Hurricane Irma continues its frightening march across Florida, having devastated parts of the Caribbean.
We know beyond all reasonable doubt that the warming climate makes extreme events stronger and much more likely. But is it ever too soon to talk about climate change?
British Green party MP Caroline Lucas was mocked in the House of Commons when she linked climate change to Irma.
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) 7 de setembro de 2017
Former oil man turned climate change blogger Andy Skuce had a pretty good comeback to that.
Would it be "lacking humanity" to mention that damage was caused by wind & rain made worse by unusually high and rising sea temperatures? https://t.co/9i1eVWuIzG— Andy Skuce 🇨🇦🛢️ (@andyskuce) 7 de setembro de 2017
Most experts say this: that talking about climate change is not disrespectful to victims of extreme weather. It's actually helpful, and may prevent future disasters.
Michael Mann is one of the world's leading climate scientists and was the first person to feature in HuffPost Australia's Breaking The Ice series. He wrote a piece before Irma even made landfall in Florida explaining the link between hurricanes and climate change:
"Hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean waters, and the oceans are warming because of the human-caused buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of coal, oil and gas. The strongest hurricanes have gotten stronger because of global warming..."
Mann concluded his piece with a warning:
"Harvey and Irma are sad reminders that policy matters. At a time when damage from climate change is escalating, we need sensible policy in Washington to protect the citizens of this country, both by reducing future climate change and preparing for its consequences."
Mann's stance is clear. The time to talk is when people are listening.
This idea is echoed strongly by Amanda McKenzie, CEO of Australia's Climate Council. Two years ago, during a particularly severe heatwave and bushfire season in Australia, she made the decision to talk about climate change while emergencies were happening. As she told HuffPost Australia recently (and you can listen to the full podcast below)
"When there is a car crash it's really important to understand what were the factors that caused that car crash. When someone dies of lung cancer it's important to talk about how smoking impacted on that person, so other people can learn from their experience.
Similarly, when there is an extreme weather event, it's crucial that we talk about climate change at the time it is happening, while everyone's focused on the event, so that we understand some of the key factors which are climate-related.
I think this argument that you can't talk about it because people are hurting is absolutely wrong. It's the opposite. We need to talk about why these people are hurting and how we need to tackle this issue so things don't get worse in the future.
That helps our community, our emergency services, our fire services, our health services prepare for the future as these weather events continue to get worse."
As for those who say it's inhumane (or worse) to talk about climate change in times of natural disasters, McKenzie made a point which relates to strongly to the conversation we highlighted at the top of this piece -- where a British Green MP was howled down by a conservative MP with strong oil industry links.
"The people that tend to come out and say how dare you talk about this when people are hurting are the ones that tend to deny climate change. So they don't want you talking about it at any time, let along at a time when it's going to be most potent and relevant."
Bottom line: most experts believe the time to talk is now.
But interestingly, despite a number of columns in the print and online media doing exactly that this week, TV news channels and dedicated cable weather channels have been virtually silent on climate change for fear of alienating some viewers, according to one analysis.Suggest a correction