In its bold cover story, Businessweek directly and correctly links the devastation caused by climate change to Sandy and, mockingly, called out climate change deniers to refute their arguments, calling them stupid.
Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.
Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.
Businessweek then sifted through the experts who are calling Sandy anything from feeding on ‘global warming fuel’ to a megastorm amped up on ‘climate change steroids.’ Businessweek also seemed to corroborate an analysis posted here and supported by an increasing number of climate scientists:
Sandy featured a scary extra twist implicating climate change. An Atlantic hurricane moving up the East Coast crashed into cold air dipping south from Canada. The collision supercharged the storm’s energy level and extended its geographical reach. Pushing that cold air south was an atmospheric pattern, known as a blocking high, above the Arctic Ocean. Climate scientists Charles Greene and Bruce Monger of Cornell University, writing earlier this year in Oceanography, provided evidence that Arctic icemelts linked to global warming contribute to the very atmospheric pattern that sent the frigid burst down across Canada and the eastern U.S.
Businessweek then shifted its analysis to insurance providers who have been increasingly vocal about the current ongoing impacts of climate change and about their concerns for the situation continuing to worsen. According to the Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurer, damages caused by extreme weather disasters from 1980 to 2011 (not including this year’s record damage) have reached 1.06 trillion dollars. This level is five times that of the previous 30 year period. Damage also quadrupled in Asia and doubled in the rest of the world. Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe, the company’s geo-risks research chief noted:
“If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.”
Businessweek laments the wretched political climate, fueled by climate change denial and fossil fuel special interest money, that has managed to take climate change off the table as a topic of political and policy discussion in Washington. The article also links fossil fuels to economic growth. Though, in our view, given the damage fossil fuels cause and the ever-increasing costs to extract more and more remote resources, this is a dubious proposition. If the thing powering your growth makes your climate too dangerous and damaging for you to keep cities at the coast, for example, then the overall economic pay-off is only short-term and ephemeral. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the rising costs of fossil fuel extraction.
Businessweek did, however, saliently illustrate the increasingly unrealistic and callous position of republican leaders on the issue of climate change:
Mitt Romney has gone from being a supporter years ago of clean energy and emission caps to, more recently, a climate agnostic. On Aug. 30, he belittled his opponent’s vow to arrest climate change, made during the 2008 presidential campaign. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney told the Republican National Convention in storm-tossed Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two months later, in the wake of Sandy, submerged families in New Jersey and New York urgently needed some help dealing with that rising-ocean stuff.
Romney had also pledged to eliminate FEMA as an agency of the Federal Government, the same FEMA that is now helping so many families in New Jersey. The Romney campaign has since backed off its pledge to get rid of FEMA funding. However, the predilection of republicans to remove necessary government services and to cut programs that help people, communities and states during the current period of growing climate crisis is plainly apparent.
During one Republican primary debate last year, [Romney] was asked point-blank whether the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to be turned back to the states. “Absolutely,” he replied. Let the states fend for themselves or, better yet, put the private sector in charge. Pay-as-you-go rooftop rescue service may appeal to plutocrats; when the flood waters are rising, ordinary folks welcome the National Guard.
Businessweek also lamented the death of the market-based cap and trade legislation the Tea Party defeated in Congress in 2009:
In 2009 the House of Representatives passed cap-and-trade legislation that would have rewarded more nimble industrial players that figure out how to use cleaner energy. The bill died in the Senate in 2010, a victim of Tea Party-inspired Republican obstructionism…Despite Republican fanaticism about all forms of government intervention in the economy, the idea of pricing carbon must remain a part of the national debate. One politically plausible way to tax carbon emissions is to transfer the revenue to individuals. Alaska, which pays dividends to its citizens from royalties imposed on oil companies, could provide inspiration.
In this, Businessweek brings up an excellent point. Tax and transfer is an incentive plan pushed by none other than NASA scientist James Hansen. It would increase the cost of carbon intensive energy sources and incentivize non-carbon or low-carbon energy sources. The tax would create an economic advantage for those who used less energy, were more efficient, or who were more active in transferring to non-fossil fuel based energy sources like wind, solar and electric vehicles. Such a program would work within the framework of current markets and cause far less disruption even as it speeds transitions to newer energy programs. Incentive and choice still allow for competition and innovation while pushing for better outcomes.
Of related importance was Businessweek’s clarion call for American leadership in climate change. It suggested that the US provide incentive for China and India to shift away from the worst CO2 emitter — coal. But the article saliently noted that, for any such framework to be effective, it must involve real penalties for noncompliance, something many nations have been unable to agree upon thus far.
Businessweek notes that Sandy should serve as a wake-up call. It should also serve as a signal that we are all in this together. Those in danger aren’t just the ones living on islands about to be overwhelmed by the Pacific Ocean. They include those who dwell in all our coastal cities, which are now at ever increasing risk of flooding and dangerous storms. They include the American farmers faced with the prospect of growing decadal droughts. And they include all of us who rely on a stable climate for both our food sources and our economic prosperity.
As for action, or the reason for lack of action, Businessweek provides to most salient argument I’ve seen thus far on the issue:
In truth, what’s lacking in America’s approach to climate change is not the resources to act but the political will to do so. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in October found that two-thirds of Americans say there is “solid evidence” the earth is getting warmer. That’s down 10 points since 2006. Among Republicans, more than half say it’s either not a serious problem or not a problem at all.
Such numbers reflect the success of climate deniers in framing action on global warming as inimical to economic growth. This is both shortsighted and dangerous. The U.S. can’t afford regular Sandy-size disruptions in economic activity. To limit the costs of climate-related disasters, both politicians and the public need to accept how much they’re helping to cause them.
In other words, if you’re still denying climate change at this late hour, you’re stupid. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to act NOW.