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Sierra Club meeting explains hurricanes, climate change

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By: Rebekah Fuchko

DECATUR, Ga.  – A Georgia Tech lecturer gave a presentation to members of Sierra Club’s Atlanta chapter Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 concluding that, while there is an increase in the intensity of hurricanes, the connection between hurricanes and climate change cannot be definitively stated.

Dynamics of weather and climate expert, Zachary Handlos, told the audience that there is a correlation between tropical cyclones and global warming, but there isn’t enough data to officially conclude anything because there are a lot of tropical cyclones unaccounted for before 1965.

“We can make hypotheses, but it’s a tricky problem to solve,” Handlos said. “Some papers I’ve been reading say we need another three decades worth of data to really come to a conclusion, which is scary because if it is from anthropogenic sources, adjusting to it that late, in 2050, would be hard. One of the lessons I want everyone to get out of this room is that we are seeing an increase in intensity, but the models are not their best yet."

The topic of the Sierra Club Atlanta chapter’s September meeting came in the wake of the onslaught of hurricanes occurring over the past few weeks.

“We were thinking of different topics, then Harvey hit, and we knew others were forming also,” said Nina Dutton, Sierra Club’s Atlanta chapter chair. “We knew we could get someone to speak on short notice with so many other universities around.”

A small crowd was in attendance, consisting of both long and short-term members and even a first-time attendee, Michael Patinkin, who said he learned a lot about what constitutes a hurricane and about the connection between hurricanes and climate change.

“I didn’t really have expectations coming into the meeting," Patinkin said. "It came up on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a work in progress, so it’s hard to draw a hard line and make a sweeping statement like that, but this presentation is evidence that there are people out there taking it seriously.”

Sierra Club, started in 1892, is now the largest grassroots environmental organization, with the Atlanta chapter forming in 1999. 18-year-member John Noel said he came to this meeting to meet like-minded people in regards to the climate change issue.

“I wanted to make sure I met the folks that cared most about this issue and want people to understand that there are other people who want to change things,” said Noel, who is running for Georgia’s Public Service Commission in 2018.

The night began with Dutton asking the audience to introduce themselves and share their personal stories about current and past experiences with hurricanes before introducing Handlos as the meeting’s lecturer.

Earlier parts of the presentation focused on what constitutes a hurricane and what constitutes climate change as separate entities before focusing on if or how they are related to one another.

Handlos took questions from the audience, some of which pushed the discussion forward, but others veered the lecture off topic.

One audience member asked about sand from the Sierra Desert being transported across the ocean and harming coral reefs in regards to Handlos discussing aerosols and the atmosphere.

Handlos concluded saying that the issue of climate change could be getting exponentially worse, so it doesn’t harm people to be prepared for an increase in environmental events.

“We can’t take for granted that these events are rare because they’re destructive and they hurt our country, our people and our economy,” Handlos said. “It’s a race against time, and time is not on our side at this point.”