Is This the Beginning of the End of Climate Silence?

Parts of Lower Manhattan are still underwater. Subway service is down indefinitely. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the Jersey Shore will never be the same. Analysts are putting Sandy’s cost at $50 billion, but that’s basically a wild guess.

A street in Queens underwater after Hurricane Sandy. Photo: ##http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9642169/Hurricane-Sandy-live.html## Telegraph##

What’s perhaps the scariest thing of all is the idea that this could be the new normal in the United States. America will recover from Sandy, but can we afford more storms like this?

Following the storm, James Rowen at Network blog the Political Environment noted that some top New York elected officials have resuscitated the moribund discussion of global warming in the political sphere:

I’d observed a couple of days before Sandy hit that climate change had disappeared from the campaign, but would surely be on the front burner when the rain stopped.

New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have weighed in.

Rowen brings home the urgency with an excerpt from climate expert Dan Miller recently posted in the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog:

We have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by about 40% in the last 100 years (mostly the last 50 years) on the way to doubling later this century. The Earth has warmed up about 0.8°C (1.4°F) already due to the extra greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere and it would have warmed even more if we weren’t also putting up smoke that reflects sunlight.  This warming has increased Earth’s energy radiation to space, but the excess greenhouse gases are still trapping more heat than the Earth is radiating to space.  This “energy imbalance” is about 0.6 watts/square meter. This doesn’t sound like much but it is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs going off every day (see my briefing for the math).

Extremely Hot Summers (“3-sigma” events) have increased 50X (5000%) in the past 50 years. There is 4% more water vapor in the atmosphere than 50 years ago.  Average ocean temperatures have increased (90% of global warming energy goes into the ocean). The Arctic sea ice just reached its lowest level in thousands of years and in a few years you will be able to sail a boat to the North Pole for the first time in human history.

It will be telling to see if either of the presidential candidates bring this up in the final days of the campaign.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Copenhagenize says that Denmark’s 180 percent tax on driving is a policy that’s so widely accepted, locals barely notice. Bike Portland surveys Lower Manhattan following the storm and finds it devastated but surprisingly bikeable. And Bike Walk Lee highlights an all-too-common dispute between South Florida residents and FDOT over the agency’s myopic disregard for pedestrian safety.

  • Any major event will cause fanatics to draw attention to their cause, no matter how irrelevant. Political junkies wonder how Sandy will effect the election, basketball fans are worrying about the Nets/Knicks match-up, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard how construction of the ARC tunnel would have prevented the storm. However, just because something major happened doesn’t mean it is happening for the reason you’re obsessed with. The last time water reached these levels at the Battery was 1821 (if my gleaning of the media is correct). Was that storm the result of global warming? The last time Lower Manhattan flooded to this extent was 1960. Was that because of global warming? The last storm to cause this much damage locally was in 1938. Was that because of global warming? Of course not. So why do you insist on attributing this storm to global warming?

    If you want to debate climate change, go ahead (though I think it’s hardly the biggest issue facing transportation advocates today, not even in the top ten). But don’t try to sell your agenda by exploiting a tragedy, especially when the facts don’t appear to be on your side.

  • Charles_Siegel

     No one extreme weather event can be conclusively attributed to global warming, but the increasing frequency of extreme weather events in recent years clearly is caused by global warming.

    Who are the “fanatics”?   Are the 97% of climate scientists who say that global warming is causing more extreme weather all fanatics?  Or are the small number of angry deniers like you the fanatics?

  • Charles_Siegel

    Unfortunately, the “new normal” is going to be worse than this.  Global temperatures have risen by about 1 degree centigrade, and the best the world hopes to do is to hold warming down to 2 degrees centigrade. 

    Things will get worse even if we do our best control global warming.  But things will be far, far worse if we do not control global warming. 

  • My Father in law is 75 years old. The drought this summer was the worst in his lifetime, and this storm was the worst the Northeast has seen in the same period. What was the last time two weather events of this magnitude occured within the same year?

  • Bolwerk

    No. At this point, the people who think this is divine retribution for allowing gay marriage probably get a louder voice through the <strike<Republikan noise machine right-wing “mainstream” media than the people, even the scientists, who think hydrocarbons may have something to do with it.

    Regardless, alleviating (there is no fixing, not at this point) the problems with climate change probably has to happen without the USA at this point.

  • You’re kind of proving my point. Earlier you cite “97% of climate scientists who say that global warming is causing more extreme weather”. Except that’s simply not true. I remember that even after Katrina, as much as people wanted to blame the storm on global warming, scientists tried to calm people down and say, no, that’s not actually the case. In 1821 all right-thinking people probably thought the storm was the result of an angry God. Looks like not much has changed (except it’s a different idol that’s getting worshiped).

  • Charles_Siegel

     “I remember that even after Katrina….”

    Selective memory.

  • Selective? Are you saying it’s wrong? Or are you just being snide?

  • “The War on Cigarettes”–a play in three acts

    Act I

    (It is 1958.  Famous Person (FP) has just died from lung cancer, shocking the nation. FP was a two-pack-a-day smoker.)

    Scientific Community:  It is possible smoking contributed to FP’s death.

    Chorus:  Public health fanatics are taking advantage of a personal tragedy to push their anti-smoking agenda. They are trying to take away our freedom. Smoking is a normal adult activity. We must stop this ‘war’ on cigarettes.

    Tobacco Industry:  There is no scientific consensus that smoking causes lung cancer.  We have a list of over 999 scientists and doctors who conclusively agree there is no conclusive evidence of a link between smoking and lung cancer. (Ignore that 998 of them are on our payroll.

    Joe Q Public:  People have always smoked. It can’t be that bad. My brother-in-law didn’t smoke and got lung cancer. I had an aunt who smoked her whole life and died in her sleep at 90. No way I’m giving up smoking. Public health fanatics just hate to see people enjoying themselves.

    Jane Q Public:  I need to smoke. There’s no way I can get through my day without smoking. If you tax cigarettes to discourage smoking, I’ll just have to buy less milk for my kids to pay for it.

  • david

    Don’t you know the solution to climate change is to invest billions in electric cars, not to design our streets and neighborhoods to allow people to actually drive less.

  • Aidry

    We were told after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that this was the ‘new norm.’ Then we went seven quiet years — some of which featured abnormally calm Atlantic Basin hurricane seasons and some of which featured average numbers of storms but those storms stayed safely away from the U.S. and heard little talk of global warming in connection with tropical weather. Now we have a perfect storm of sorts slamming the East Coast and this is the new norm.” It’s not climate, it’s just weather — unless, you know, it’s the right kind of weather. Then it’s climate! When were hurricanes most frequent around New York and New England in the 20th Century? The 1950s! In fact, there were 10 — look ‘em up — major hurricanes to strike the East Coast between North Carolina and New England between 1954 and 1960.”

  •  I think what you must be noticing are the reports saying water has never reached this level since 1821.  That doesn’t mean that it did reach that level in 1821 – it just means that they don’t have measurements going back any farther.

    The larger point is right though – we don’t have substantial evidence that there has been a significant increase in hurricane activity.  However, that’s because hurricanes are quite rare – at most a couple dozen a year, and each year has lots of random effects making them more variable.  Given the variability, we’d either need several years with 25 or more hurricanes, or multiple Katrina/Sandy-style events every year, or about 50 more years of moderately increased activity, before we could conclude anything with high probability on this basis.

    Remember – with statistical data of this sort, an absence of a statistically significant effect doesn’t mean that we have statistically significant evidence of the absence of an effect.

  • Station44025

     This is a perfect example of the contortions people will go through to keep their heads in the sand.  Want to know what rising sea levels will be like?  Now you know.  Climate change is the top issue facing everyone today.

  • Anonymous

    People don’t understand basic science and don’t want to hear that their cars and electricity is destroying the Earth: can’t see it, don’t believe it.

    the effects of CO2 as a greenhouse gas have been known for a long time.. in fact without it we would be a very cold Earth.. now we are beginning to cook.  We will be at 450ppm before we do anything and then much of the disaster will be built in.

  • Ex-driver

    I don’t think it’s a problem we are capable of solving.  Powering down the industrial economy would result in chaos, there are too many unknowables with the engineering solutions, and those with pecuniary interests in continuing carbon emissions are too entrenched.  It’ll be an interesting ride.

  • Mtn2lion

    It’s a statistical fact that severe weather events are more frequent than ever before, for as far back as record keeping goes. The science firmly connects this to measured CO2 heading to higher levels than at any other time, at a speed much greater than at any other time. The evidence is readily seen in trapped oxygen found in ice coors going as far back as 650,000 years. This is all readily found on line, including NASA.

    So you can go on pointing to individual events or stretches of events throughout history, but nothing changes the above fact. It is you (and Mr Stephens) who looks willfully ignorant, because your refusal to accept science and statistics only when it doesn’t suit you is blatently obvious. If you trust in doctors to assess your health, prescribe medication and perform procedures to keep you alive – all based on pure science – than why would you deny climate science? Curious …. do you drive a hulking SUV? Have oil company investments?

  • Guest

    It’s totally solvable. Changes over the proper timelines don’t have to cause chaos.

    We’re already in transition. It’s a big one, but human history is full of transformations.

  • khalil

    I might be written off as one of those fanatics, but there are many little bits of data adding up and pointing to changes in the physics and chemistry of the earth’s surface environment (not just warming) most likely related to our unearthing of sequestered carbon via burning fossil fuels. In other words, we are fussing with the long term as well as short term carbon cycle. These effects include not only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration (and resulting opacity to escaping infrared radiation) but ocean acidification and Arctic ice melting, but some indication that the water cycle is speeding up due to the increase in energy trapped at the surface of the earth. One doesn’t have to resort to infrequent extreme events, which admittedly are harder to pin to climate change.

    Surface transportation is a major, but not the only, emitter of anthropogenic CO2. Electricity to power homes, and ahem, computers is another. We need to worry more about our impact on climate change and it is therefore a consideration to transportation thinking because it impacts our future, not only in terms of how long our fossil energy sources will last and how we spend our urban capital, but how our acts will impact the face of the earth we live on.

    Plenty of uncertainties left to reduce, but that should be a cause of concern rather than dismissal.

  • Aidry

    Mtn2lion, I haven’t owned or driven a car in 10+ years. Put away your tinfoil hat that BIG OIL!!!111 is behind any criticism of the theory of manmade global warming. CO2 is a joke compared to the amount of water vapor (the other greenhouse gas warmists never want to talk about) in the atmosphere. The sun and solar cycles drive climate change. Mankind’s ability to influence the global environment is grossly exaggerated out of humankind’s arrogance towards its importance and power compared to nature.

  • And, hoping to settle this issue for now, I offer from this morning’s New York Times, an article supporting what I’ve been saying here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/science/earth/scientists-unsure-if-climate-change-is-to-blame-for-hurricane-sandy.html?ref=nyregion&_r=0

    If you can’t read the article, the gist of it is that storms this big are rare enough that scientists don’t have enough data to draw the conclusions that so many commenters here believe. So, if even the professionals, who are pretty quick to blame anything on global warming, won’t commit to blaming these storms on climate change, you might want to reconsider your opinions.

  • Anonymous

    @KenneyEaswaran:disqus  Actually, they did have measurements going back that far.

    “Unlike Sandy, [the 1821] hurricane didn’t dawdle. It came ripping up the coast, and was in and out of New York in a matter of hours. The people of the time reported a tide 13 feet above the ordinary high tide, but the best studies put the peak tide at 11.2 feet. Sandy reached 13.88 feet.

    “(You cannot fail to notice how much more scientific we have become. Back in 1821 they only measured a surge in tenths-of-a-foot. Now we measure in hundredths.)
    “Simple arithmetic suggests the 1821 storm’s high water was 2.68 feet lower than Sandy’s. However the interesting thing about the 1821 storm is that it came barreling through at dead low tide. Tides in New York vary roughly 6 feet between low and high tides.
    “Therefore, to be fair, it seems you should add six feet to the 1821 storm, if you want to compare that storm with Sandy’s surge at high tide. This would increase the 1821 high water to 17.2 feet.”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/11/02/a-reply-to-hurricane-sandy-alarmists/

  • Sprague

    Some believe that we are just borrowing the Earth from our children and grandchildren.  Don’t we owe it to them to try and minimize the negative impact of our lifestyles?  Leaving the subject of global warming aside, the public health and environmental impacts of today’s emissions should not be disregarded.  As individuals and as a society, we can choose to reduce our environmental impact. 

  • Mtn2lion

     Do me a favor and please explain how you are right (what is your field of expertise?) and thousands of climate scientists from around the world are near-unanimous in their interpretation that, indeed, man is driving climate change? I’m all ears, I promise…

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