By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
If you don’t hear “climate change” in the dialogue about Hurricane Sandy just yet, wait for it.
Today, people in the storm’s path are either bracing for the Monday evening surge or busy evacuating to higher ground.
But tomorrow expect to hear “climate change” invoked in Sandy’s aftermath, because this Frankenstorm is exactly what scientists have been warning about for many years.
OK skeptics, yes, hurricanes happen. But this one has been supercharged by warming oceans and will come ashore with an assist from rising ocean levels.
Climate scientists have seen this dangerous confluence coming, and have been quite clear in predicting that Florida and the Northeast are especially vulnerable to hurricanes and hurricane-related flooding.
Here’s what the U.S. Global Change Research Program had to say about the Northeast in a 2009 report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the US:
Severe flooding due to sea-level rise and heavy downpours is likely to occur more frequently.
The densely populated coasts of the Northeast face substantial increases in the extent and frequency of storm surge, coastal flooding, erosion, property damage, and loss of wetlands. New York state alone has more than $2.3 trillion in insured coastal property. Much of this coastline is exceptionally vulnerable to sea-level rise and related impacts.
The report goes on to note that “sea level in this region is projected to rise more than the global average…
The densely populated coasts of the Northeast face substantial increases in the extent and frequency of storm surge, coastal flooding, erosion, property damage, and loss of wetlands.
New York state alone has more than $2.3 trillion in insured coastal property. Much of this coastline is exceptionally vulnerable to sea-level rise and related impacts. Some major insurers have withdrawn coverage from thousands of homeowners in coastal areas of the Northeast, including New York City.
Perhaps some of those homeowners have found coverage in the intervening years. But maybe not. Like climate scientists, actuaries at insurance firms have seen the writing on the wall. Just last week, Munich RE issued a report warning of the burden of losses in North America, where economic losses from natural catastrophes have “quintupled” over the last three decades. a rate of increase worse than anywhere else in the world.
A New Yorker article “Watching Sandy, Ignoring Climate Change,” riffs on that report and elaborates:
Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque. In a year of record-breaking temperatures across the U.S., record drought conditions in the country's corn belt, and now a record storm affecting the nation's most populous cities, neither candidate found the issue to be worthy of discussion.
Now back to our 2009 report. It outlines the elements of destruction heading toward the Northeast with eerie specificity:
Rising sea level is projected to increase the frequency and severity of damaging storm surges and flooding.
Under a higher emissions scenario [the do-nothing-or-not-much approach which allows carbon emissions to grow, worsening climate change],what is now considered a once-in-a-century coastal flood in New York City is projected to occur at least twice as often by mid-century, and 10 times as often (or once per decade on average) by late this century.
Did you catch that? A superstorm every decade or so. That’s what we should expect.
Now to state the obvious, which is necessary given the surge of climate change denial in the US in recent years: Climate change is bad for human beings and bad for business, and just letting it happen without a mitigation or adaptation plan, only makes it worse.
The costs of cleaning up Hurricane Sandy already are predicted to cost at least as much if not more than those related to Hurricane Katrina, and that’s not counting the incalculable loss of life.
There is no scenario in which a storm like this slamming into the super-populated Northeastern seaboard every decade or so can be construed as good for the economy, or for people, trees, buildings, towns, schools or small or big businesses (unless you lease home generators or own a bottled water company).
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