Scientists around the world are reeling today, considering whether Hurricane Sandy was caused, at least in part, by global warming. Eight months ago a professor at Princeton University reported that what was “once-in-a-century” flooding in New York City would soon happen every three to twenty years. Several factors predispose New York to a greater risk of major storms. They include:
1. Sea level rise. Water levels around New York are nearly one foot higher than they were 100 years ago.
2. Rise in temperature of the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is almost 2 degrees warmer than it was a century ago. Warm water fuels hurricanes.
3. Timing. Meteorologists are noticing that the season for hurricanes is expanding. They are occurring both earlier and later in the season. Normally there are 11 Atlantic storms each year. In the past two years there have been 18, and this year, with a month to go there have already been 19.
Mayor Bloomberg of New York and Governor Cuomo both couldn’t help but notice that extreme events like Sandy, are on the increase. They said:
“What is clear is that the storms that we’ve experienced in the last year or so, around this country and around the world, are much more severe than before,”
“Whether that’s global warming or what, I don’t know. But we’ll have to address those issues.”
Cuomo called the changes “a new reality.”
“Anyone who says that there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality,” Cuomo said. “I told the president the other day: ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now.’”
While most are unwilling to say a day after the hurricane that global warming was the “reason” for Hurricane Sandy, most scientists have asked the question whether it was a contributing cause.
George Lakoff has an article in Huffington Post this morning that explains the difference between a “direct” cause and a “systemic” cause of the storm. His point is that it is an inescapable conclusion that global warming is contributing to changes in weather conditions, and natural disasters. From devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, to the devastating fires in Texas, there is an unmistakable change in natural disasters in the United States. To ignore the impact of global warming on these events is to ignore the reality of the scientific data. Of course natural disasters are part of our world, but they seem to be getting worse before our complacent eyes. Why wouldn’t we do everything possible to minimize the tragedy of hurricanes like Sandy?
Mitt Romney’s unforgivable attitude about global warming has been to laugh about it, or minimize the importance of it’s potential impact. Mitt Romney’s attitude is a “systemic” disaster. His attitude may not be the direct cause of people’s unwillingness to take this threat seriously, but as a leader of the Republican Party he encourages an attitude of denial, and minimized the science behind climate change. At the RNC he mocked the notion of global warming:
If he truly believes that global warming is not at least one causative factor in these natural disasters, he owes it to the country to encourage further study and scientific analysis regarding this potential threat. Instead he laughs. The families of the 55 U.S. citizens /killed by the storm are not laughing today. The millions of people still without power today are not laughing. The people who took the subway to work in New York aren’t laughing as they try to find another way to work. The 200 patients, 45 of whom were critical, that had to be transferred out of the New York University Langone Medical center weren’t laughing as they were placed in ambulances. The 80-100 families who lost their homes to fire in Queens are not laughing as they mourn the loss of family treasures and photos. Governor Christie wasn’t laughing as he surveyed Atlantic City that put 85% of the city underwater. The 82,000 people without power in Atlantic County in New Jersey can’t even call Governor Christie to tell him their favorite joke as they have no power with which to charge their cell phones.
America has serious problems. The economy is only one of many challenges our next President will face when he assumes office in January of 2013. It is a thankless job, so I’m especially glad Barack Obama is willing to serve for four more years. I’m glad he’s not laughing. If Mitt Romney should be elected on November 6th, he might not be the direct cause of further devastation in the United States, but he would surely by a systemic cause of even more challenges that we will face over the next four years.