Climate change and Superstorms

downloadThe week that Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast US, Bloomberg Businessweek shouted from its cover – It’s Global Warming, Stupid. In a photograph, a car covered with sand onLong Island after Hurricane Sandy had written across its windshield: Climate Change is Here. We turned to our Zintro experts for their opinions on how Superstorm Sandy is affecting perspectives on climate change.

Jeff Waldon, a forest carbon and biodiversity consultant, says that the international community understands the climate change issue and is ahead of the United States on dealing with it. “The US is hamstrung by a distracted, under-informed electorate, and an open society that allows the fossil fuel industry to use profits from pollution to influence popular opinion through the media. The fossil fuel industry has many trillions of dollars tied up in resource assessments (coal, oil, and natural gas reserves) that add value to their companies. Without the ability to use those resources, the value of those companies would crater. Large storms/fires/droughts shock the public into paying attention temporarily, but I worry that we will just assume that these events are the new normal and acceptable or inevitable. The presumption is that the cost of dealing with it is overwhelming and impossible to endure. That presumption is incorrect, but it plays into the narrative from the fossil fuel community,” Waldron explains. “There are actions we can take right now to begin dealing with the problem that either save us money (energy efficiency and smart development planning) or cost so little that it’s embarrassing that a country our size hasn’t already adopted them (forest conservation).”

Silvia Lac, a research forester with an expertise in climate change, says that climate change brings more climate extremes to susceptible areas, meaning an area that is commonly subject to drought will experience more of it, and this is the same with many other climate extremes. “Ocean currents primarily control our climate. Accumulation of greenhouse gases has warmed the oceans; therefore, disrupting the natural patterns and climate as we know it,” she says. “It is important to make a distinction between climate (30 years average) and weather forecasts, which deal with predictions from days to weeks. To be able to relate any extreme weather to climate change, it is necessary to conduct a more in-depth assessment.”

Lac points out that climate change predictions for a particular area can be found in IPCC documents. But that climate change models, despite all efforts, rely mostly on existing datasets (past climate) and human behavior (estimated). “We have to realize there are no long-term records to better understand complex climate patterns. There are new technologies that are used to better forecast the weather, but there are not enough long-term records to predict climate. Nevertheless, with the oceans changing in patterns, this one issue can affect the planet in many unpredictable ways and in many different regions in the world,” says Lac. “The best case scenario to deal with such extremes is to implement adaptation plans.”

Lac explains that these plans use climate change predictions downscaled statistically to a given area that is susceptible to extremes, put in place a monitoring program for the variables of interest, and, when a critical threshold is reached, there are plans for evacuations, and a campaign plan to communicate to citizens what to expect in each case scenario. “The goal is to preserve lives and minimize economical losses as well as livelihoods. Unfortunately, very few places in the world have taken all the necessary measures to deal properly with climate extremes until a disaster of great proportion takes place. Meanwhile, most people are so far removed from the cause that they continue to lack good judgment when consuming goods that are further adding to the problem. For instance, even though we know that fossil fuels take much more time to be produced than to be consumed, we still drive large cars that run on gas. The fact is that so much greenhouse gas has accumulated in the atmosphere that there is no mitigation process able to stop it,” she says.

Most recently, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and increasing carbon stocks by forest management) has been considered the only hope to decrease the velocity in which global temperature is increasing. “This process could provide the opportunity for forest ecosystems to adapt and prevent more massive carbon loss from the great mortality of trees, especially in their range of natural distribution,” says Lac. “As a result of climate change, the biomes are migrating towards the poles, and massive death of trees has been another issue that can further contribute to climate change. Like the oceans, trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

By Maureen Aylward

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