger and
longer-lasting in the past 30 years, which correlates with a rise in sea
surface temperatures. The strengthening of the storms also correlates
with the increasing pounds of carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere
from transportation, air conditioning and waste disposal.
In chaos theory,
which advocates for a responsible attitude towards the universe where we
live, there is "the butterfly effect" concept,stating that the flapping
of a butterfly's wings in Japan may eventually cause a hurricane in the
Caribbean. Incidentally, chaos theory derives from a meteorologist who
found that very small variations in the data entered in a computer would
give him radically different forecast outcomes. Sounds familiar? Aren't
we suspended in awe, paralyzed by the not-knowing, of the different
forecast models predicting that a storm seems to be heading our way, but
may land miles north or south of us?
fantasize with the
idea that if a storm is approaching and we all turn our air conditioning
up a few degrees, off when it's not needed, that we can make a
difference in the temperature of the waters that feed the threatening
divine winds. Chaos theory gives us hope that small contributions on our
part would translate into positive outcomes.
By now, probably
everybody knows that global warming is the result of a buildup of
greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide, but also methane,
chloroflorocarbons and nitrous oxide) in the atmosphere. These gases
come mainly from the cars we drive. If we drive an average of 200 miles
per week in a vehicle that uses around 22 miles per gallon, our vehicle
will emit 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Gases also come from
the electricity and the natural gas used in our households. EPA has
calculated the emission of 20,000 pounds of CO2 per household, based on
an average of 1,000 kwh/month and 11,000 pounds per household from
natural gas. Waste disposal would be responsible for as much as 4,800
lbs of CO2 emissions, based on a household of two.
But take into account
that these statistics, provided by the Environmental Protection Agency,
are eight years old and in the past decade thousands of new cars have
been put in the roads, and forests, which could clean the air from some
car emissions are shrinking fast. For 60 years, the World Health
Organization's definition of health as a "state of complete physical,
mental and social well-being," has served the purpose of defining the
scope of public health. But, in these past decades, climate changes call
for a redefinition, according to Dr. Raymond Hayes and Taseer Hussain
who presented a proposal to revisit the above mentioned definition at
the 16th Global Warming International Conference, held last April in New
York City. The new definition should consider not only the impact that
our lifestyle has on planetary health, but also shall depart from a
concern about climate sensitive diseases.
Human health is
fragile, and dependent on the larger world around it. We shouldn't lose
sight of the interconnectedness of all life or the consequences of our
behavior. While planetary health eventually becomes a public health
matter, it has been left to us to make wise choices. If ocean heat is
the key factor for hurricane formation, more heat necessarily means
generation of more intense storms. Therefore, our contribution to stop
global warming will hopefully spare us from the damage of stronger
storms in the future.
According to WHO,
approximately 600,000 deaths occurred worldwide as a result of
weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s.
Published in the Naples Sun Times (Oct 28, 2005) under
the title "Spooky Winds."