Nick Cave once sang that he doesn’t believe in an interventionist god, and neither do I. But if I did, it would be very easy to read something into Hurricane Sandy hitting the Eastern seaboard five days before a Presidential election where any mention of climate change has been notable for its absence. Hurricanes hitting the Caribbean in October are not the result of climate change. But it’s undeniable that a warmer ocean, more moisture in the air and rising sea levels have contributed to make storms like Sandy both more ferocious and more frequent than previously. This is the biggest storm to hit New York in decades, and it comes after a year that included the worst Midwestern drought since the Depression, and the Arctic ice sheet shrinking to the lowest point in recorded human history.
Not every natural disaster is “because” of climate change, but more extreme weather is a consequence of it. And if we think the record heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes of the past few years are bad, we really haven’t seen anything yet. This is the result of raising the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees Celsius, and even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, temperatures would continue to rise by another 0.8 degrees. A two degree rise is the absolute maximum we can safely raise temperatures by, and even then it will involve major changes to the earth’s weather systems. This is not a foretaste – this is the start.
The economic facts are these. There is $27 trillion worth of fossil fuel left on our planet, and to avoid less than a 2 degree temperature rise, we can burn approximately one fifth of it. We need to use this amount to quickly transition to a low-carbon economy, and leave the rest alone. I think the survival of the human race comes down to whether enough popular anger can pressure Governments into forcing oil companies to write off about $20 trillion dollars worth of assets before it’s too late. Considering that oil companies essentially fund the political system of the world’s only superpower, it’s not surprising that the C words remained absent from the stump speeches and Presidential debates of this election. Obama, at least, is making and will continue to make moderate efforts. But to change public discourse, if he is re-elected, he needs to use his platform to make the case for the desperate urgency of fixing the climate crisis. Romney will presumably continue to avoid any reality-based discussion of climate change until the effects become too devastating to ignore, by which point his Presidency will be over and he’ll be safely ensconced in one of his many houses safely above sea level. Then it’ll be up to the next generation (my generation) to deal with this complete catastrophe.
Oh, and the headline of the Daily Mail today? A Tory MP says “enough is enough” when it comes to windfarms. Never mind the possibility of large swathes of the planet becoming uninhabitable due to the global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, what about the effect of wind farms on house prices?
I have nothing more to add to the debate than that my thoughts are with those affected by Hurricane Sandy, and that I despair.
Despite the mainstream media’s appalling inability to properly report on climate change, there are some excellent articles on the subject which can be found here: