Opinion: Global warming comes out of the closet

The remnants of Sandy swirl over the Northeast in the NASA satellite image.

Hurricane Sandy spurs awareness of  links between climate change and extreme weather

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Along with devastating New Jersey’s shoreline and flooding big chunks of New York City, Hurricane Sandy also pushed the public dialogue about climate change out of the musty closet and right smack into the middle of polite dinner table conversation and, even more importantly, into the political arena, just days before the presidential election.

After a couple of days surveying the damage, both the mayor of New York City and the governor of New York directly addressed the issue in a social and political context. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, factored climate change into a political endorsement of Barack Obama as the candidate better equipped to tackle the issue.

“In In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable,” Bloomberg wrote in an editorial for the Bloomberg View.

Bloomberg acknowledged that the global climate is changing, and called on all elected leaders to take immediate action. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was even more direct.

“Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality,” the governor said in a television interview.

The sudden change may seem remarkable, but for elected politicians, who are pragmatic if nothing else, it was inevitable after a year that included record-breaking heat waves across the majority of the U.S. Add to that all-time record drought and near-record wildfires and it becomes pretty clear that we’ve brewed up a witch’s cauldron of atmospheric gases that are coming back to bite us.

No scientists have come out and said that Sandy was directly caused by global warming, and that’s not the point. But the consensus seems to be that warmer air and ocean temperatures, as well as weather pattern shifts driven by melting Arctic ice, may have been ingredients in the recipe for this powerful storm; now that consensus is reflected in the reality of political statements.

Instead of just being an abstract scientific debate, global warming is, at least for the moment, an urgent social and political issue, and that doesn’t sit well with the usual crew of skeptics and deniers, who have recently been trying to swindle the public into believing that global warming ended 16 years ago.

In response to the outcry over Sandy, the global warming deniers are reaching back, way back into history, claiming that storms in the 1600s delivered more of a storm surge than Sandy. They’re also claiming that the U.S. has been in a “hurricane drought,” a line of reasoning that probably wouldn’t sit well with residents of coastal New Jersey right now.

They can always find a single, isolated statistic to show, but in the end, their lies will be washed away by rising sea levels and storm surges driven my more powerful storms.

Others descended into dry statistical talk of hurricane costs, arguing that past storms caused more damage than Sandy when dollar values are adjusted for the current economy. That’s another bit of parsing that probably won’t be very popular for the scores of people who watched Sandy tear the roofs off their homes last weekend.

The sad thing is that we’ve gone so far down the road of global warming that it’s almost inevitable that we’re going to see more extremes, more damage and more suffering, probably for a long time, even if we act now to drastically cut greenhouse gases.

In the meantime, other leaders should be listening to Cuomo and Bloomberg and trying to figure out how to make their communities more resilient in the face of a changing climate.






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