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Weather On Steroids Threatens Lady Liberty

11/2/2012 12:09:37 PM

Tags: global warming, climate change, Hurricane Sandy, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Utne Reader, Businessweek

/uploadedImages/Blogs/Healthy_People,_Healthy_Planet/An_Utne_Cover.jpgThe latest issue of our sister publication Utne Reader, published before Hurricane Sandy had even begun its lethal windup, provides several compelling perspectives on climate change and the necessity of envisioning a future beyond our current rape-and-plunder relationship to our beautiful blue planet. We cannot recommend this issue more highly.

Perhaps Hurricane Sandy has created a tipping point in the public’s ability to believe that human activities are disrupting the earth’s climate.  Certainly the rhetoric is ramping up, at least for the moment.  The cover on this week’s edition of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine could not have been more emphatic.

Here’s an excerpt from the Businessweek editorial:

/uploadedImages/Blogs/Healthy_People,_Healthy_Planet/Bloomberg_Cover.jpgNov. 1 (Bloomberg BusinessWeek) —Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us — and they’re right — that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.  

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.  

An unscientific survey of the social networking literature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.” Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek ), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”  

In an Oct. 30 blog post, Mark Fischetti of Scientific American took a spin through Ph.D.-land and found more and more credentialed experts willing to shrug off the climate caveats. The broadening consensus: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.” Even those of us who are science-phobic can get the gist of that.  

Sandy featured a scary extra twist implicating climate change. An Atlantic hurricane moving up the East Coast crashed into cold air dipping south from Canada. The collision supercharged the storm’s energy level and extended its geographical reach. Pushing that cold air south was an atmospheric pattern, known as a blocking high, above the Arctic Ocean. Climate scientists Charles Greene and Bruce Monger of Cornell University, writing earlier this year in Oceanography , provided evidence that Arctic icemelts linked to global warming contribute to the very atmospheric pattern that sent the frigid burst down across Canada and the eastern U.S.  

If all that doesn’t impress, forget the scientists ostensibly devoted to advancing knowledge and saving lives. Listen instead to corporate insurers committed to compiling statistics for profit.  

On Oct. 17 the giant German reinsurance company Munich Re issued a prescient report titled Severe Weather in North America . Globally, the rate of extreme weather events is rising, and "nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America." From 1980 through 2011, weather disasters caused losses totaling $1.06 trillion. Munich Re found "a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades." By contrast, there was "an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe, and 1.5 in South America."  

Human-caused climate change "is believed to contribute to this trend," the report said, "though it influences various perils in different ways. 'Global warming" particularly affects formation of heat waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity," Munich Re said.  

This July was the hottest month recorded in the U.S. since record-keeping began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Read the full article from Businessweek here. 

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11/5/2012 4:45:50 PM
The storm had a lot of kinetic energy due to its size; a category 1 storm over a widespread area with a hot ocean to supply the juice. But the real question is not whether climate change was a factor. The real question is why the impacts were so great. The population has doubled in the last 65 years, with amazing urban density in the northeast. the root cause of the impacts from Sandy was extreme population density with a just-in-time fuel system that was damaged in a number of ways. Our population in the US has doubled in the US over the past ~65 years. It’s that last doubling time that will get you, and we’re in it. Why can’t we see the essential energy that flows through the system? And energy in = energy out. The more economic growth we have in the system, for whatever reason, the more heat gets dumped. There is no escaping thermodynamics.

t brandt
11/3/2012 9:10:39 AM
The Great Gale of 1821 has a higher tide surge than Sandy. So much for "unprecedented."...Rising cost of damages? Try explaining it by considering the effects of increasing population and inflation. It only cost $1000 to replace a lost Chevy in 1955. Today it costs $30,000....Severe storms are actually less common now than prior to 1970. But don't let facts get in the way of your religious fervor....What this episode really points out is how dependent we have become on a complex economic system to keep us supplied with the basic necessities of life. Those who survive the coming crisis will be the self-sufficient.

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