Less than two weeks ago it was noted that for the first time in a generation – since 1988 – climate change was not mentioned in any of the three U.S. presidential debates.

Now, in the aftermath of the monster Hurricane Sandy, the topic has come into stark and terrifying focus for Americans.


Image by Gerry Broome via AP Photo.


Does it seem indelicate to be talking climate change while families are grieving and displaced, emergency crews are on the road and the power is out?

There are no such qualms for George Lakoff who writes in the Huffington Post: “Global warming is real, and it is here. It is causing – yes, causing – death, destruction, and vast economic loss. And the causal effects are getting greater with time. We cannot merely adapt to it. The costs are incalculable. What we are facing is huge.”

He urges readers to come to grips with the words “systematic causation” – that it is aberration in a number of natural systems, combined, that bring us the “perfect storm”.

It was, he says, global warming that caused the raising of the temperature of the waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. “When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.”

That the atmosphere is warming because of the profligate burning of fossil fuels? 

Indisputable, says Lakoff. The science is in.


A flooded car park of cabs in New York. Image via AP/


One stat he offers: If Exxon burned all the oil it has already drilled and stored? The temperature of the earth would increase by 2.0 degrees Celcius. That increase, climate scientists agree is a “prescription for disaster” says  Scientific American.

“Email your media whenever you see reporting on extreme weather that doesn’t ask scientists if it was systemically caused by global warming,” advises Lakoff.

And yet, one of the first comments on his post?

“This article is ridiculous. I suppose we could also say that global warming caused the other great hurricane that hit New York in the 1820s.”

What will it take for us to come to grips with the magnitude of the problem we are facing?

Australia is one of the most coal-dependent countries in the world. In 2000 we were the highest emitters of greenhouse gases, per capita, on earth.

A recent study shows that the Queensland government, for one, has handed out $7 billion in subsidies to coal and coal seam gas in the past five years. Without those subsidies, the fossil-fuel industry would be dead – unable to compete with wind and solar energy companies which face unfair barriers to competition.

Last week, NSW MP, Joel Fitzgibbon ( who represents the coal-producing region of the Hunter) suggested we abandon our Renewable Energy Targets – a modest 20% of renewables by the year 2020. He declared he was in favour of action on climate change, but added: “but I’m also determined that we take the least-cost approach”.

“Forget the ideology,” said the man the Greens call “Coal Fitzgibbon”. “Of course, it is our abundance of fossil fuels which in part makes us economically competitive.”

 It’s the economy, stupid.

 No, it’s the environment, numbskull.


All Australian politicians want to think hard about the “ideology” of the green message,  our reliance on fossil fuels and the real cost of doing the least possible about climate change… just as Americans voters are doing right now.

The “least cost”?

Consider this: The cost to the US economy of Hurricane Sandy in damage and lost production is estimated to be $44 billion.

In 2011, Hurricane Irene cost the US economy an estimated $15.8 billion.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost $108 billion and caused 1,200 deaths.

Here in Australia, the cost of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires was estimated to be  $4.4 billion. One hundred and seventy-three people lost their lives.


Black Saturday despair. Image via Faifax: Jason South.

The Royal Commission into the fire had little to say about climate change. However, David Karoly, a climatologist at the University of Melbourne who headed a panel advising the Victoria State government on climate change said: “We do expect these sorts of high or extreme fire danger periods to be both more intense and more frequent over time.”

CSIRO principal research scientist Kevin Hennessy said: “It was included in my evidence and I tried to emphasise that while the damage associated with the Black Saturday fires was extreme, we can expect more of this in the future.”

Catastrophic conditions for fire are predicted to double by 2050 – right on track with the projections on global warming.

 As for flood, landslides and storms? 

In 2009, Professor Peter Hoppe, head of insurance company Munich Re’s geo risks research unit, warned that the incidence of natural catastrophes has doubled over the last 30 years.

Global warming was the “only logical explanation,” he said.

Yesterday was unseasonably warm in many parts of Australia. We are recording near-record high October temperatures.

Experts say we face another high-risk summer season.

I’m fearful of another catastrophe. I’m worried for my kids’ future. I swear, my heart can’t take it.

Again I ask…What will it take for us to get real on climate change?

What do we know now that we didn’t in 1988?




Quick Facts: Extinction 

Behold! The Great Disruption

Save our Children’s Barrier Reef

Coal Seam Gas & the Battle for the Reef

Durban. Doin’ it for the Kids?


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  • Reply November 1, 2012

    Janet G

    I am astounded by the number of seemingly rational people who, when confronted with overwhelming evidence, refuse to acknowledge climate change brought about by increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. These people are educated and articulate but instead of addressing the huge amounts of research done by large groups of scientists, who are all making sure that they peer-review methods, choose to ‘shoot the messenger’ rather than change any part of their lifestyle. The attacks upon scientists when we need them most is what concerns me above all.

    It seems that self-interest is so profound that it can lead to the irony of people’s own self-destruction. Climate-change denial is similar to addictive gambling.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    I think there are two points going on, which partly leads to the (deliberate??) confusion / debate / denial from some groups. This is a bit long, so apologies in advance!

    One is whether the climate is changing – and my understanding is that the vast majority, including most politicians and even most right wing ‘deny-ers’ believe this. The second is whether it is the result, or significantly influenced at least, due to human activity such as the impact of fossil fuels, significant vegetation clearing, etc, etc. I personally believe both are true, but I think the second point is where some people are stuck, or don’t want to accept that there might need to be changes to our livestyles to minimize the speed and extent of climate change.

    Clearly we need to address the first – where are the low lying areas, area vulnerable to extreme weather events, etc, and what is needed to protect these areas, if that is even possible. The costs involved – some areas may not really be able to be protected, and maybe rebuilding is inappropriate, so people might have to be relocated (and as we are not objects but individuals, this can heartbreaking, not to mention, devasting financially). In making this assessment, maybe it might become clearer to a greater number of people that, even if some cannot be convinced of the human role in intensifying climate change, it might be worth trying reductions in emissions, etc, just in case, as, in the long run, it will be costly no matter what the reason, and it’s worth a try.

    I feel most sorry for those people and countries who don’t have the resources to make these choices – they are stuck with trying to survive the impacts of climate change, and often had the least role in creating it.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Well summarised, Helen. I’d add: In the end, even if you don’t believe that there’s decisive evidence (on whether there’s climate change, and/or what it’s caused by), it’s a matter of risk management. What’s the greater risk — that (if the climate change believers are wrong) we unnecessarily make some lifestyle and economic adjustments that cause some short-term financial pain but are eminently survivable; or (if the climate change deniers/don’t know-ers are wrong), that we don’t make such adjustments and suffer catastrophic consequences requiring much more deep and painful economic adjustments, let alone outcomes such as loss of life … I’d rather err on the side of caution frankly!

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    It’s the fact that people are less and less likely to deny that the climate is changing, just the possible human role in it, that bugs me. It no longer actually matters who caused it. The fact is that we are seeing change, and the change is going to cause more frequent weather events of the type that used to only happen once a generation. Yes, they’re “normal”, but their frequency in a given year is not.

    One argument I don’t see in climate change action discussions is that by changing our energy mix, we are improving human health. All during the 70s and 80s, health issues caused by pollution was all over the news. Smog levels were front-page headlines. Heck, we even changed our petrol mix because of it! Coal-fired power stations are still pumping out pollutants but because it’s all mixed up with this climate change stuff and the implied human blame attached to it, people that might be rational about the black coating on their and their kids’ lungs come over all stubborn and refuse to consider change, because to do so is apparently to accept some tiny shared responsibility in creating the problem.

    And the size of the problem is so vast that accepting responsibility is, quite honestly, overwhelming for some. So they go into denial instead, and refuse to contemplate any alternative way of doing things because “it’s expensive”. I’m assuming it was pretty expensive to switch to unleaded petrol, too …

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Does it really matter if anyone at home believes what the scientists tell us? The point is, politicians believe it and they make the rules we live by. Scientists can misinterpret data (as has been seen so many times in the past). Politicians will be persuaded by huge campaigns and big money. We don’t have access to all the data so have to go on what we are told. Sure, we can have an opinion but who the heck gives a toss what we believe. Did your ancestors believe the world was flat when the ‘scientists’ told them?, Did they believe that man could fly?
    Whichever side of the fence you sit on – you get a fifty-fifty chance of saying “Now do you believe?” BUT will you be around long enough to say it?

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    I believe the climate is changing, it has been changing since time began, we have had an ice age then not then hot then cold, then storms then earthquakes, the sunamis, this has been going on forever, I do not however believe that carbon emmissions etc are causing this to happen. We are polluting the planet there is no doubt but I do not believe we are making it warmer/colder etc. If it is to be called Global warming then why was the last 12 months so chilly, we did not even have a summer in 11/12. Bring on a bit of the warmth……

    • Reply November 2, 2012


      ‘moorie’ – “global warming” is the term used because the planet IS warming. This will cause extreme weather events as witnessed THIS WEEK – an earthquake in the Queen Charlottte Islands of Canada, Hurricane Sandy in the Carribean and United States, Cyclone Nilam in India (affecting 1.5 million people), Typhoon Son-Tinh in the Phillipines, Vietnam and China affecting 1.26 million in Phillipines alone and Typhoon Murjan in Somalia (unknown statistics at this stage). Have you ever known so many extreme weather events in rapid succession? You talk of the cooler past 12 months – this in itself is tied to climate change because it is an unusual weather event. – that is what climate change produces – EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Ummmmmm….The ‘jury is out’ among scientists about what caused superstorm Sandy!!

    Read more:

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    No matter what happens around the world as far as weather is concerned, there will still be steadfast deniers of climate change, mainly because to make any effective changes to the way we live would be too uncomfortable (and expensive), and reduce manufacturing profits. I despair for the human race – greed continues to drive economic :progress”, and wars continue to cause widespread destruction.

  • Reply November 1, 2012

    Janet G

    Obviously many still refuse to believe, Wendy. Therefore, I am going to build an ark :).

    • Reply November 1, 2012


      Ironically, the set of the movie Noah (starring Russell Crowe as Noah) was flooded out, delaying filming.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    If politicians believe the climate is warming and the CO2 levels are contributing factors why then do I continuously see groves of native trees being felled and turned into woodchip in SE QLD. I notice too in documentaries of Europe and America acres and acres of land and cities with very few trees and flora. Aren´t trees our planets natural filtration system? Do trees not take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen? Maybe the solution is for every human to plant at least 1tree for every year of their life. And we must do it sooner rather then later.

    • Reply November 1, 2012


      Interesting idea Peta. I agree – the ongoing accelerating destruction of the bush here and globally staggers me – especially after the raised environmental awareness of the ’80’s. That’s not that long ago! What’s happened??
      Looking at Australia, we seem hell bent on covering the scarce fertile areas in our desert land with fence to fence houses and no regard for the consequences. Let’s encourage people to move away from the fertile belt cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, SE Qld. NE NSW etc) to the currently constricting inland and regional towns. Also, I will happily contribute my own little forest of 1 tree per year of my life if (ongoing) I could find somewhere left to plant it and a guarantee some wallet-worshipping bugger wouldn’t cut them down as soon as my back was turned.

    • Reply November 2, 2012


      Peta – so well said. Unfortunately trees mean only money to many people.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Weather is today and climate is over a period of time. Many get this confused and therefor doubt that we really do have global warming. But the facts are in and whilst in another million years we may have an ice age coming, right now we have increasing temps and our use of fossil fuels is a contributor. It isn’t that hard to understand, or maybe it is…

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    we need people with money and I mean big money (all those bloody celebrities on rich lists and what not) to support alternative energy companies so they can compete. it’s no use buying a Prius and swanning around with a hemp shirt on, to make big change, we need to put big money into alternative fuel resources.

  • Reply November 1, 2012

    sue bell

    The worse problem is the media. This constant demand that both sides of a debate be given equal weight. When the vast majority of world scientists believe (and have since the early 70s) that we are causing climate change, their view is given the same time and print space as the few, often fossil fuel spokespersons with little or no scientific background. The Andrew Bolt’s and Jones’ of this world get far too much oxygen when compared with the rational debate of scientists.

  • Reply November 1, 2012

    Thomas Brookes

    The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change was a 700-page report released for the British government on 30 October 2006 by economist Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and also chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) at Leeds University and LSE. The report discussed the effect of global warming on the world economy. Although not the first economic report on climate change, it is significant as the largest and most widely known and discussed report of its kind.
    The Review stated that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, presenting a unique challenge for economics. The Review provides prescriptions including environmental taxes to minimise the economic and social disruptions. The Stern Review’s main conclusion is that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting.[ The Review points to the potential impacts of climate change on water resources, food production, health, and the environment[clarification needed]. According to the Review, without action, the overall costs of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, now and forever. Including a wider range of risks and impacts could increase this to 20% of GDP or more.

    Since then the world has done nothing. The Copenhagen meeting was a complete failure and the worlds so called leaders sit in a train heading for a cliff, as they argue over where they are going to sit.

    Will the US take note of what just happened. Yes they will for about a month.. then it will be “Business as usual”. The business of killing the planet. Grrrrrrr

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    There’s a reason that climate change hasn’t been mentioned in the US election campaign.

    It’s bullsh*t and the people now know all about Agenda 21.

    Game up.

    Maybe the billions that have been wasted on this snake oil can now be used on genuine environmental and scientific endeavour.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    I’m totally on track with climate change information as I was studying it .. ooo 35 years ago.

    What is not clear is the impact of individual storms. One storm – however large – does not make a climate change. That is weather.

    However an increasing incidence of events whose probable cause is the general warming of the atmosphere and the oceans – especially where it can be charted and held against what we know of the past and what computer modelling can predict. That is climate change.

    • Reply November 1, 2012


      Yes, this is what a lot of people don’t get. Including, apparently, George Lakoff. As meteorologists go, he’s an excellent linguist and cognitive scientist.

      Nobody can tell if climate change caused this storm, or made that storm worse, and any meteorologist or climate scientist worth their qualifications will tell you this.

      It’s more like adding an extra “6” to your dice. (Any budding mathematicians present may like to try to design a fair 7-sided die.) That will certainly increase your chances of rolling a “6”, but you generally won’t be able to tell “6” it was.

      Climate change, it is predicted, will increase (and is increasing now) the number and severity of “big” weather events. But you can’t blame it, and it alone, for any particular event.

      • Reply November 1, 2012


        I just read Lakoff’s argument rather than skimming it, and I now see that he actually got it right. My bad.

        I’ve always liked Lakoff since I read Women, Fire and Dangerous Things and Metaphors We Live By around 20 years ago. They both had a very strong influence on my developing brain.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Climate change, Shlimate change, things change every second! Today it is 34 degrees and tomorrow it will be 18 degrees. This is how it is!!

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Mez has it right. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pays scientists to find results which indicate (human induced) climate change. The Stern Report comes out of this. There are thousands of independent, well-qualified scientists who know that its rubbish, part of Agenda 21. There is a lot of money to be made by people like Al Gore (who made the totally unscientific movie An Inconvenient Truth which netted him millions) and his cronies, with “carbon trading” and the rest. Get real, people -didn’t you learn at school that carbon-dioxide is a harmless gas that is necessary for plant growth? Excess of this does NOT cause climate change, any more than a massive storm or people using fossil fuels. Earth’s climate is driven by the SUN (solar flares) and to some extent, volcanoes. Yes, there is climate change, over thousands, millions of years and yes, there is global warming, like the Mycenean Warming, Roman Warming, Medieval Warming, none of which was caused by humans. There is a difference between weather and climate. People are being ripped off by con men and unscrupulous scientists because of their gullibility and lack of basic scientific facts.

  • Reply November 1, 2012

    jonah stiffhausen

    You girls are embarrassingly credulous. It is time we took the vote away from you. Far too dangerous otherwise.

    • Reply November 1, 2012

      Benison O'Reilly

      I presume you’re talking about Mez and MemKate, Jonah? Whenever anyone mentions anything about paying scientists off it screams conspiracy theory BS.They must have a very big slush fund hidden somewhere to pay so many scientists!

      Have they been listening to the ’eminent scientist’ Alan Jones?

      My brother (who works in the energy industry and has to study this for his job) says that while there is still doubt about the magnitude of the effect of climate change there is NO DOUBT it is happening.

      • Reply November 1, 2012


        Slush fund? Did someone say ‘slush fund?!’

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    Even if climate change doesn’t exist, don’t we still want a world without ugly open cut coal mines, pollution of our rivers and gas mining on our productive farmland? I am a firm believer that climate change (really global warming but turned into weasel words by the deniers to make it sound less catastrophic) is happening and we have reached event horizon and will now have to learn to live in a warmer world with unpredictable and much wilder weather. My town is earmarked for CSG and my husband is in the RFS. I’m finding it hard to cope too Wendy.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    as we age we change and so too does the earth. since time began the earths climate has been changing and it time it will die as do all planets. the sun will run out of fuel and we will be no more. we wont be here to see it as its a gazillion years away. the climate will keep changing no matter what we do.
    politicians and their advisers, who all seem to have a vested interest in anything into which the governments buy, will not change.

  • Reply November 1, 2012


    I was told as a uoung girl in high schooll that we were entering the ice age. I get now that it was all hype. That time as we know it is immeasurable. Forty years since the ice age was coming and now the opposite. And you wonder why people don’t believe this new religion.

    I happened on a forum where they were discussing serious business – nothing I could understand – but about the earth’s axis – tilt – ice melting. Professional speak. It made me wonder and has kept me reserved.

    Just forty years since the ice age cometh – a blip in the radar. You’ll have to forgive me if I have reservations.

  • Reply November 2, 2012


    I reckon~ unless you are a frog slowly heating up in water~animals are sensitive to climate change. And guess what ~ we are animals unless we are too busy to notice this aspect of our condition.

  • Reply November 2, 2012

    Tony W

    “I was told as a young girl in high school that we were entering the ice age.”

    Yes I recall that prediction getting some press in the ’70s. Made for a good headline but had very little support in the scientific community. Scientists have been worrying about rising CO2 and potential global warming since the late ’50s. Some of their predictions have turned out to be surprisingly accurate.

  • Reply November 2, 2012


    If it doesn’t exist… Why are we having this conversation? We need to stop talking and meeting and theorising and do something.

  • Reply November 6, 2012

    Lesley Palma


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