Explaining Hurricane Harvey (& Climate Change) to a 7-Year-Old

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Sitting at home watching the devastating images of Houston and South Texas on the news, my heart is saddened, but I am not shocked.  My 7 year old daughter says to me, "Mom, how does climate change make the storm worse?"  I am not surprised by the question, because my kids know my dedication to the issue of climate change.  But I am fascinated by watching my daughter make the connection to climate change while watching the images of boats rescuing people from their flooded homes, on the news.  

I have been prepared for these worsening storms by the Climate Reality Leadership Training that I did earlier this year.  I have been educated on the dangers that an increasing climate has on storms.   And I acknowledge that I am a contributor to this storm.  We are all contributors to this storm.  

In response to my daughter, I point to the light above me.  I explain to her that all of these things we use every day, burn fossil fuels.  The TV we are watching, the car we drive and all the stuff we buy, all require fossil fuels to be made and to work.  When we do all of these activities, it burns fossil fuels, which are a dirty form of energy, and it sends pollution into the air.  That pollution creates a warm layer around the planet, like a blanket, and traps in heat.  That heat, also heats up the ocean.  When we have warmer oceans, we get much bigger storms.  

"So why don't we just use wind and solar energy instead of dirty energy, so we don't get the bigger storms?" she asks me.  

How do I respond to this?  Do I tell her that while Texas experiences the consequences of Hurricane Harvey, some of our leaders want to increase the production of dirty energy?  How does that make any sense, even to a child?  She understands the connection.  She understands that we have all the tools we need to get power from non-polluting, sustainable sources, but people in power are making choices not to use them.   

My biggest takeaway from the training with Vice President Al Gore was when he said this (and I’m paraphrasing), They (scientists) used to say that you could not say a storm was caused by climate change....now they say that all storms are different because of climate change.  

Before the training, I’ll admit, I didn't understand the connection.  I didn’t realize that 93% of the extra heat trapped by man-made global warming pollution goes into the ocean*.  Mr. Gore taught me the two consequences of these now warmer oceans:  

1) Stronger storms

2) Disruptions to the hydrological system

In first grade, my daughter learned about the water cycle.  I explained to her that because of warming oceans, the water cycle is supercharged.  More water evaporates from the ocean into the air.  And warmer air can hold more water vapor (like in a hot steamy shower).  Because there is more water in the air, the downpours of rain get much, much bigger.  

Although there is no doubt that even children can understand the connection between warmer oceans and bigger storms, Mr. Gore left us with an analogy that we all can understand.  He said the climate/storm connection is like steroids and home run hitting.  One could pose the question, "Did steroids cause that home run?"  The answer is, if someone is on steroids, every hit is different, because of the steroids.  The same is true of all storms.  They are now on steroids.   Every storm is now different, because of climate change.  

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The mission of the Climate Reality Project, is to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.  The Climate Reality Leadership Corps is the signature leadership training program and global network of activists, committed to spreading awareness of the climate crisis.  

The opinions expressed in this article are mine and not of Climate Reality or Al Gore.  

REFERENCES:

* Vicente R. Barros et al., Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Chapter 3 - Observations: Ocean (March 31, 2014): 257. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/WGIIAR5-PartB_FINAL.pdf