Sandy and Climate Science

Hurricane Irene. Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, some rights reserved.

Looking back on Hurricane Sandy, everyone wants to use it as evidence for their own conclusion. With the devastation in New York, one thing is clear in retrospect – it should not be a huge surprise. Studies from, to name a few, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the State of New York, predicted that some form of “worst case” or hundred-year storm could in fact flood New York’s financial district, flood 3000 miles of roads in Brooklyn and Queens, and inundate the subway system. In short, this describes what happened this week.

As we would expect with most scientific or policy papers, most people probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you about these predictions two weeks ago, something that has left climate advocates scientists befuddled. The responses cited in yesterday’s Green Mien post are among the more measured comments I have read regarding the relationship between Sandy and global warming, and you should read them for an informed commentary on the strength of this relationship. But climate scientists and the journalists covering them are prone to the kind of moralizing ‘I told you so’ judgments that keep their ideas off the center stage of popular press. Sandy, they think, should change this, and propel their issue to prominence.

And they have a point. The national political dialogue has steered clear of climate change, its absence from the presidential debates confirming its place as a “boutique issue.” Sandy should make clear that addressing long-term risks, including, yes, those presented by climate change and associated weather events, absolutely have a place in policy debate. ‘Global warming’ might struggle to become a buzzword in Washington because of its association with the fear mongering to which climate science sometimes resorts. But risk management is certainly an acceptable way to absorb the issue into an existing framework for action.

Mother Jones’s Chris Mooney claims “science phobia” is responsible for the failure of climate scientists’ agenda to seriously affect national political discourse. To the contrary, I think environmental advocates struggle not with an unreceptive public but with framing their issue as our issue – and Sandy presents an opportunity to do so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: