The climate crisis has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like Hurricane Dorian. Storms like this one are why we must raise our political expectations, says Greenpeace’s Jack Shapiro
DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.
Hurricane Dorian has utterly devastated The Bahamas. The storm was the most powerful to ever hit the country. It’s killed at least seven people in just two days. Some 13,000 homes in the islands Great Abaco and Great Bahama have been destroyed. Footage shows mile on mile of flooded streets and shredded buildings and shipping containers just thrown in every direction. The hurricane closed in on Florida’s coast on Tuesday evening too. Late Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center warned that by Friday most of the southeast coast of the United States could face life-threatening conditions. More than one million US residents have been told to evacuate.
Now, joining me to talk about this is Jack Shapiro, who is a Senior Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace. He’s joining us today from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks so much for being here, Jack.
JACK SHAPIRO: Yeah, great to be with you.
DHARNA NOOR: So could you just start by talking about the extent of the damage that this hurricane has already done? I mean, entire communities have been swept away in parts of The Bahamas. There’s reports that say that 70% of the areas that were hit are still under water, some 60% of homes were apparently damaged in the capital of the Abaco Islands, Marsh Harbor. Could you just talk about the extent of all of this?
JACK SHAPIRO: Yeah, I mean, with any extreme weather event linked to climate change like this, our first concern has to be about the people and communities affected, making sure that relief efforts are getting to those communities, and that people are getting the food, the shelter, water, all of their basic needs met in the aftermath. And also, making sure that the folks that are in harm’s way along the southeast coast are also getting to safety. Although this is now a category two storm, there are still a very dangerous storm surge and wind warnings all up the southeast coast, and still definitely something that people need to be concerned about and prepared for.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, absolutely. And talk about the role of climate change in disasters like this. I mean, of course, warmer temperatures and warmer oceans worsen these kinds of storms. What kind of role can we say that the climate crisis plays? And what responsibilities does the U S government and the fossil fuel industry play here for these kinds of losses? How key will climate accountability cases be moving forward in sorting through adaptation and reparations and civil liability?
JACK SHAPIRO: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot to cover there. I think the scientists have been warning us for decades that climate change will be making extreme weather more frequent and severe. You mentioned the connection between warmer ocean water and stronger hurricanes, that’s absolutely the case. More than 90% of the additional heat already trapped by greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has gone into the ocean, and that’s contributing to these storms, as well as rising sea levels, increased rainfall from a warmer atmosphere. All of those make these damages worse. It’s storms like this, along with the storms that we’ve seen in in recent years, Florence, which also went through North Carolina in the path of this storm, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, even all the way back to Katrina. These are all incredibly visceral reminders that we must move soon towards 100% renewable economy and away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, absolutely. And as with many of the disasters that you just mentioned, disasters that folks are still recovering from, the media just sort of leaves the narrative of climate change out. And now the watchdog Media Matters found that last Wednesday, ABC, NBC and CBS didn’t even mention climate change in their coverage of this hurricane. Could you talk about your response to that and what you expect from the media broadly when this kind of disaster happens?
JACK SHAPIRO: Yeah. Our expectations have to be higher from the media and also from our elected leaders on this. Not just talking about these kinds of issues, but actually taking action to address it. I mean, climate change goes beyond disaster response. I mean, at its heart, it’s an issue that affects people, and it affects people in different ways. The people who are least able to get out of the way of storms like this— the elderly, people with children, folks with disabilities or health impacts, people with less economic resources, maybe don’t have a car— these are people that are affected first and worst by these kinds of disasters, and it’s our responsibility as a society to take this problem head on.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess just to wrap up, talk about what’s next. What can the US or regional governments do to ensure that The Bahamas has a just recovery, and that moving forward this kind of devastation doesn’t happen quite as much? I mean, we’re speaking just several hours before a big Town Hall on the climate crisis featuring all of the Democratic candidates for president at this moment. Talk a little bit about what you expect from a policy standpoint to mitigate these kinds of disasters.
JACK SHAPIRO: Yeah, I think it’s incumbent on anyone running for president certainly to treat the climate crisis as the emergency that it is. And really, that comes down to a reckoning for the fossil fuel industry. This is the industry that knowingly for decades has contributed to this crisis, and right now is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in new exploration for more oil and gas that’s going to make this crisis worse. So we want to hear from the candidates on what their plans are to support a Green New Deal that’s going to create millions of clean energy jobs for folks and also a just transition away from fossil fuels, ultimately winding down the industry that’s responsible for this crisis in the first place.
DHARNA NOOR: All right. Thank you so much. Jack Shapiro is Senior Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace, joining us from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks so much for giving us this context. As we continue to see how folks recover, we’d love to have you on again.
JACK SHAPIRO: Yeah. Great to be with you. I’d be happy to.
DHARNA NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.