The 2010s Taught Us Climate Change Is Affecting Our Health
Originally published on January 15, 2020 on Medium.
by Darragh O’Carroll M.D. – Emergency Medicine and Disaster Response physician, specializing in distilling complex medical topics to media digestible by all non-medical persons.
I first met Valery as I assessed her asthma on a small corner of Abaco Island in the Bahamas, sitting dazed on what was left of her porch, eyes fixed on her husband Eric’s overturned Honda CR-V. With an N95 breathing mask over her face she described life before Hurricane Dorian tore through her town of Marsh Harbor. She was elegant, regal, and spoke with flawless British grammar and diction, but just ten days after the colossal storm hit, her tired eyes and quivering voice hinted she was struggling to process the momentous shift in her and her husband’s future.
“So, we’re an elderly couple, we met in Nassau and came to Abaco in 2000, more or less about that time” said Valery. “We started to develop a farm out here, just small crops. We loved the peace and serenity that you see all around, and we’d been doing quite well, until Dorian came and wiped us all out.”
On September 1st 2019, Category 5 Hurricane Dorian crawled slowly at just one MPH over the northern Bahamian islands of Abaco and Grand Bahamas. For two days the islands were battered by sustained winds of 185 MPH and a storm surge as high as 20 feet, making it not only the strongest storm on record to ever strike the Bahamas, but one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever spin through Atlantic waters.
“The school where I did speech pathology in, they sent me a text saying the school is destroyed. So, there’ll be no school for another year…my livelihood is gone, and my husband’s livelihood is gone” said Valery.
Hurricane Dorian was the second to last major Atlantic hurricane of the decade, and the latest in a line of progressively louder clarion calls signaling a new normal is no longer waiting in the midst, but has arrived. 2019 was the fourth consecutive year to feature at least one Category 5 Atlantic hurricane, and one of just seven seasons (1932, 1933, 1961, 2005, 2007, 2017, 2019) where more than one Category 5 hurricane formed. According to climatologist consensus the ferocity and devastation released by Dorian on the island archipelago was fueled by a warming ocean, a consequence of human derived green house gas emissions and climate change.
If the 2010s have taught us anything, it’s to expect more frequent and larger storms.