Explaining Hurricane Harvey (And Climate Change) To A 7-Year-Old

Hurricane Harvey
photo courtesy of NASA

Guest Post – from Kelly Buskirk

Kelly is a dedicated climate leader and zero waste professional living in Austin. She is the founder of Kelly Green Consultant LLC, committed to the helping businesses with zero waste solutions and authentic green transformations. Earlier this year, she attended the the Climate Reality Leadership Training, which is organized by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and is dedicated to creating a global network of activists who are committed to spreading awareness of the climate crisis. 

Sitting at home watching the devastating images of Houston and South Texas on the news, my heart is saddened, but I am not shocked.  My 7-year-old daughter says to me, “Mom, how does climate change make the storm worse?”

I am not surprised by the question, because my kids know my dedication to the issue of climate change.  But I am fascinated by watching my daughter make the connection to climate change while watching the images of boats rescuing people from their flooded homes on the news.  

I have been prepared for these worsening storms by the Climate Reality Leadership Training that I did earlier this year.  I have been educated on the dangers that an increasing climate has on storms.  And I acknowledge that I am a contributor to this storm. We are all contributors to this storm.  

In response to my daughter, I point to the light above me. I explain to her that all of these things we use every day burn fossil fuels. The TV we are watching, the car we drive, and all the stuff we buy all require fossil fuels.  When we do all of these activities, it burns fossil fuels (a dirty form of energy) and sends pollution into the air.  That pollution creates a warm layer around the planet, like a blanket, and traps in heat.  That heat also heats up the ocean.  When we have warmer oceans, we get much bigger storms.  

“So why don’t we just use wind and solar energy instead of dirty energy, so we don’t get the bigger storms?” my daughter asks me.  

How do I respond to this?  Do I tell her that while Texas experiences the consequences of Hurricane Harvey, some of our leaders want to increase the production of dirty energy?  How does that make any sense, even to a child?  She understands the connection.  She understands that we have all the tools we need to get electricity from non-polluting, sustainable sources, but people in power are making choices not to use them.   

My biggest takeaway from the training with Vice President Al Gore was when he said this (and I’m paraphrasing) – They (scientists) used to say that you could not say a storm was caused by climate change….now they say that all storms are different because of climate change.

Before the training, I’ll admit, I didn’t understand the connection.  I didn’t realize that 93 percent of the extra heat trapped by man-made global warming pollution goes into the ocean.  Mr. Gore taught me the two consequences of these now warmer oceans:  

1) Stronger storms

2) Disruptions to the hydrological system

In first grade, my daughter learned about the water cycle.  I explained to her that because of warming oceans, the water cycle is supercharged.  More water evaporates from the ocean into the air.  And warmer air can hold more water vapor (like in a hot steamy shower).  Because there is more water in the air, the downpours of rain get much, much bigger.  

Although there is no doubt that even children can understand the connection between warmer oceans and bigger storms, Mr. Gore left us with an analogy that we all can understand.  He said the climate/storm connection is like steroids and home run hitting.  One could pose the question, “Did steroids cause that home run?”

 The answer is, if someone is on steroids, every hit is different, because of the steroids.  The same is true of all storms.  They are now on steroids.   Every storm is now different, because of climate change.  


The mission of the Climate Reality Project is to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.  The Climate Reality Leadership Corps is the signature leadership training program and global network of activists, committed to spreading awareness of the climate crisis.  

The opinions expressed in this article are mine and not of Climate Reality or Al Gore.


If you would like to to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, here are some ways to do your part:

  • Donate to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which has been set up by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner
  • Text HARVEY to 90999 to give $10 to the Red Cross
  • To help address fundamental environmental justice problems in Houston and assist residents dealing with pollution brought on by the flooding of industrial/chemical/oil sites in the city, donate to Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services
  • A coalition of several local environmental organizations have put together a new website called A Just Harvey Recovery. It is a great way to figure out how to volunteer or donate money.
  • Open your home to Hurricane Harvey evacuees through Airbnb
  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler has also put together a list of ways that you can help. You can check it out here.

Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork. 

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