Sarah Severn , Strategic Advisor to WBCA
At the time of writing this there are 71 large uncontained wildfires in the US, and over 8 million acres have burned. The fire in the Columbia River Gorge has displaced hundreds of residents, shut down Interstate 84 and burned 52 square miles (134 square kilometers).
On the East Coast Hurricanes Harvey & Irma could together cost the US 290bn according to Joel Myers of Accuweather and, as reported in US news, he cites “business disruptions, higher unemployment and transportation and infrastructure damage, along with crop loss and elevated gas prices that are expected to impact people across the country.” Lt General Russel L Honore , author of Leadership in the New Normal, stated in an interview with CNN that “40% of small businesses fail after disasters like Irma.” His point was that they do not have the financial resiliency to deal with this level of business disruption.
Looking outside the US the impacts of Irma on economically challenged, tourist dependent Caribbean countries are even harder to fathom. The island of Barbuda, the first landfall for Irma, has been declared uninhabitable. The Guardian reports “Small Caribbean islands smashed by Hurricane Irma are in a state of chaos and rising panic, with unknown numbers of dead and injured and many still missing or stranded almost a week after the storm ripped through the region. Wide areas of the British Virgin Islands have been reduced to rubble, with rats swarming through damaged houses and raw sewage creating a health hazard, as many await evacuation to the larger island of Puerto Rico, to the west, which was less badly hit.”
Meanwhile the 2017 monsoon season has brought death to at least 1800 people and devastation to millions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan and will impact food prices and supply on world markets.
While no one weather event can be blamed on climate change, the increased severity of storms, episodes of rain, drought and wildfires is clearly linked. The scientists have been telling us what to expect, and it’s here. Year after year we are seeing records broken and it’s getting to the point where keeping presentations on climate change current is a daily occupation.
As Paul Gilding says in his book The Great Disruption, for denial to end society has to believe we face a crisis, a serious crisis, a point in time when we face head on the risk of collapse of society as we know it. We may not have reached that point, but I would suggest it’s fast approaching. Gilding also references Winston Churchill, my favorite source of pithy statements who said “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.”So the question is, Will September 2017 be a teachable moment? Will the cumulative effects of all these recent events be sufficient for the majority of business leaders and politicians to do what is required? Will they take a united stand against the merchants of doubt and put us on a pathway to a vibrant clean energy future?