Today’s Dallas Morning News published an AP story it headlined “Scientists wonder whether global warming played role” in “East Coast Superstorm” Sandy. The News’s headline implied that climate scientists are scratching their heads, perplexed about whether climate change had anything to do with an unprecedented, 1000-mile-wide, record-breaking storm. Like other media, the News publishes what audiences want to hear, including Exxon readers and other people whose jobs depend on producing greenhouse gases.
The AP story itself is less ambivalent, talking about ocean water nearly a foot higher and two degrees warmer than a century ago. Scientists years ago warned that global warming was raising New York sea levels as it heated earth’s atmosphere, making the city “highly vulnerable to extreme hurricane flooding.” Ocean water expands when heated, and warm water and warm air fuel storms, so extra heat increases the odds of super storms like Sandy trashing eastern seacoasts. The causal link between broiling the planet with fossil fuels and more powerful storms merits a “duh,” but decision makers haven’t pay attention.
Climate science is clear that the Earth is getting warmer and that human activities are the primary cause. What, if anything, to do about climate change is a far more difficult issue involving politics, economics, generational equity and religion. Even if governments decide that global warming must be slowed and then stopped, formulating and implementing action plans for managing Earth’s complex natural systems would be the biggest challenge ever for modern civilization.
There are rationales for ignoring messages nature is giving about climate change. Price tags to even begin fixing what man has caused are high, the future is uncertain, natural systems are complicated – all true, but time may show that man’s passivity in the face of global warming was terribly expensive.
Image by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/U.S. Air Force/New Jersey National Guard (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons