Technician recently reported that 2019 was North Carolina’s hottest year on record. To those reading this while wearing short sleeves in early February, this may not feel too shocking, but we should all be a bit alarmed that the temperature is shifting so rapidly.
Climate change is often considered to be a long-term threat — something the kids might have to worry about, but not a reason to act much differently in the present. However, evidence is increasingly pointing to real-world impacts of a warmer climate right now. “The hottest year on record” is now becoming a euphemism for “last year.”
Everyone alive today should be adjusting their thinking to give more weight to the climate in policy decisions; it isn’t an issue that we can kick down the road even another five years. Failing to do so would be ignoring a powerful contributor to economic harm. As a hypothetical, permitting an offshore oil plant could seem like a reliable billion-dollar investment if you don’t consider that bigger floods may cost twice that much over the next few years.
A recent study found that Hurricane Florence was noticeably larger and more damaging than it would have been in a cooler world. Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in September 2018, but some towns are still cleaning up the damage. A News & Observer article described how Swansboro experienced severe flooding thanks to its riverside location, but like many small coastal towns in eastern North Carolina, it doesn’t have the resources to make radical infrastructure changes.
Many students at NC State hail from rural counties with these issues, but everyone has experienced heavy storms and flash flood warnings, and we all have a lot to lose if climate change continues to accelerate.
It’s difficult to think of hurricanes as more than an unstoppable disaster, something that happens to you and you recover from, rather than something that can and should be planned for ahead of time. This mental shift is necessary in understanding how climate change produces real impacts on daily life. It’s not a car crash, swift and devastating; it’s a puncture in a tire which lowers your fuel mileage and damages your axles. It doesn’t seem as intimidating, but it can cause just as much grief over the next few years.
In areas like California and Australia, wildfires are a flashy point of evidence for why ordinary people should care about climate change. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s chief concern is flooding and sea level rise, which is more difficult to notice. When you think of rise in sea levels, the image that may come to mind is a coastal city being permanently flooded, but this dramatic of a change isn’t necessary to make a place unlivable. More rain and a higher water level don’t often cause floods by themselves, they make floods stretch further and do more damage.
2019 being the hottest year on record for the state doesn’t mean a whole lot. But having warmer than average temperatures several years in a row worsens catastrophes like the triple whammy of Hurricanes Matthew, Florence and Dorian hitting North Carolina’s coast. Stronger storms, more severe droughts, and, eventually, submerged coastlines are all dangers that climate change is likely to produce if nothing is done to stop it. The threat we face from global warming isn’t explosive, but it’s still deadly serious.