10:17 AM CDT, October 30, 2012
Lest you hear any talk of Sandy being a “perfect storm” or the “storm of the century,” don’t count on it. Sandy is only the beginning of what the coastal states are in for in our rapidly destabilizing climate.
One of the most chilling lines I’ve ever read in a book was from Jim Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren,” which, if you want to have any idea what’s happening in the world, I suggest you pick up. At the beginning of his tour through the ecological chaos on the way, he writes matter-of-factly, “The strongest storms will become more powerful this century. That statement is true for storm types that are driven by latent heat. That’s a big deal, because storms fueled by latent heat include thunderstorms, tornadoes, and tropical storms such as hurricanes and typhoons.”
That’s step one, which it appears has already arrived. You don't want to hear about step two right now.
Across the world, it was the second-hottest year for ocean temperatures (the previous record was set in 2003), and meteorologist Angela Fritz explains how the mid-Atlantic was 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average. As Chris Mooney explains, warm water is the jet fuel of hurricanes, allowing Sandy to become one of the largest storms of its kind as it picked up fuel on its traveling north before colliding with a cold front. Thus you get one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the Eastern Seaboard, but our overheating planet is only getting started. How else do you think those sea levels are going to rise? Nice and politely? No, they’ll be coming ashore in dramatic storm surges that cost more than a tax on carbon could ever manage.
More to the point, I feel as though even the most casual observer can look at the situation objectively and say that over the last two years alone (forget the previous decade) in the United States alone (forget the rest of the world; as we are want to do), we have experienced two record-breaking, economy-shattering droughts, Texas and Colorado almost burned to the ground, and we’ve seen two awesome hurricanes in Irene and Sandy bear down on the East Coast and cause unprecedented flooding and water damage. Sandy's toll now includes 39 dead as of this writing, 8 million without power, the flooding of the New York City subway system, 100 houses burned down in Queens, and the wholesale flooding of Atlantic City.
Here's the part where I hasten to add that weather is a data point, and climate measures long-term trends, which is beginning to feel like the way we're going to prevaricate our way to catastrophe.
This is not normal. It is not cyclical. This is not the tilt of the earth causing a moderate warming period that Earth has experienced in the past. This summer the Arctic ice cap receded to an all-time low, half the size it was in 1980. Yes, the scientists were totally wrong: they were wrong about how quickly and how radically we are affecting the planet by burning carbon and other greenhouse gasses. They were wrong about how scary this will get.
In that regard, Sandy is only a preview of what we’re in for: a grindingly slow, painful ecological disaster that will eventually leave no one on the planet untouched.
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