NYC Meets Climate Change Head-on

On October 30th Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! one-hour nightly TV broadcast covered climate change, global warming, and Hurricane Sandy. This combination of subject matter makes common sense since each one plays off the other.

According to Ms. Goodman, over the prior week, Hurricane Sandy was mentioned at least 94 times by the country’s major newspapers, but never once was climate change or global warming mentioned as an underlying possible cause of the freakish storm. The nation’s newspapers that we depend upon to keep us properly (objectively) informed, ever since the days of Benjamin Franklin, fail to investigate the basic reasons why such a freakish storm happens at such an unusual time of the year. This begs the question of why anyone would buy a newspaper since they do not investigate the reasons behind a 200-year-record-setting catastrophe? No wonder newspapers are losing readership… they are not properly, thoroughly covering the news.

Ms. Goodman posed the following question to her interviewees as well as her TV audience: Why the hesitation by the nation’s media to openly discuss climate change? One of her guests, Mike Tidwell responded that even though the presidential candidates chose not to discuss the issue of climate change, Hurricane Sandy, a prototype of climate change at work, ‘spoke’ to them one week before the election… loud and clear!

According to Tidwell, Director of Chesapeake Climate Network: “We do not typically get hurricanes in Florida in late October, let alone in NYC, and it is rare for a hurricane so far north… this anomalous event is the weather equivalent of snow in Saudi Arabia.” But, there’s a significant differentiation between the two events because unfortunately we have reached a new normal in weather, which is potentially devastating to our lifestyle, but it is no longer a one-off event like snow in Saudi Arabia.

Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at Weather Underground, which was recently acquired by The Weather Channel, also responded, “I think this storm hitting a week before the election should really serve as a huge wakeup call for our politicians and the people of America… We’ve had a remarkable number of freak weather occurrences in the past two years that are unprecedented in meteorological history of the United States. With any one of these weather occurrences you could say, well, maybe that’s natural variability, but when you start thinking about what’s happened the past two years, you really need to say, hey, what’s going on?”

Over the past two years, climate change has resulted in: (1) Super Storm — Hurricane Sandy; (2) the ‘summer in March’ when temperatures were in the 80s for ten straight days in areas of the upper Midwest, which is unprecedented warmth for spring time; (3) this year is by far the warmest year in U.S. history; (4) the 2nd and the 3rd warmest summers in U.S. history have also just occurred; (5) the U.S. did not have a winter this past year; (6) last year the U.S. had record floods (not normal flooding but record floods) on the three largest rivers east of the Rockies, i.e., the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, and the Ohio River; (7) all of this freakish weather comes in the face of steadily rising global temperature, and (8) Hurricane Sandy will hover over the U.S. longer than normal because of a remarkably strong high-pressure ridge that is seen once every 200 years, again a symptom of unparalleled weather.

According to Masters: “It’s really not that hard to understand that if you add a lot of heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, you’re bound to cause major changes in your weather patterns… you’re bound to see unprecedented weather events, and I think it is a guarantee that some of these weather events have the imprint of climate change… you wouldn’t have had this crazy weather without it.”

Ms. Goodman inquired as to why meteorologists do not confront the issue of climate change/global warming head-on, educating the public about the dangers of manmade global warming. In response, Masters explained the problem: “It is uncomfortable to get the sort of blow-back you get when you do talk about this issue… the oil and gas companies, which have the richest and most profitable business in world history… if they find their profits threatened, they’ll go after anyone who speaks out… There have been massive attacks against meteorologists.”

Unfortunately, the reality is this: One simplistic way of looking at the offset to the devastation caused by climate change is the quid pro quo of massive profits for the fossil fuel industry and the consequent use of energy to run the world’s economy. This is what humankind receives in exchange for enduring damage from climate change or to put it in a cold and calculating way: massive fossil fuel profits=massive storm damage.

In that regard, Ms. Goodman suggested pursuing major policy changes to deal with climate change. Masters, agreeing with her prescience, offered a perfect example of how that has worked in the past: When the ozone hole opened up over Antarctica 30 years ago, all of a sudden the whole world took notice, realizing life on earth was threatened. The resulting clamour to save our collective habitat led to a very strong set of policies to rectify the situation, and it was successful.

An international treaty, Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, signed on September 16, 1987, and followed up with seven revisions to ban chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which now are almost non-existent, resolved the worldwide ozone hole dilemma. There are now two international ozone treaties ratified by 197 nation-states, making these treaties the most widely ratified treaties in UN history. According to NASA scientist Paul Newman, the ozone layer above Antarctica will not return to its early 1980s state until 2060, and it is progressing. Coincidentally, isn’t it fascinating how people pull together fairly quickly, and in unison, when it becomes clearly obvious they are setting a table to barbeque themselves!

However, the problem today is of a much wider scale. Instead of one industry, the CFC industry, the current climate change issue deals with the entire basis of the industrialized economy; fossil fuels are enormous; the profits are huge; the politics are scary.

What if climate change isn’t fixable?

Whether it is fixable or not, the climate is already out of kilter enough, according to Mike Tidwell, that NYC needs to immediately start constructing levees and floodgates, or in the future it will be known as the “Bobbing Apple.” And, who knows if the levees and floodgates will be sufficient, unless built very high, blocking out sunlight in portions of the city. Thus, NYC morphs into a real life imitation of the movie Escape from New York, a walled city, which fascinatingly, is a throw back to the feudal ages as our flirtation with profits-for-oil regresses lifestyles back one thousand years. But, in all likelihood, there will still be fancy resorts and mansions on the hills for the wealthy to enjoy the fruit of their profits.

Tidwell says, “It is clear from Hurricane Sandy that we’ve reached a new normal when it comes to Atlantic storms that are so powerful that our coastal communities are not sufficiently prepared for it… the fingerprints of climate change are all over this storm.”

We are experiencing rising oceans, increasing ocean temperatures, and bigger storms, he says, “As the Atlantic Ocean gets warmer and warmer, you’re going to see hurricanes like this more frequently.”

The Los Angeles Times,1 contrary to mainstream press, covered climate change by running an article with a cartoon by David Horsey, which cartoon depicts Obama and Romney, standing side-by-side. They are wind-blown and leaning into a fierce storm with a blackened skyline containing a flying cow and the words climate change impeded in grey skies. Obama, with a pensive expression, says, “I have a nagging feeling there’s something we forgot to talk about during this entire campaign,” and Romney, whose umbrella is turned inside out as he struggles to stand upright next to Obama, replies, “Never mind the campaign! We’re in the midst of a historic never-before-seen, record-breaking SUPERSTORM!… Besides, I have no clue what you’re thinking of.”

David Horsey’s article goes on to say: “Until recently, climate scientists were careful not to attribute any single weather event to global climate change. But, in the last couple of days, a number of scientists have filed Twitter posts that essentially say, ‘We told you so.’ For years, they have described what the effects of global warming would look like; this year, many of them are saying, ‘This is it.’”

  1. Politics, October 31, 2012. []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.