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Sandy & climate change

There are plausible links between Sandy and AGW. That the scientific evidence is scant because – by definition – this is an instance of an infrequent, extreme event – provides additional reasons to research such links.  The event provides an instance of the type of catastrophic outcome that warming oceans, along with sea level rise, can be anticipated to drive. It would be foolish to ignore the possibility that warming oceans do release energy in this way until sufficient data exists to confirm or reject such a link since the lengthy time taken for such empirical confirmation can leave many of the world’s cities devastated.  Application of the sometimes-abused “precautionary principle” makes sense here.  Of course address AGW and also undertake additional adaptive measures to help reduce the likely impacts of disasters that stem from there in fact being a link.

9 comments to Sandy & climate change

  • rog

    While it is debatable how climate change influenced the creation of Sandy there is one indisputable factor that influenced the outcome – sea level rise. About half of sea level rise on the east coast US is attributable to subsidence the balance being climate change. The rise may be incremental but due to known laws og physics the effects are exponential.

  • Fran Barlow

    Discussing Sandy and its provenance in climate change, a US commentator compared attribution doubts with Barry Bonds and steroid usage. We can’t really be sure what percentage of his home runs were the result of performance-enhancing drugs, or which home runs were decisively the result of his resort to drugs, but we can be sure that quite a few were, and that any we saw might well have been. Clearly, he had the skill to score home runs without steroids, but the steroids made a measurable positive difference — they amplified the frequency and size of the big hits.

    Sandy could be an example of climate on steroids.

    As you point out, sea levels were up by 1 foot over the century in NY/Jersey. The ice melt in the north created a cold air mass that interacted with the Nor’easter to fuel it and redirect it at the coast rather than out to sea. The SSTs were also higher due to climate change. It then interacted with quite common weather patterns over the land to become a huge problem — one anticipated by scientists in 2009 post-Irene.

    For our purposes it doesn’t matter if we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sandy’s damage was decisively the result of climate change — though it almost certainly was. We need simply note that the circumstances that produced this apparently $50bn disaster are likely to recur far more frequently than they would in a world without warming oceans and land and glacial melt water disturbing the North Atlantic and the Gulf Stream. Is this a thing we want to happen less frequently and with less intensity?

    Of course it is. Can we act to make this so for people in the future? Yes. Are we not obliged to try? Of course. If, in the future we find a way to attribute Sandy or similar storms with absolute certainty to climate change, and to distinguish them from those that would have occurred anyway, will the basic calculus in retrospect be even slightly different? Of course not. This will be a footnote, and come much too late to be functionally useful.

    We know what we must do. We should just get on with it. Even the first world is not being spared.

  • Jim Rose

    Fran, it is unwise to hang your hat on small samples.

    those who argued that the world stopped warming since 1998 also fell for the small sample size error.

  • Fran Barlow

    You’ve missed the point Jim, as usual. Read more carefully before commenting.

  • Jim Rose

    fran, you used a single data point as evidence. Why not stick to the facts: the world has been warming since the end of the little ice age and there may be a human signature in this warming.

  • Fran Barlow

    Yiu still havent read over the piece have you Jim? Either that or it has just washed over you. Come on … use that grey matter of yours.

  • hc

    Jim I don’t want this stuff on my blog. We are in the midst of an inter-glacial that is true but, as has been repeated now innumerable times in innumerable discussions on innumerable occasions, the warming that has occurred since 1900 has been distinctive in terms of its rate and extent. This warming cannot be explained after 1945 by natural events and it is much more than a “may be” that humans are responsible. If you want to preach a misguided agnostic approach to climate change I request you to go elsewhere. Stick to what is known and factual.

    The post did not say Sandy was caused by climate change. It did say that waiting for 50 years until enough evidence has been brought to bare on the issue of occasional extreme events is unwise. There are good reasons for supposing more extreme events will occur because of ocean warming and sea level rise.

  • rog

    A good round up of where we are at re climate on ABC Catalyst

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