Saturday, November 10, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #81 - Part 6

Sandy and global warming

So why should I indulge myself by spilling my memories all over you? I justify it by referring to the question that has been raised by some as to if there is a connection between global warming and Sandy.

Don't be idiot: Of course there is.

Now, no, it's true we can't as scientific fact say that global warming aka climate changed "caused" Sandy. In point of fact, global warming never "causes" any storm, local atmospheric conditions do. Still, the question is, could there have been a Sandy even without any global warming. Yes, yes, of course it's hypothetically possible. But to question a link between global warming and storms like Sandy, to say "can't prove one, can't claim any," is exactly - and I mean precisely - like those who tried to deny a link between cigarette smoking and disease on the grounds that you couldn't prove that a particular individual case of cancer was caused by smoking.

But to deny that link is nonsense as everyone now agrees. There is a clear statistical relationship between smoking and cancer, heart disease, and emphysema and if you smoke you are more likely to get at least one of those and the longer and the more you smoke the more likely that is.

So can we prove that global warming "caused" Sandy? No. But we can say this: Global warming makes storms like Sandy a hell of a lot more likely to happen.

We can say that because we know that a warming climate puts more energy into storms and yes, the climate is warming:

The first graph shows the temperature records produced over the last 30-plus years from five different sources. There are some minor variations, as you can see, but they all show a dramatic increase; they all tell the same story.

And just to deal in advance with anyone who says "Who are these people," I'll tell you. "GISS" is the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It's part of NASA. "NCDC" is the National Climatic Data Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. "CRU" is the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK. "RSS" is Remote Sensing Systems, a private corporation in Santa Rosa, California, that gathers satellite data. And "UAH" is the Global Hydrology and Climate Center at the University of Alabama - Huntsville.

So we have two government agencies, two universities (one of them in the UK), and a private corporation, all saying the same thing.

Want more? The second graph includes three of the same sources plus the Berkeley Group. It covers a wider range of time, but you can still see the clear upward trend, especially in the past few decades. Interestingly, the Berkeley Group was established because its founder didn't believe the results of the other agencies and set out to find the "real" figures. But instead of challenging the previous work, the group wound up confirming it.

So yes, the climate is warming.

And we know, to get back to the point, that a warming climate puts more energy into storms, including hurricanes. They will have more rain and stronger winds, which will pushing more of a storm surge. That storm surge is doubly enhanced because as the oceans warm, they expand, so sea levels are rising - so the higher surge is riding on a higher sea level.

Put simply, we know that climate change makes storms like Sandy more likely to happen and when they do, they are more likely to be more severe.

The blunt fact is, the increase in extreme weather we’ve seen over the past few years is exactly what we’d expect to see as a result of global warming and exactly what the models predict. Remember, it’s not just Sandy: The US is on track for 2012 to be the hottest year in the continental US ever recorded in weather records, which go back more than a century. In fact, in August a nuclear power plant in Connecticut had to be shut dowen for over two weeks because the water it drew from Long Island sound was too warm to be used to cool the reactor.

We have also seen one of the worst droughts in over 50 years and one of the worst years for wildfires ever, while other parts of the country were unusually wet.

Last year, when Hurricane Irene hit the United States, meteorologists called it “unprecedented.” It was part of a year in which the United States broke a record for the most billion dollar weather disasters in one year: There were fourteen, with damage totaling $47 billion. Sandy, with damage estimates of $50 billion, by itself has already outpaced that figure.

And it's not just us: Worldwide, the decade 2001-10 was the warmest on record. It beat the record set by the '90s, which beat the record set by the '80s. Worldwide, the years 2010 and 2005 are tied for the warmest ever.

So bottom line: Does Sandy "prove" global warming? No. No single case can. But it is evidence of global warming, is in in keeping with predictions of global warming, does it show the predicted effects of global warming? Yes!

So is denying global warming, is denying a connection between storms like Sandy and global warming, the same as denying a connection between smoking and disease? Yes!

Which also means, and this is the sad truth it's time to face, it's no longer possible to "avoid" or "head off" the effects of global warming. It is no longer possible to "prevent" global warming and the damage it will cause. The damage is happening; the damage will happen. It will get worse. It's too late to prevent it. The best we can do now is limit the damage and keep it from getting even worse than it already will.


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