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Harvey and Irma sent a clear message about climate change | Editorial

Climate change is like gasoline poured on Mother Nature's fire. The agency charged with protecting the environment should acknowledge that.

Charlotte Glaze gives Donna Lamb a teary hug as she floats out her belongings after Hurricane Irma passed Jacksonville, Fla.
Charlotte Glaze gives Donna Lamb a teary hug as she floats out her belongings after Hurricane Irma passed Jacksonville, Fla.Read moreDede Smith / Florida Times-Union

If the devastation to Texas and Florida by two historic hurricanes won't get President Trump's pollution-enabling head of the Environmental Protection Agency to acknowledge climate change, perhaps nothing will. But the rest of the nation can't wait for him to grasp reality.

It's time to act because hurricanes Harvey and Irma took too many lives and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. It's time to act because the storms' fury swept away the foolish notion that climate change is someone else's problem. It's time because there is still time to mitigate the damage of future storms.

But there are hurdles, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is gutting the very agency that can protect us from weather catastrophes.

Pruitt told CNN: "To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm vs. helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced." Like the world-class manipulator he is, Pruitt used rhetorical flourishes to set up a false choice.

Focusing on climate change and helping people affected by it are not mutually exclusive. He knows that, but doesn't want to upset his pals in the energy industry. If he's going to lead the EPA, he needs to pull his head out of the muck.

Millions struggled to survive the hurricanes, or watched them in horror. They know that Irma, which blasted Florida, was the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded, and that Harvey dumped a record 51.9 inches of rain on Houston, crippling the city.

They know record-breaking rebuilding estimates have reached $190 billion for Texas and Louisiana, while Florida's damage from Irma is still being calculated. In comparison, Hurricane Sandy, as devastating as it was, caused $65 billion in damage.

Scientists have said for years that the effects of climate change can be mitigated by aggressively cutting the world's use of fossil fuels, which emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they burn. That causes global warming, which contributes to higher sea levels and warmer water. Warm water more easily saturates the atmosphere, which loosens it in a rage. Climate change is like gasoline poured on Mother Nature's fire.

This country should lead the world in addressing climate change while building fortified, sustainable communities that can withstand the furious weather it causes. It would be better if the fortune taxpayers are about to spend to rebuild the Southeast was invested in better building standards and innovative projects that could serve as models of where and how development should occur.

A cautionary tale from New Jersey, which failed to upgrade building standards after Sandy hit it in 2012, should be remembered in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma. A year after Sandy, fire ripped through the freshly rebuilt boardwalk in Seaside Heights because an electrical wire at a boardwalk shop had been exposed to salt water. Higher standards might have saved taxpayers millions.

The weather records that Harvey and Irma set have prompted the World Meteorological Organization to consider retiring those storm names. A more important act would be for this country to take steps to lessen the impact of climate change — while there's still time to take steps. Congress can act, even if Pruitt won't. Texas and Florida should be leading the charge.