It’s already too late to stop every effect of climate change, but there’s still time for governments and people like you and me to tap the brakes and reduce some of the worst outcomes.

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There is immediate human drama playing out in the Gulf Coast. Most of us can relate to the tragedies and struggles of people in that area of the country, and we feel for them.

The fury of Tropical Storm Harvey and the record rains falling in the region are also part of a larger story that is unfolding around the world at a pace that’s too slow to engage with our emotions the same way this epic storm has. Climate change happens over generations, but it is still threatening to outrun our reaction to it.

It’s already too late to stop every effect of climate change, but there’s still time for governments and people like you and me to tap the brakes and reduce some of the worst outcomes.

Extreme weather events like the Gulf Coast storm happen regardless of how global climate is changing. You know that weather and climate aren’t the same thing. Weather is what’s happening today. Climate is the weather pattern of a given area over time.

If it happens to rain in Phoenix or we have a warm, dry day in Seattle, that’s just weather. But when the climate changes, weather patterns are changed as well.

Hurricane Harvey

Space Station camera captures views of Hurricane Harvey (NASA) Volunteers out in force on flooded Texas roads (The Associated Press)

Storms like Harvey happen in the Gulf, but they are rare. Global warming creates conditions that allow those storms to happen more often because warm ocean air powers hurricanes, so warmer oceans make more frequent and bigger storms possible.

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See evidence of a warming, polluted Earth

National Geographic published a great explainer on Harvey, written by Craig Welch, who used to be the environmental reporter for The Seattle Times. The storm could have happened without climate change, but most likely climate change was a factor in making the size of the storm we are witnessing possible and making big storms happen more often than they would have in the recent past.

That last sentence really lacked drama. It’s hard for probabilities to focus our attention, especially when we all have so much else to worry about. Life is full of problems that are immediate and personal, like raising kids and paying bills and avoiding nuclear conflagration and Interstate-5 traffic jams.

Climate change is worth more of our concern. It’s already changing the planet. A study released this year found that Antarctic ice sheets are melting faster than originally thought.

Ice melt affects the global climate and raises sea levels around the planet. Earth’s climate has always changed over time, but this latest warming period is happening faster because humans are contributing to the process, particularly by spewing fossil fuels into the atmosphere, where they act like a blanket holding in the sun’s heat.

The changes will in turn affect millions of people. For instance, it doesn’t take much change in temperature to affect where certain plants will grow and, therefore, the food supply, or to inundate coastal cities and towns.

The countries of the world are agreed that we need to act now to mitigate the dangers that global warming poses. Most countries, anyway. The United States is one of 195 signatories to the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But the Trump administration has said it wants to withdraw from the agreement. Whether the administration follows up is much harder to predict than the impact of climate change, but citizens can do some things on our own to make a difference.

Because carbon emissions are so much a part of the problem, individuals can slow their contribution to global warming by flying less, driving less and choosing to drive only the most fuel-efficient cars.

Those are among the suggestions of an analysis by the University of Michigan that included a list of actions an individual could take. According to the analysis, the biggest impact by far would be driving a more fuel-efficient car. The analysts note the Trump administration has talked about dropping the car-emission standards put in place by the Obama administration.

I’d suggest sending an email or letter to your representatives in Congress, urging them to fight any efforts to take the U.S. out of the battle to slow climate change.

If you need motivation, think of that photo of women in a flooded assisted-living center in Texas this week. Imagine that happening more often and in more places around the world.

Action now could make that less disastrous.