In the wake of the Superstorm, Hurricane Sandy, which struck the East Coast this week, it’s appropriate to revisit the Climate Change debate. Governor Cuomo, while in the midst of overseeing disaster response in New York, seems to have done so, and is talking about the reality of climate change, the vulnerability we have to climate based disasters, and the need to take action to mitigate the danger.
The Albany Times-Union is reporting Cuomo as talking about the “series of extreme weather events” that have struck not only in NY but elsewhere, that it’s not “a political statement” but that it’s “a factual statement” that climate change is real and that “Anyone who says there is not a change in weather patterns is denying reality.” He called for rebuilding the NY City metropolitan area “smarter” and that we need to have “a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns; we have an old infrastructure, we have old systems. That is not a good combination and that is one of the lessons I will take from this, personally.”
Cuomo later said “I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable.” He didn’t want to get into the controversiality of climate change, but said “I want to talk about the frequency of extreme weather situations, which is not political … There’s only so long you can say, ‘this is once in a lifetime and it’s not going to happen again.” It’s two years in a row now that NY City has been damaged by hurricanes.
As an example of the cost to NY State from Hurricane Sandy, the states death toll stands at 26. The transit system has been shut down, but commuter trains are beginning to return to service. Fires and devastation has struck NY City, such as the destruction of the Breeze Point neighborhood. That’s only a small sliver of the effect on New York, and does not count the damage to New Jersey or elsewhere, nor the dozens dead in the Caribbean.
It’s incorrect to attribute a specific weather event to Climate Change. Instead there is a “systemic causation” at play, where the whole weather system is configured to cause the rate of extreme weather to increase. Global warming heated the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, increasing energy and water vapor in the atmosphere, and this systemically causes stronger storms, like Hurricane Sandy.
The increased rate of extreme weather is causing death, destruction and economic loss on a grand scale around the planet. The scale is vast enough to threaten the whole economic system, because the cost is so potentially large as the weather events grow more extreme. These extreme weather patterns take many forms, such as the extreme heat wave that struck the U.S. during 2012 and another one that struck Russia in 2010.
Cuomo’s and Sen. Charles Schumer’s focus is, judging on their statements, the coastal damage due to the storm. Both are reported by the Times-Union as calling for spending to build a system to deal with coastal flooding. Coastal flooding is a grave concern over climate change effects, especially because of the number of highways and airports and nuclear plants and other infrastructure items that are sitting right on the coast-line. The danger is not just from storm surges, but the general pattern of sea level rise occurring because global warming is systemically melting glaciers and sending them into the ocean.
But is coastal flooding the only side effect from climate change? No. There are other side effects from climate change in other parts of the planet, such as the crop loss due to the heat wave last summer.
It may be that politicians will never properly wake up to the actual extent of the danger. Politicians may continue, as Cuomo is doing now, to focus on the immediate problem (coastal flooding) and, however wise it is to do so, propose only a solution to the specific problem, like better flooding control systems.
It may be up to the people taking initiative to work on these issues assuming that politicians will never properly address the danger. One organization says so, the international Transition Towns Initiative. That organization has long recognized the danger that global climate change presents, and offers a model of local community groups working to create “resilience” so that our society can better survive threats like climate change. The model includes rebuilding local food systems, local economies, relearning low energy impact skills like sewing and gardening and cheese making.
Sen. Schumer was quoted by the Times-Union as saying there is a “group of people in Washington who just deny the truth” about climate change. As he said, there are a few ways to deal with the reality of climate change, one of which is head-in-the-sand-denialism. While Schumer is to be applauded for calling for real action to address some of the climate change threats, will building more sea-walls and improving pumping facilities to address future floods take care of the whole threat from climate change?
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