Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Superstorm Sandy: A 'Wake-Up Call' on Climate Change

I'm sure anyone reading this would know that much of the Caribbean and the North Eastern seaboard of the United States have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy, a storm of such magnitude and destructiveness that it's been called a 'superstorm.'

Here's how Democracy Now!, a "daily independent global news" show broadcast from New York, described the situation earlier today.

Superstorm Sandy has pounded the East Coast, bringing massive flooding and damage that’s left at least 16 people dead in the United States, killed more than 60 in the Caribbean, and left more than seven million without power from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Parts of New York City were submerged under water as high as 13 feet, flooding a number of subway stations and causing blackouts. Sandy made landfall in New Jersey Monday night near Atlantic City after being downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. But it still brought hurricane-force winds and rain, making it one of the largest storms the United States has ever seen. A snowstorm swept inland dropping heaving snowfall across Appalachia and shutting down large sections of the interstate in West Virginia and Maryland. Estimates of the damage so far have reached as high as $20 billion.

Above: People sit on the rooftop of houses submerged in floodwaters in the neighbourhood of Barquita, after days of heavy rain in Santo Domingo, October 26, 2012. Hurricane Sandy killed at least 41 people as it cut across the Caribbean. [Photo/Agencies]

Above: Waves crash on shore from high surf ahead of Hurricane Sandy at the pier at Virginia Beach, Virginia October 29, 2012. (Reuters/Rich-Joseph Facun)

Yesterday, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman interviewed Bill McKibben about Hurricane Sandy and climate change. McKibben is co-founder and director of 350.org and author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Following is an excerpt from this interview.

Amy Goodman: Bill McKibben . . . can you talk about the significance of what the East Coast is facing right now?

Bill McKibben: . . .[T]his is a storm of really historic proportion. It’s really like something we haven’t seen before. It’s half, again, the size of Texas. It’s coming across water that’s near record warmth as it makes its way up the East Coast. Apparently we’re seeing lower pressures north of Cape Hatteras than have been ever recorded before. The storm surge, which is going to be the very worst part of this storm, is being driven by that huge size and expanse of the storm, but of course it comes in on water that’s already somewhat higher than it would have been in the past because of sea level rise. It’s – it’s a monster. 'Frankenstorm,' frankly, is not only a catchy name; in many ways, it’s the right name for it. This thing is stitched together from elements natural and unnatural, and it seems poised to cause real havoc. The governor of Connecticut said yesterday, "The last time we saw anything like this was never." And I think that’s about right.

Amy Goodman: There certainly was a lack of discussion, to put it mildly, in the presidential debates around the issue of climate change. . . . I don’t think it was raised at all in the three debates.

Bill McKibben: How do you think Mitt Romney is feeling this morning for having the one mention he’s made the whole time? His big laugh line at the Republican convention was how silly it was for Obama to be talking about slowing the rise of the oceans. I’d say that’s – wins pretty much every prize for ironic right now.

There has been a pervading climate silence. We’re doing our best to break that. Yesterday afternoon, there was a demonstration in Times Square, a sort of giant dot to connect the dots with all the other climate trouble around the world. Overnight, continuing in Boston, there’s a week-long vigil outside Government Center to try and get the Senate candidates there to address the issue of climate change.

It’s incredibly important that we not only – I mean, first priority is obviously people’s safety and assisting relief efforts in every possible way, but it’s also really important that everybody, even those who aren’t in the kind of path of this storm, reflect about what it means that in the warmest year in U.S. history, when we’ve seen the warmest month, July, of any month in a year in U.S. history, in a year when we saw, essentially, summer sea ice in the Arctic just vanish before our eyes, what it means that we’re now seeing storms of this unprecedented magnitude. If there was ever a wake-up call, this is it.

Amy Goodman: What do you think has to happen now? You have been traveling the world, warning people, working with organizations around the issue of climate change. Do you feel like the kind of organizing you’re doing has an effect? I mean, you see these three presidential debates. Tens of millions of people watch them. They sort of define the discourse in this country. And yet, not raised in any – it’s not only the candidates don’t raise them, the reporters who are the moderators of these debates don’t raise the issue.

Bill McKibben: Look, we’re up against the most powerful and richest industry on earth, and the status quo is their friend, and they want nothing to change. And until we’re able to force them to the table, as it were, very little will happen in Washington or elsewhere. That’s why we launched this huge tour, beginning the night after the election, not coincidentally, in Seattle and continuing around the country. You can find out about it at math.350.org. But the point is that we really finally need to have this reckoning. Either the fossil fuel industry keeps pouring carbon into the atmosphere and we keep seeing this kind of event, or we take some action.

Here’s the thing always to remember: the crazy changes that we’re seeing now, the – you know, the fact that we broke the Arctic this summer, the fact that the oceans are 30 percent more acid, that’s all happened when you raise the temperature of the earth one degree. The same scientists who told us that was going to happen are confident that the temperature will go up four degrees, maybe five, unless we get off coal and gas and oil very quickly. And to do that, you know, it’s nice to talk to Washington, but in certain ways Washington has turned into customer service for the fossil fuel industry. It’s time to take on that industry directly.

Not time today. Time today is to take care of people all up and down the East Coast, to work in the relief efforts, to get the message out as this storm heads north. We in Vermont, knowing from last year, from last year’s superstorm, Irene, have a pretty good idea of just how traumatic this is going to be. So the short-term effort is all about people. But the slightly longer-term effort is to make sure that we’re not creating a world where this kind of thing happens over and over and over again.

Amy Goodman: Bill, you mentioned that the storm is made up of elements both natural and unnatural. What do you mean by that?

Bill McKibben: Well, look, I mean, global warming doesn’t cause hurricanes. We’ve always had hurricanes. Hurricanes are caused when a wave, a tropical wave, comes off the coast of Africa and moves on to warm water and the wind shear is low enough to let it form a circulation, and so on and so forth. But we’re producing conditions like record warm temperatures in seawater that make it easier for this sort of thing to get, in this case, you know, up the Atlantic with a head of steam. We’re making – we’re raising the sea levels. And when that happens, it means that whatever storm surge comes in comes in from a higher level than it would have before. We’re seeing – and there are meteorologists, although I don’t think this is well studied enough yet to really say it conclusively, there are people saying that things like the huge amount of open water in the Arctic have been changing patterns, of big wind current patterns, across the continent that may be contributing to these blocking pressure areas and things that we’re seeing. But, to me, that, at this point, is still mostly speculation.

What really is different is that there is more moisture and more energy in this narrow envelope of atmosphere. And that energy expresses itself in all kind of ways. That’s why we get these record rainfalls now, time after time. I mean, last year, it was Irene and then Lee directly after that. This year, this storm, they’re saying, could be a thousand-year rainfall event across the mid-Atlantic. I think that means more rain than you’d expect to see in a thousand years. But I could pretty much – I’d be willing to bet that it won’t be long before we see another one of them, because we’re changing the odds. By changing the earth, we change the odds.

And one thing for all of us to remember today, even as we deal with the horror on the East Coast, is that this is exactly the kind of horror people have been dealing with all over the world. Twenty million people were dislocated by flood in Pakistan two years ago. There are people with kind of existential fears about whether their nations will survive the rise of sea level. We’re seeing horrific drought not just in the Midwest, but in much of the rest of the world. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened on earth, climate change, and our response has to be the same kind of magnitude.

To read Amy Goodman;s interview with Bill McKibben in its entirety, click here.

Above: Boats rest on Broadway Avenue after they were washed ashore from a boatyard in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. (Reuters/Steve Nesius)

Above: Antonio Garces tries to recover his belongings from his house destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in Aguacate, Cuba, Thursday October 25, 2012. Hurricane Sandy blasted across eastern Cuba on Thursday as a potent Category 2 storm and headed for the Bahamas after causing at least two deaths in the Caribbean. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

Above: A parking lot full of yellow cabs is flooded as a result of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

Above: A row of houses stands in floodwaters at Grassy Sound in North Wildwood, New Jersey, as Hurricane Sandy pounds the East Coast. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Dale Gerhard)

Above: Heavy rains from Hurricane Sandy causes the Croix de Mission River to swell to levels that threaten to flood the homes along its bank in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – October 25, 2012. (Reuters/Swoan Parker)

Above: Sea water floods the Ground Zero construction site, Monday, October 29, 2012, in New York. Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

Above: Floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy rush into the Port Authority Trans-Hudson's (PATH) Hoboken, New Jersey station through an elevator shaft in this video frame grab from the NY/NJ Port Authority twitter feed, October 29, 2012. (Reuters/NY/NJ Port Authority/Twitter)

Above: This image from video provided by Dani Hart shows what appears to be a transformer exploding in lower Manhattan as seen from a building rooftop from the Navy Yard in Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York City. Much of New York was plunged into darkness Monday by the superstorm that overflowed the city's historic waterfront, flooded the financial district and subway tunnels, and cut power to nearly one million people. (AP Photo/Dani Hart)

Above: The darkened skyline of lower Manhattan after a power outage from Hurricane Sandy can be seen from Exchange Park, New Jersey. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

Above: Leveled homes in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, New York. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Above: Streets are flooded under the Manhattan Bridge in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, N.Y., Monday, October 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Above: A rescue worker carries a boy on his back as emergency personnel rescue residents from flood waters brought on by Hurricane Sandy in Little Ferry, New Jersey. October 30, 2012.(Reuters)

Above: A 168-foot water tanker, the John B. Caddell, sits on the shore Tuesday morning, October 30, 2012 where it ran aground on Front Street in the Stapleton neighborhood of New York's Staten Island as a result of Superstorm Sandy. (Sean Sweeney / AP)

Related Off-site Links:
Other Side of Sandy: Caribbean DevastationRT.com (October 31, 2012).
Atlantic Coast Wakes Up to the NightmareTruthDig.com (October 30, 2012).
Yes, Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy – George Lakoff (CommonDreams.org, October 30, 2012).
We Are All from New Orleans Now: Climate Change, Hurricanes and the Fate of America's Coastal Cities – Mike Tidwell (The Nation, October 30, 2012).
The Climate Elephant in the Room – Tom Weis (The Huffington Post, October 30, 2012).
Climate and Clarity – Rebecca Solnit (TomDispatch.com, October 29, 2012).
Sandy Teaches a Lesson – Eugene Robinson (TruthDig.com, October 30, 2012).
An Oyster in the Storm – Paul Greenberg (New York Times, October 30, 2012).
Hurricane Sandy Pushing Obama, Romney to Break Silence on Climate ChangeCommonDreams.org (October 30, 2012).
Watching Sandy, Ignoring Climate Change – Elizabeth Kolbert (The New Yorker, October 29, 2012).
Watchdog: Storm Released 'Staggering' Amount of Pollution into Hudson RiverCommonDreams.org (October 30, 2012).
New York Subway System May Take Weeks to Recover From Storm – Angela Greiling Keane, Jeff Plungis and Alan Levin (Bloomberg.com, October 30, 2012).
Bones, Caskets Unearthed by Sandy – Kevin Dolak (Yahoo! News, October 31, 2012).
Ten Fake Photos of Hurricane SandyYahoo! News (October 30, 2012).
The Real Election 2012 October Surprise: Hurricane Sandy – Tracy Bloom (TruthDig.com, October 30, 2012).
Why Hurricane Sandy Might Cost Obama the Popular Vote – But Not the Presidency – Jeff Greenfield (Yahoo! News, October 30, 2012).

11/3/12 Update: Occupy Wall Street Leading Massive, Volunteer-Powered Recovery Efforts in New YorkDaily Kos (November 2, 2012).

Image 1: New York Cat.
Image 4: AP Photo/Charles Sykes.
Image 5: AP Photo/John Minchillo.
Image 6: Reuters/Lucas Jackson.

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