By Danielle Kuntz
Over the past few years, weather events that we once considered rare have only become more common. Wildfires blazing across the West Coast and hurricanes that have even affected those of us in Arkansas raise concern for the planet’s health and how it will affect our future as humans. It is our duty to educate ourselves on these current, strange weather events; such events are imperative because they reflect how humans treat the Earth and whether or not we will continue to exist for as long as we would with a healthy planet.
In 2020, California has had the most destructive wildfire season on record for the state. Oregon has had one of its most devastating wildfires on record. So far in 2020, there have been approximately sixty separate wildfire recordings in California, consisting of many “complex fires” which contain several individual fires. One of the most notable complex fires is the August Complex Fire, which originated as thirty-eight separate fires— these count as only one of the sixty separate wildfire recordings. As of October 2nd, 8,155 fires in California have burned 4,142,656 acres. Meanwhile, Oregon’s wildfires have burned more than a million acres, and ninety percent of the fires have been attributed to human cause.
Wildfires are certainly not the only natural events in 2020 that have caused concern. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has consisted of twenty-five named storms. It is also the second most active season on record behind the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Of those storms, nine made landfall in the U.S., which ties the record set in 1916. For residents of the U.S., the most notable of the named storms in 2020 are likely Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Sally. Though Hurricane Laura, which hit the U.S. on August 27th, only weakened into a tropical depression for Arkansas residents, it tied with the 1856 Last Island hurricane as the strongest landfalling hurricane in Louisiana since 1851. It killed forty-two people in the United States and devastated areas in Louisiana and Texas. On the other hand, Hurricane Sally killed eight people after touching down on Gulf Shores, Alabama, also causing wind damage between Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.
These extreme weather events, which often force people to evacuate their homes, or even lose their homes forever, have proved to be a hindrance to students—especially in the online world. Professors are aware some students might be affected by the hurricanes and may lose power, so it is understandable if they are forced to leave in the middle of an online class period. However, one can imagine the amount of students displaced because the land around them is burning, or their houses are destroyed by heavy winds and water damage. In a remote-learning world, students need access to power, a computer, and study materials for their classes, all of which could be lost in a hurricane or wildfire.
Though the present effects of our extreme weather this year are notable, it raises some questions on the future of the planet and the danger of these events recurring. For instance, the wildfires are largely caused by California’s severe increase in heat and dryness— factors that are caused directly by climate change, hence the often-used phrase “global warming.” Wildfires are not the only event whose likelihood is increased by climate change, however. Scientists have found a statistically significant connection between hurricane intensity and warmer waters, the latter of which is directly caused by climate change. Scientists also believe that climate change may create supercharged storms in the future.
2020 has brought record-setting extreme weather events, from the millions of acres burned in California and Oregon, to the billions of dollars in damage caused by a multitude of tropical storms. Though an extreme case of wildfires and hurricanes are expected once in a blue moon, these weather events most certainly should not be occurring with the frequency that they are today. These events are a mere outline of what could come in the future if we continue to perpetuate climate change instead of combating it; one way to do this is by reducing the amount of carbon we produce. Scientists dedicate their lives to studying the natural world, many of them studying climate change and the environment specifically. The least any of us as students, consumers, and human beings can do is educate ourselves on climate change and implement practices in our daily lives that prevent us from fabricating our own downfall. In order to ensure a healthy planet for ourselves, for our children, and for the continuation of humanity, you can conduct your own research, pressure corporations into doing better, form your own plans to reduce your carbon footprint, and encourage others to do the same.
For more information on how you can help, Hendrix’s Environmental Concerns Committee (ECC@hendrix.edu) is a great place to start.
This article was featured in the Issues Issue. Check out the Issues Issue in its full glory here.