Michio Kaku, a Japanese-American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science, has tackled the question many are asking. Why are there so many disasters in the latter half of 2017? Why are California wildfires, Houston floods due to hurricanes, Mexico City earthquakes, and Hurricane Irma striking Florida happening all at once? The year 2017 has seen so many disasters that normally only occur once every hundred years.
Michio Kaku takes on the questions people have from a scientific perspective in the video below. Is it global warming, cycles in the weather, or something else? What is causing all the disasters felt this year?
Michio Kaku isn’t the only one taking on the tough questions. The New York Times recently considered the nearly simultaneous strike of Florida and Houston hurricanes, wildfires striking California and Oregon, and powerful earthquakes hitting Mexico City. The New York Times says people are connecting the wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes strongly in their minds with the eclipse, and despite their usual intellectual way of thinking, see a looming apocalypse.
“And just last month darkness descended on the land as the moon erased the sun. Everyone thought the eclipse was awesome, but now we’re not so sure — for all the recent ruin seems deeply, darkly not coincidental.”
Michio Kaku and other scientists attempt to make sense of these events objectively, yet everyone has biases. Religious leaders and laymen alike think of biblical prophecies that may resemble what is going on right now, and those convinced of climate change tend to assume the worst is happening fast.
Michio Kaku explains that severe hurricanes, like Harvey and Irma, usually happen only once every one hundred years. Hurricane Irma was especially powerful, and rare in that way, but not unprecedented. Likewise, the California wildfires are not that unusual, but have been much more devastating than usual in 2017. Earthquakes like the one in Mexico City, which registered at 8.1 magnitude, also usually occur in a populated area once every 100 years.
Fires in California, hurricanes around the gulf, and earthquakes in Mexico City are not unusual, says Michio Kaku. However, the extreme severity of all three in a single year seems unprecedented. It’s not a question of why fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes happen. These things always happen, in certain seasons, but why are they so severe this year?
Michio Kaku answered the question about global warming tentatively. Yes, the unusually warm water in the gulf played a strong role in developing monster hurricanes. The water temperatures to the south and west of Florida were two degrees warmer than usual, as Kaku points out, but will this be a trend going into the future? Is it because of global warming?
Michio Kaku’s answer is a bit ambiguous.
“Is it linked to global warming? yes and no.”
While global warming, or perhaps more accurately, climate change, could be part of the problem, says Michio Kaku, weather can also be impacted by El Nino. As a whole, climate change isn’t an even mix of warmer weather throughout the world, as global warming suggests.
In the case of California’s fires that have taken over 170,000 acres in California, the Santa Ana Winds play a role, according to Kaku. Also, there are ordinary weather cycles. Hurricanes, for example, were far more prevalent before the 1960s than in the more recent past.
Michio Kaku says many scientists predict the hurricane cycle is on the upsurge again and the coming decades will bring more severe hurricanes than seen since the 1950s. Still, this could all be part of a normal weather cycle.
Kaku says recent wildfires in California, and hurricanes in Florida and Houston could be related to a more long-term climate change. Earthquakes are not, but one cannot point to the 2017 hurricanes as caused by global warming. All we know is that more energy is going into hurricanes than in the past due to warmer water and warmer air this year.
David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, told the New York Times that one cannot point to a single event and attribute it to global warming.
“The question is, ‘Are we seeing more or less frequency? Greater or less severity?’ Attribution of a single event turns out to be pretty hard.”
Michio Kaku points out that earthquakes of a “magnitude 7 happen once a month somewhere on the planet.” Earthquakes of magnitudes of 8 or more, like the one in Mexico City, seem rare, but actually, they are not.
Usually, these huge earthquakes occur in the ocean, or in remote areas. It is often a matter of chance, and once every 100 years or so, magnitude 8 earthquakes hit populated areas.
Mexico sits on top of three fault lines, all of which are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Because of this, it is hardly unexpected that they would have earthquakes. Why two in one year? Michio Kaku says the 8.1 earthquake was actually an aftershock of the earlier 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
Michio Kaku seems to be saying that although global warming or climate change could be contributing to hurricanes in 2017, it could also be part of a normal weather cycle. The earthquakes are unrelated to global warming. The California wildfires may be related to global warming, but there is no clear link.
So what is causing so much calamity? Scientifically speaking, Michio Kaku says it is too soon to consider the California wildfires, Houston and Florida hurricanes, and the Mexico City earthquakes as anything other than natural phenomena that happened to coincide at near the same time.
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Michio Kaku says the earthquakes in Mexico City are not unusual, hurricane severity is cyclical, and the California wildfires could be explained as well.
[Featured Image by Evan Agostini and Lionel Cironneau/AP Images]