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/smh.com.au.
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?