A Storm on Steroids – Was Sandy Pumped up by Climate Change?

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Just another freak storm or is the increasing frequency and magnitude of weather disasters a sign of the very real impact of global warming?

Independent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just endorsed President Obama for re-election, citing the need for presidential leadership on climate change. His endorsement follows a spate of politicians, like Gov Andrew Cuomo, and others for whom the devastation of the “Frankenstorm” has led to stronger feelings about the link between global warming and extreme weather.

It started with a tweet from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”

And from Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University and co-chair of a working group for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “What we know indicates that climate change played a role in the damages.”

Field compares global warming to steroids and extreme weather to home runs.  While we can’t attribute any single home run to the use of steroids in baseball, we can attribute to such performance enhancing drugs the increased frequency and magnitude of long balls.

Hurricane Sandy has already caused at least 80 deaths, 4.6 million people without power and economic losses of $50 billion, not to mention the devastation in Haiti and Jamaica. Is it unfair to suggest that we make every effort to understand the impact of global warming on these repeating natural calamities?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Prominent climate scientists were unwilling Wednesday to do what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did: blame climate change for the devastating storm known as Sandy that wreaked havoc along the Eastern Seaboard. They said, nevertheless, that the gargantuan storm might very well have been made worse by the increased rainfall and sea level rise that global warming has caused.

And Bloomberg’s Businessweek has a cover story titled“It’s Global Warming, Stupid”:

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.

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.

The very clear impact of global warming on weather disasters is supported by report from German reinsurance company Munich Re. While the rate of extreme weather is rising globally, “nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.” Between 1980 and 2011, weather-related disasters have caused $1.06 trillion in damage. Man-made climate change “is believed to contribute to this trend,” according to the report, “though it influences various perils in different ways.”

But why was Governor Cuomo the first politician to come out and link the Frankenstorm to climate change?

The Chronicle says:

Republicans, many of whom once accepted the notion of human-caused climate change, have backed away en masse in the face of those who say scientists are in the pockets of liberals. Democrats, faced with accusations that they are wasting taxpayer dollars pushing green regulations, have all but abandoned the issue.

And what about Governor Romney and President Obama specifically?

From Bloomberg:

Mitt Romney has gone from being a supporter years ago of clean energy and emission caps to, more recently, a climate agnostic…During one Republican primary debate last year, he was asked point-blank whether the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to be turned back to the states. “Absolutely,” he replied.

President Obama, on the other hand, while once promising to halt the rising of the oceans, decided to compete with Governor Romney not on climate change, but on domestic energy — promising to mine more coal and drill more oil.

But the fact is that we need a global solution to the global warming crisis and it should start with an agreement between America’s two largest parties. Perhaps the actions of New York Mayor (and former Republican, now Independent) Michael Bloomberg is a step in the right direction. Why did his thinking change, leading to his surprise endorsement of President Obama’s re-election? Hurricane Sandy and the fact that Governor Romney has repeatedly stepped away from positions he once held — including positions on clean energy and climate change.

Our climate is changing…And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

Whomever we elect, shouldn’t we all want our President to be on the right side of history?

About Charley Moore

Charley is the Publisher of Article 3, as well as Founder and CEO of Rocket Lawyer Incorporated. Prior to founding Rocket Lawyer, Charley advised early stage companies, large enterprises and their investors on strategic partnering and corporate development strategy. Charley has been at the forefront of Internet corporate development since beginning his career as an attorney at Venture Law Group in Menlo Park, California in 1996. He represented Yahoo! (IPO), WebTV Networks (acquired by Microsoft) and Cerent Corporation (acquired by Cisco Systems) at critical early stages of their success and was the founder of Onstation Corporation. Charley graduated from the United States Naval Academy (BS), San Francisco State University (MS) and the University of California at Berkeley (Juris Doctorate). He served as a U.S. Naval officer and is a Gulf War veteran.
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