The past two years have brought not only a pandemic, but also an astounding number of devastating extreme weather events. In the United States alone a few notable examples include the heat dome in the Northwest, a deadly cold spell in Texas, a derecho across the Midwest, tornadoes spanning Tennessee and Kentucky, flooding in the Northeast following Hurricane Ida, and multiple hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. According to the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is evidence that climate change increases the likelihood of severe heatwaves, droughts, rainfall, hurricanes, and more. As on NPR article succinctly put it, “climate change is making natural disasters worse.”
Throughout the many extreme weather events and natural disasters in 2020 and 2021, individuals used social media to bring attention to the personal impacts of these events, their long-term consequences, and the role that climate change likely played in fueling them. Above, a few examples of such posts are showcased.
Some tweets simply showed the astounding, surreal, and heart wrenching effects that natural disaster can have. When we see miniblinds warped by a record-breaking heatwave, a favorite hiking trail lost to a wildfire, or ash raining down onto suburban houses, we get a glimpse of how climate change can disrupt everyday life for people like you and me. Videos of flash flooding in a New York City subway station powerfully illustrated how the remnants of a hurricane can turn a mundane commute into a harrowing experience.
Meanwhile, photos and videos of flooded neighborhoods, flattened buildings, damaged farm silos, and gutted kitchens emphasized the long-term impacts of disasters. Some of these tweets were posted weeks or months after extreme weather events originally took place, serving as a reminder that the toll climate change takes on people’s lives can linger long after stories have faded from headlines. Finally, other tweets called out companies for their role in magnifying human suffering during these disasters or called attention to the role that climate change has played throughout so many devastating events.
Climate change is massive in scale, spanning huge timeframes and physical distances. Firsthand accounts of natural disasters that were likely made worse by climate change help make the crisis more real and urgent. Looking at tweets like the ones shown above, climate change transforms from a threat looming over distant countries or future generations into a risk facing our homes and communities here and now.
IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGII_Summar...
Pruitt-Young, S. (2021, September 11). Climate change is making natural disasters worse - along with our mental health. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2021/09/11/1035241392/climate-change-disasters-menta...
World Meteorological Organization. (2021). WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019). Retrieved from https://library.wmo.int/doc_num.php?explnum_id=10989