Summit Daily letters: Hot takes on hurricanes Harvey and Irma
September 14, 2017
Hot takes on the hurricanes
I suspect this column will offend many. That's not my intention; but defense of the truth demands a response. Quite predictably, Harvey and Irma have brought out irrational responses all around.
Background: Humans by nature jump to conclusions about situations they observe. We do this in an attempt to understand our world. These conclusions reveal loads about our preconceived notions. We rationalize how we know certain things by constructing arguments, often flimsy ones. Finally, and of huge importance, we dismiss evidence that runs counter to our preferred explanation. This behavior isn't sinister, and, moreover, we're usually not even aware that we do it.
In response to Harvey, some of my devout Christian friends state that what happened in Houston was a result of the wickedness in that city. While I'm sure that there's wickedness there, and I do believe that it's possible — if highly unlikely — that societies suffer disasters due to their sins, I stop far short of ever concluding as much.
From the "science" side, people are also concluding things that they have no business doing, claiming that the hurricanes were caused by climate change, that having been caused by human activity. They so much want it to be true that they dispense with intellectual rigor.
In an effort to offer some disclaimer, or to limit the extent of their claim, you will undoubtedly hear introductory statements like, "Of course, climate change cannot account for any specific storm." Then, as though they've not even made such a statement, they proceed to draw unsubstantiated conclusions that fit their worldview. Such as: "It's a fact: Climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly." "With global temperatures rising, we should expect more such storms." And, my favorite, "This is the new normal." As if we're patient enough to look at events over long enough of a timescale to determine what "normal" is.
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Employing confirmation bias, they're sure that this year's storms provide proof for global warming's effect on hurricanes, while they dismiss the fact that not one major hurricane made landfall in the U.S. in the previous 12 years.
Is it possible that hurricane Harvey hit Houston because of the sinful behavior of its inhabitants? Sure, it's possible. Can we conclude as much? No way. Is it possible that Harvey occurred due to humans driving cars? Sure, it's possible. Should we claim that human activity caused it? Not if we want to be taken seriously.
With most interesting timing, on Aug. 30, NOAA issued a report titled "Global Warming and Hurricanes" that covered more than 100 years of Atlantic hurricane activity. The summary statements starts, "It is premature to conclude that human activities — and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming — have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity. That said, human activities may have already caused changes that are not yet detectable due to the small magnitude of the changes or observational limitations, or are not yet confidently modeled." It's important to note the word "may." In scientific discussions, it's proper to distinguish what we know from what we suspect may be true.
The report does suggest that we very well may see increased storm activity in the future, as a result of global warming. But they exhibit proper discipline in stating that no such claim can be made now. And we won't be in a position to do that for decades to come.
The report continues, "In short, the historical Atlantic hurricane record does not provide compelling evidence for a substantial greenhouse warming-induced long-term increase."
To be clear, these recent hurricanes have brought serious destruction and have ruined many, many lives. These people need our help in order to rebuild. The occurrences of these storms should remind us of how powerful nature can be, and how humble and cautious we must be when we inhabit regions prone to such natural phenomena.
If we claim to be rational beings, and are dedicated to progress and honesty, we must make a clear distinction about what we know, and about what we only suspect.
If you're predisposed to believe that humans are causing global warming, and that it results in more hurricanes — it should be noted that these are two entirely different things — this year's hurricane season will likely override a 100-plus-year study that contradicts such claims. Just like, if you're predisposed to believe that God regularly allows natural disasters to occur to punish sinners, Harvey and Irma mean that Texas and Florida deserved it.
There's something very unscientific about, instead of making specific predictions, holding them up to scrutiny, honestly and patiently looking at the evidence for and against them, one sits back, in effect waits for disasters and says, "See, I told you so."
Backing the Wilderness and Recreation Act
I was pleased to read that Congressman Jared Polis and Senator Michael Bennet are keen to introduce the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act this Congress. As a veteran, Camp Hale has always been a source of pride for our area, and it is high time it receives the recognition and protection it deserves.
Along with preserving outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat, the bill would honor the legacy and sacrifices of World War II veterans who trained for winter combat in the European Theater and then returned home to establish Colorado's world-renowned outdoor skiing industry. Our protected public lands hold a special meaning for veterans.
America is famous for her spacious skies and purple mountain majesties and we fought for our right to call these places home. Our lands and waters are also a source of strength and resilience for veterans and their families. They are the places we go to reconnect with our loved ones, our values, and rebuild our lives.
Lately, we are witnessing unprecedented assaults on our lands and waters here in Colorado and across the country. Outside interests would rather develop or sell off our shared public lands than preserve them for future generations. But once these places are gone, they are gone forever. I want to thank Rep. Polis and Sen. Bennet for their leadership and look forward to them introducing the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act soon. I also urge Senator Corey Gardner to support the legislation, as celebrating World War II veterans is something we should all get behind.
10th Mountain Division Veteran 2003-2007
When the world is traumatic
Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Devastating fires and floods. Political strife. Racial division. Immigrants and refugees. War. School and workplace violence. The next global, regional or local tragedy — the world overwhelms these days.
As humans we are wired for empathy, and with the amount of traumatic experiences we are exposed to every day on television and social media it seems like we are unable to take a break from heartbreak and anticipating the next disaster. So, how does one effectively navigate through the traumas?
Firstly be kind, including to yourself. Trauma and fear grow in isolation so reach out to others, it will benefit both them and you. Making a thoughtful 'caring contact' outreach every day to let someone know you are thinking of them will buoy spirits and strengths, and it can be as simple as a short text or phone call.
Protect yourself and your loved ones, especially children and adolescents, from the non-stop traumatizing images we see around-the-clock on television and social media. Immersing oneself in the 24/7 coverage has been shown to induce 'secondary trauma' — stress resulting from empathizing with a traumatized or suffering person. Turn the screen off, you will feel much more peaceful.
Make a difference in your own backyard. You may not be able to support disaster recovery and relief efforts across the globe but you can volunteer locally and ease some of the suffering happening right here to in the community.
These are just a few ways to deal with what is happening around us and create a mental health toolbox we can use to our benefit, but sometimes dealing with trauma does takes working with a mental health professional. When that is the case, please know that there are many resources in the community and at Mind Springs Health. We are here to help.
Sharon Raggio LPC LMFT
President & CEO Mind Springs Health/West Springs Hospital
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