KRISTOF: Will climate change finally get some respect?
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 5:59 p.m.
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney seemed determined not to discuss climate change in this campaign. So thanks to Hurricane Sandy for forcing the issue: Isn’t it time to talk not only about weather, but also about climate? It’s true, of course, that no single storm or drought can be attributed to climate change. Atlantic hurricanes in the Northeast go way back, as the catastrophic “snow hurricane” of 1804 attests. But many scientists believe that rising carbon emissions could make extreme weather — like Sandy — more likely.
“You can’t say any one single event is reflective of climate change,” William Solecki, the co-chairman of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, told me. “But it’s illustrative of the conditions and events and scenarios that we expect with climate change.”
In that sense, whatever its causes, Sandy offers a window into the way ahead.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York says he told President Obama the other day that it seems “we have a 100-year flood every two years now.” Indeed,
So brace yourself, for several reasons:
I was schooled in the far-reaching changes under way several years ago by Eskimos in Alaska, who told me of their amazement at seeing changes in their Arctic village — from melting permafrost to robins (for which their Inupiat language has no word), and even a (shivering) porcupine. If we can’t see that something extraordinary is going on in the world around us, we’re in trouble.
“Of the 10 warmest summers on record for the contiguous U.S., seven have occurred since 2000,” notes Jake Crouch of the National Climatic Data Center.
They include this summer’s drought in the United States, the worst in more than half a century.
“For the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change,” James E. Hansen, a NASA climate scientist, recently wrote in
Politicians have dropped the ball, but so have those of us in the news business. The number of articles about climate change fell by 41 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to DailyClimate.org.
There are no easy solutions, but we may need to invest in cleaner energy, impose a carbon tax or other curbs on greenhouse gases and, above all, rethink how we can reduce the toll of a changing climate. For example, we may not want to rebuild in some coastal areas that have been hammered by Sandy.
We’ll also need a stronger FEMA — which makes Romney’s past suggestions that FEMA be privatized particularly myopic.
(That’s almost as bizarre as Michael Brown, the FEMA director during Hurricane Katrina, scolding Obama for responding to Sandy “so quickly.”)
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