Climate change is not a far-fetched theory of the future but a reality of today.
It is the whipping lashes of Hurricane Laura battering homes in Lake Charles. It is the Northern California fires erasing whole communities. It is the Louisiana coast swallowing towns; the collapsing glaciers roaring in defeat as they meet the warming sea.
Coastal land loss in Louisiana is a grim and destructive reminder of this phenomenon. And so was Hurricane Laura.
Louisiana breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week when Tropical Storm Marco fizzled out and Laura was labeled a Category 1 hurricane, a turn of events which seemed to contradict the reports of a historic double storm system in the gulf. Just two days later, however, residents would have to hold their breaths again as Hurricane Laura intensified into a Category 4 storm, prompting national news coverage of the impending storm surge deemed “unsurvivable.”
Supermarket shelves were stripped of essentials like water and canned goods, resembling the panic-buys of the early COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March. The University urged students to shelter in place and take precautions, and those left on the coast braced themselves as Laura throttled forth.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane trap solar energy in the atmosphere and warm the planet. Much of this warmth is absorbed by the ocean's surface, which acts as a temperature regulatory machine. Warming oceans cause sea levels to rise, but they also act as dangerous pit stops for hurricanes like Laura.
The Gulf of Mexico has been unusually warm this season, with water temperatures reaching up to 90 degrees in some areas. As Hurricane Laura hurtled over the Atlantic it swept up energy and water vapor from the sea below, fueling its rapid escalation.
Scientists have noticed that as oceans warm, storms intensify. Not only that but higher temperatures prompt evaporation, bringing more rainfall to places like Louisiana and increasing the risk of destructive--often deadly--floods.
While climate change likely was not the root cause of the storm itself, it was largely responsible for the hurricane’s abrupt escalation, which produced 150 mph winds.
As if Hurricane Laura wasn’t enough, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict more storms entering the Atlantic in 2020 than ever before, with estimates rivaling even the record storm season of 2005 that included Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana exists in twisted irony. It lays in perpetual anxiety for the next natural disaster, and today climate change only intensifies that fear. The fossil fuel industry on which the state's economy depends also contributes to the rising seas that swallow its lands and the storms that demolish its towns; industry-funded politicians cite economic talking points while ignoring the devastation Louisiana has seen in the past few years due to the effects of climate change.
Politicians--those who at least pretend to care--act like climate change is the inevitable burden Generation Z must shoulder later in life as adults. They lament the fact that their grandchildren will grow up on a dying Earth. What they fail to realize is that climate change is not a problem of tomorrow, but one we live through each day.
As Louisiana looks upon the damage of Hurricane Laura, let it see that the apocalyptic "future" has become the present.
Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.