So... Let's Talk About This Climate Change Thing

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We can't put it off any longer. First, there was the whole Governor Cuomo thing, and this Businessweek thing, and then yesterday, there was Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama, on the grounds of climate change. But what does it all mean?

Well, before we even begin to touch on this immensely complex issue, it's important to note that right now, nobody can say for sure whether or not climate change was a direct cause of Hurricane Sandy. So many factors go into creating a super-storm like this, and meteorologists' understanding of these factors is neither complete nor perfect. Author and environmental expert Andrew Revkin clearly stated that "there remains far too much natural variability in the frequency and potency of rare and powerful storms — on time scales from decades to centuries — to go beyond pointing to this event being consistent with what’s projected on a human-heated planet."

On the other hand, in a discussion with Revkin on The New York Times' Dot Earth blog, respected environmental activist Dan Miller made the following objection: "No one is saying that a Hurricane Sandy would not have happened if not for climate change. But I believe there is little doubt that the record-breaking scale and potential destructiveness of Sandy is due in large part to the amplifying effects of warmer ocean temperatures, higher atmospheric moisture content, and unusual Arctic weather patterns." Both make convincing cases, and both use scientific data to support their convictions.

There is, if nothing else, anecdotal evidence that suggests these types of storms are becoming more frequent. We're sure we're not the only ones to think "hmm, sounds familiar" when the "Frankenstorm" media hype began last week. In fact, we know we're not: During a speech on Tuesday morning, as we mentioned before, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said very frankly, "There is no weather pattern that could shock me at this point," and then proceeded to be the first politician to clearly and openly link this storm to climate change.

His meaning was clear. New York City needs to get used to this kind of thing happening more and more often, because it is happening, for whatever reason. Once upon a time, the high rises and subway stations built on top of a filled-in swamp on the precipice of corrosive saltwater could exist in blissful ignorance of weather-disaster preparedness. Once upon a time, this used to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. That's just not true anymore.

If you still don't believe it, consider the fact that oil companies and international governments are scrambling to seize the immensely profitable resources that will emerge in the near future as a direct result of melting ice caps. Of course, there's nothing like a disaster to get people pointing fingers of blame. Maybe citizens and government alike will be more concerned about the practical impact of climate change in the future — or maybe a moment of increased awareness will be followed by a continued, tense radio silence.

No, we're not experts. And yes, many of us at R29 have found ourselves at the center of the storm over the past few days, so maybe the hairs on the backs of our necks are extra-raised due to personal experience. But, while climate change was certainly on all of our minds because of this extreme weather event, Governor Cuomo's flat-out statement followed by Bloomberg's own political move, was at once jarring in its boldness and daunting in the suggestion that things have finally gotten bad enough — real enough — that the government just can't ignore it any longer.

As fellow non-expert residents of planet Earth, what do you think? Is this just the usual superficial alarm, bound to fade as soon as the power's back on? Or has climate change finally been thrust in our faces enough to make it a central issues in next week's election, and more importantly, the years that follow?


Image of Hurricane Sandy from International Space Center, via astronaut Sunita Williams' Twitter.