The recent floods in Louisiana have been considered the “worst natural disaster in the United States since 2012’s Superstorm Sandy”, according to the American Red Cross. These floods, which have affected the regions surrounding Baton Rouge and Lafayette, have resulted in damages to at least 60,000 homes. 13 people have been reported dead due to the flooding as well. Providing relief for the victims of the flooding is going to be a long process, according to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, noting that it will take “many months” for the state to fully recover. Reactions to the flooding in Louisiana, along with the heavy rainfall that the South has been receiving for the past few years, have ranged from proof of climate change to government inaction when dealing with natural disasters.
The amount of rainfall that hit Louisiana had a 0.2 percent chance of occurring. What does this mean? Basically, the amount of precipitation that lead to the flooding had the same chance of occurring once every five hundred years. The flooding in Louisiana is the eighth time since an event with those same chances has occurred, joining the ranks of others states such as Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia which have experienced flooding and heavy rainfall since May of 2015.
There are many scientists attributing these heavy rainfalls to evidence of climate change, but there are others that point out that it’s hard to directly cite it as the explicit cause. Barry D. Keim, the Louisiana state climatologist, pointed out the difficulty in trying to pinpoint whether it really is climate change or some other factor affecting the environment. Keim stated, “It’s really hard to attribute things like this without a larger body of evidence, and, of course, the question keeps coming up: How large does that body of evidence have to get?”
Scientists are put into an interesting situation when describing the effects of climate change and how they relate to the recent flooding or rainfall that has not only affected the United States, but other parts of the world as well. “Climate change has already been shown to increase the amounts of rain falling in the most intense events across many parts of the world, and extreme rainfall events like this week’s Louisiana storm are expected [to] grow increasingly common in the coming years,” wrote Bob Henson and Jeff Masters from the Weather Underground.
The links between climate change and the excessive amount of rainfall can be “influenced by a moister atmosphere, which is a relatively direct consequence of human-induced warming…” according to the National Academy of Sciences. The more the atmosphere warms up, the more it has the ability to retain water vapor. This water vapor could culminate into a range of outcomes from blizzards to tropical cyclones and the main similarity between them is the amount of increased precipitation they could produce. Adam Sobel, a climate scientist at Columbia University, mentioned the increasing rainfall that has been occurring in the United States. “Observations over the US and many other places around the world show that heavy rain events have been becoming heavier over the last several decades.”
Along with discussions about climate change, government reactions to the flooding in Louisiana has been a hot topic. President Obama has received criticism for his reaction to the flooding in Louisiana, with conservatives noting his apparent lack of motivation to visit those affected by the flood. Comparing his reaction to former President George W. Bush, Republicans have pointed out that even Donald Trump visited the affected flood areas before any other political candidate or figure. However, state and local officials from Louisiana have praised the federal government’s overall response to the flooding, a stark contrast to the reactions received after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Not only is the government’s reaction to natural disasters important, but their stance on why they are occurring is important as well. The Obama Administration has taken a clear stance on focusing on cleaner energy and cutting down on carbon pollution. Obama’s administration has not denied the existence of climate change, making the point of “building a more climate-resilient America”. Compare this with Donald Trump’s campaign (which has no mention of the environment on his campaign website) and the issue of how government officials or even possible future presidents acknowledge climate change becomes even more important. Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax (like many other conservative government officials) and ignoring the countless amounts of scientists who have researched and studied the effects of climate change is not only dangerous for those affected by adverse weather conditions right now, but even more dangerous for future generations.
On an international level, the reactions to climate change and what should be done to prevent it from getting worse depends on the country. The United Nations have met several times to discuss what can be done concerning climate change and how to lower the amount of emissions produced by countries, most of these countries being developed nations which have a large industrial base. However, the developing nations which are attempting to expand their industrial sector and further develop their economy are stuck in a situation where the emissions they are producing are not clean and are harmful to the environment, but due to their lower socioeconomic status, they are left with few options when it comes to creating clean energy.
The floods in Louisiana may never be as bad as they are right now. They could also be more severe in the future. When dealing with natural disasters, government officials and organizations need to analyze how to prevent and recover from these events. Planning for the future, whether it be investing in infrastructure or investing in more research concerning climate change, is absolutely vital in ensuring that these events do not take us by surprise and leave communities and families destroyed.
— Talia Chavez
New York Times: