POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — In searching for an explanation for the nearly simultaneous occurrence of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many people are focusing on the issue of climate change.
Having to withstand two storms of such great magnitude in less than a month is certainly an unprecedented and difficult task for people all over the country, including the Hudson Valley. In the wake of the storms, professors at Marist College weighed in on the role that climate change has played in the emergence of these storms and how to address the issue going forward.
Dr. Richard Feldman, an environmental science professor at Marist, said that he firmly believes there is a direct link between the rising climate and the recent hurricanes. He said, “One doesn’t have to be a climate scientist or an atmospheric scientist to appreciate what’s happening.”
Feldman explained the science behind how the rising climate contributes to the formation of hurricanes. He said that for 100 years the atmosphere has been getting warmer, and the rising heat in the atmosphere allows the clouds to hold more moisture. This allows any water that evaporates to accumulate to a greater extent in the atmosphere, resulting in extremely heavy rainfall. The accumulation of moisture combined with the stronger wind currents created by the heat is how hurricanes are formed. Hurricane Irma, Feldman said, was reported to have stronger winds than any recorded hurricane in the Atlantic.
Dr. Thomas Lynch, also an environmental science professor at Marist, is not as certain that climate change plays a role in the storms. He says it is “impossible to say” if there is a direct link between climate change and the storms and added that there have been many storms of the same magnitude throughout history. While Feldman strongly believes that climate change contributed to these storms, he does not know if it caused the storms to occur so close together. He said, “The frequency of hurricanes may not be related to climate change, but the intensity is.”
Both professors believe that climate change is a problem that must be confronted. They each acknowledged that they have seen some encouraging signs of advocacy on the issue from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as well as non-governmental organizations such as Scenic Hudson.
However, Feldman and Lynch each said that they would like to see more efforts specifically from Marist in addressing climate change. They each expressed frustration particularly with the Marist Board of Trustees over their lack of urgency on the issue. Lynch attributed the board’s resistance to being proactive on climate change to their business mindsets and being primarily concerned of the costs of any shift in the school’s energy usage. Feldman implored the students at Marist to “raise hell” about how the school gets its energy and what sources the school is invested in, hoping that it would cause the college to rethink its methods of energy usage.
Feldman and Lynch each proposed similar policy ideas to fighting climate change, sharing the same overall goal to incentivize reducing the use of carbon. One method they each believe to be effective for this policy goal is to raise taxes on natural gas and fossil fuels while at the same time reducing income taxes. In effect, this would allow the people and the market to determine which direction the country will go for its energy consumption.
Feldman said that one of his biggest concerns is that he does not think the majority of the public and the majority of our institutional leaders “really understand that (climate change) is a problem of our day that has to be addressed just like terrorism has to be addressed.” He believes it is imperative that the population at large becomes much more aware of the issue and at treats it like any other imminent threat.
Lynch provided a similar sentiment saying, “If climate change continues to be an issue and the planet continues to suffer, it’s on us.”