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Sandy and Climate Change

On Monday Hurricane Sandy covered 1.8 million square miles. Photo courtesy NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

As a record-breaking hurricane pummeled the Northeast almost into November--this on the heels of a scorching summer that saw arctic ice shrivel to its smallest extent ever recorded--the specter of climate change lurks just under the surface of any discussion of what can only be described as our freakish recent weather.

Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research talked to Slate about Sandy:

Most of what is going on with Sandy is weather, and there is a large chance element to it, but it is all occurring in an environment where the ocean is a bit warmer, the air above the ocean is warmer and moister, and that is fuel for the storm and especially adds to the risk of heavy rainfalls and flooding.

After the necessary caveats about tying any one event to global warming, the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert despairs about the notable absence of the elephant-in-the-room issue in our electoral politics.

The storm fits the general pattern in North America, and indeed around the world, toward more extreme weather, a pattern that, increasingly, can be attributed to climate change . . .”

Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque. In a year of record-breaking temperatures across the U.S., record drought conditions in the country’s corn belt, and now a record storm affecting the nation’s most populous cities, neither candidate found the issue to be worthy of discussion.”

Environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, who earlier this year penned a jeremiad in Rolling Stone about climate change that went viral, sees in Sandy a frightful spectacle not unlike Frankenstein's monster, as he writes in the Daily Beast:

Our relationship to the world around us is shifting as fast as that world is shifting. “Frankenstorm” is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. They’re stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.

Sandy was likely influenced by a combination of factors that we know are tied to climate change such as a melting Arctic, a warming Atlantic Ocean and rising sea levels, but to what extent is not yet known. But under the water, and out of sight, the effects of emissions are just as severe. The oceans are absorbing 90 percent of the heat from climate change and carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans have led to a 30 percent increase in the ocean's acidity since the Industrial Revolution, a trend that threatens to topple coral reefs and food chains worldwide in the coming decades.

Learn more about climate change, what Oceana is doing to fight it, and what you can do to help.


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