The half drowned world: will disasters like Hurricane Sandy further mobilise public opinion in favour of climate change action?

Like so many others I’ve been watching with concern Hurricane Sandy that is crashing into the Eastern seaboard of the United States.

The questions have already begun: is this climate change? Recall this is the second year in a row hurricane New York and the East Coast has faced a hurricane.

The Guardian notes this has potential to one of the worst storms to hit the US. This follows the brutal summer heat waves, wild fires and loss of crops that have devastated large parts of that country.

As a direct consequence of these events acceptance of climate change among the American public has been shifting towards an overwhelming majority (Bloomberg):

In a poll taken July 12-16, 70 percent of respondents said they think the climate is changing, compared with 65 percent in a similar poll in March. Those saying it’s not taking place fell to 15 percent from 22 percent, according to data set to be released this week by the UT Energy Poll.

Following a winter of record snowfall in 2010, the public’s acceptance of climate change fell to a low of 52 percent, according to the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which was published by the Brookings Institution in Washington. After this year’s mild winter, support jumped to 65 percent, the same as that found by the UT Energy Poll in March.

The public’s views on climate change can be rather fickle depending on the vagaries of the seasons and day-to-day weather events. However it is possible to see a storm of this magnitude and potential devastation will likewise further shift (or solidify) public opinion just as the heat waves and droughts have.

But Sandy is different as this piece from The Nation notes:

The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them. And what is a thousand-mile-wide storm pushing 11 feet of water toward our country’s biggest population center saying just days before the election? It is this: we are all from New Orleans now. Climate change—through the measurable rise of sea levels and a documented increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms—has made 100 million Americans virtually as vulnerable to catastrophe as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were seven years ago.

It is not merely another data point in the collective memory of the general public – it is another extreme weather event clustered with so many others.

Time scales are shortening between events so that even the most obtuse and skeptical are noting. Rare events no longer seem as rare, but a common occurrence  Climate change is bursting from the confirms of IPCC reports and computer models into the public’s consciousness.

We, the human species, are a pattern seeking animal. Now we see the pattern in a storm that stretches the length of the continental shelf of the Eastern United States.

Even the most the more skeptical and disengaged minds are registering changes taking place on a planetary scale: something wicked this way comes.

The Great Awakening versus the Climate Beast: when will the voting public begin their demand for action on climate?

Among many in the activist community there is a belief – and I call it just that – the general public will undergo something akin to a “Great Awakening”.

In response to increased extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy it is believed the public will begin clamoring for action on climate change.

Put crudely, if you’re home is flooded or your crops are withering under harsh drought conditions, the lived experience will a far greater teacher than the 30 plus years of science communication.

The argument goes like this:

1/ There will be an increased awareness among the general public due to extreme weather events

2/ As a consequence there will increasing demand for solutions by those in democratic countries

3/ Politicians and political parties will adopt policies that provide solutions (i.e. renewable energy, carbon trading schemes).


Impact + demand = climate change solutions

Whether or not we will see the implementation of the “right” solutions remains to be seen.

But it is possible to detect a change in both the public’s perception and the tone of the discussion this year in response to the increasing incidence of extreme weather events across the globe.

Thus one could argue that such an awakening is emerging with the debate shifting from the reality of science to that of advocacy for solutions.

At this point, fighting climate sceptics is merely a mopping up operation: perhaps blogs such as this are on the clean up crew, clearing away the remaining detritus of climate sceptic arguments that still infect the media and political debate.

But is such an awakening of the general public – in a fashion many hope it will be – really on the horizon?

Many activists and environmentalists work on the assumption that once the public accepts the science this will flow through to policy action, the implementation of mitigation efforts and large-scale adoption of renewable energy.

But I believe it is just that – an assumption.

Perhaps nothing more than earnest (but understandable) hope: if “we” have failed, then perhaps there can be no greater teacher than something like Hurricane Sandy.

And yet despite the devastating weather across much of the US this past 12 months, ask yourself how much is climate change impacting the current US Presidential Election?

Not as much as one would expect, despite some of Obama’s vague statements on the issue.

We’ve spent nearly four decades vainly waiting for the public to come to terms with climate change and demand action from elected governments.

And the result?

Silence, indifference or at best a grudging acknowledgement that it is a problem for others in future years. Deeply encoded in this ambivalence is a mixture of self-interest (both personal and national), denial, a lack of information and appreciation of the issue and the failure of the media and politicians to lead and inform.

I firmly believe this conundrum will not be magically solved in response to increased disaster.

Increased disaster may raise deeply held existential fears: fears for one’s personal safety and well-being and that of loved ones; fear for the future of ones tribe (aka nation-state); fear of annihilation.

What political, economic and social impacts can we envision when that collective shiver of recognition and understanding pulses through the population of the world’s mega cities, shanty towns and affluent enclaves?

Do we expect people to willingly open their arms to such knowledge and receive it with calmly and react with a stoic fortitude? Ask yourself what your own reaction was, or those close to you?

Many of us who have stared directly into the maw of the climate beast have come away depressed and terror-stricken, overwhelmed by the knowledge of what is coming.

And when that beast comes for all – and now that it is here – when it closes is jaws?

What then – what then?

The half drowned world: of failed mini-states and keen intelligence’s

Disaster can bring forth the full spectrum of what is admirable in our species: the capacity for empathy, love, generosity of spirit and positive action.

And yet it can also give birth to the very opposite: fear, naked self interest, hatred and shortsightedness.

One only has to reflect upon the impact of Hurricane Katrina and fate of New Orleans in subsequent years. The city’s has been rebuilding both painfully and slowly, while many residents have failed to return.

Sadly, I fear this is closer to what many parts of the world will experience over the coming decades.

If you want a picture of the future, it will be of half deserted and flooded coastal cities in the poorer and less resilient parts of the globe.

The nations and regions with more resources and greater resilience will be the ones building seas walls (like the Dutch are doing now), shifting populations and agricultural production and investing in alternative energy sources – like or not, that will include nuclear.

Some will argue that we should begin deliberately engineering the climate to correct our mistakes – the first stirrings of this debate have begun.

In larger polities such as the United States, Russia and China the less affluent and resilient regions will become something akin to failed mini-states within larger national entities. Internal displacement, and the redirection of resources from these failed and climate ravaged regions will see their abandonment and decline.

These will be the sacrifice zones of climate change.

While many drown, starve or die in conflicts over resources, others will run mitigation and adaptation initiatives through a cost benefit analysis.

Should we build that sea wall for that community?

Should we surrender our economic or military advantage over competitor nations or neighboring states?

Should we transfer that technology to this or that developing nation?

And what of the climate refugees – should we open our borders to them?

Do we have a duty to assist them?

If you think the climate change debate is intractable and vicious now, just watch the tone of the debate over the coming years.

It is possible – perhaps likely –  the response to climate change across the globe will devolve to the national and sub-national level, as nation states make hard-headed calculations about how they can absorb the costs of climate change.

Central to their concerns will be how to preserve their military, economic and social dominance – and maintain control of vital resources – at the regional and global level.

One need only look at the United States recent proposal to abandon attempts to limit average temperature rises beyond the 2c degree “safe limit”.

It is hard to believe that in the early twenty first century, as we busy ourselves with our affairs, keen intelligence’s are making assessments about what is worth preserving and what may have to be abandoned to the rising seas and temperatures.

The costs may be terrible and the loss of life horrific but, based on their “clear-headed” and “pragmatic” analysis, some will argue it is better to lose an island nation or two or even several of one’s own crop growing regions than surrender global, regional or economic hegemony.

Many of us will oppose the injustice of such inhuman logic.

But there will be those who will cheer on such brutality in the name of pragmatism and national sovereignty.

What then – what then.

43 thoughts on “The half drowned world: will disasters like Hurricane Sandy further mobilise public opinion in favour of climate change action?

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    People always blame witches industrialists when bad weather strikes.

    But you’re going to be disappointed – the excitement will die away once the weather settles, and you will be left with empty hope once again.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Just lik conservative radio shock Jock Alan Jones who called climate science witchcraft?

      “However, the shrinking sea ice cover could possibly benefit some shipping companies, which may gain access to northern trade routes that are currently only traversed by ice breakers.

      It comes as broadcaster Alan Jones told a rally in Melbourne that climate change science was ”propaganda”.

      ”The notion of global warming is a hoax,” Mr Jones said. ”This is witchcraft. Common sense will tell you it’s rubbish; 97 per cent of all carbon dioxide occurs naturally … 3 per cent around the world is created by human beings.”

      Mr Jones’ station was reprimanded by the Australian Communications and Media Authority last month, after he made multiplication errors in his calculations about atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.”

      Actually, my point is just that: people can be fickle and have short attentions spans and look for facts that fit their world view.

    • louploup2 says:

      What planet did you say you’re on?

  2. Republicans claim the increasing number of calls for FEMA assistance are due to a conspiracy of Democrat featherbedding (hence Romney will kill FEMA and have for-profit corporations run disaster assistance.)

    In reality, its all really its due to more severe storms and that is due to more energy in the weather systems worldwide thanks to global warming….

    • Eric Worrall says:

      The traditional culprit is witchcraft. People always turn to superstition in times of adversity. Witch burning hit a peak during the little ice age, when an obvious unprecedented surge of bad weather could only have one cause.

  3. john byatt says:

    The weirdness continues.

    Who left the fridge door open?

    The cold Arctic airmass has moved over Europe


  4. john byatt says:

    Mike this is a great post that deserves a wider audience

    “Silence, indifference or at best a grudging acknowledgement that it is a problem for others in future years. Deeply encoded in this ambivalence is a mixture of self-interest (both personal and national), denial, a lack of information and appreciation of the issue and the failure of the media and politicians to lead and inform.”

    this is exactly what has taken place in Victoria with the government stating that SLR will be a problem for future generations, not us.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Parts of lower Manhatten under water….

      • louploup2 says:

        I wish Eric was on the IRT experiencing the latest “1 mm”.

      • louploup2 says:

        Yup, just love ya. And your idiotic posts.

      • louploup2 says:

        Not half as rude as the treatment Anthony Watt and his crew dish up at WUWT to anyone who dares to ask a question that challenges their dearly cherished beliefs, or that so much as tries to make them think. I know you think that’s what you’re doing here, but–

        I find almost all of your posts to be devoid of critical thinking. And you rarely respond to my specific inquiries or requests to put up (facts and analysis) or shut up (with the BS). Instead you consistently cite crap like WUWT (you know he has no scientific credibility, right?). And totally misread simple emails like the Phil Jones thing earlier today.

        Frankly, the only reason I stay engaged is because I am mystified by the depth of your willing ignorance. I keep wondering what it is that motivates such a blatant lack of ability by many (most?) humans to deal with reality. You exemplify for me all that’s stupid and wrong with our current decision making.

        So cheers in Oz or wherever you are, and no I don’t really wish you’d drown on the #1 to Brooklyn, but I sure as Hell wish you’d start exercising the intelligence that’s clearly buried in there somewhere.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I have used that intelligence, and I have reached different conclusions to you.

          It must be fun to believe that you have a monopoly on truth, and that anyone else is denying the truth that you perceive. But this type of thinking is not really scientific – its more a blind statement of faith.

      • louploup2 says:

        “Used your intelligence”? Horseshit. I’ll remind you of this exchange next time I call you on citing garbage instead of science, making claims before you’ve done any research (apparently anyway), and then (apparently again) refusing to look up the science that is shoved in your face repeatedly. I do not claim to have a monopoly on “truth,” but I most assuredly have a broader and deeper understanding of world resource trends than you do. I’m not a scientist and don’t claim to be. I am an expert policy analyst. No, it’s not fun dealing with willfully ignorant sots; it’s frustrating.

        A blogger on another site posed a great question, and I’ll answer it and then ask you to answer it: What level of proof do you require to change your mind about the “truth” of AGW? My answer, two simple points: When someone disproves the greenhouse effect that CO2 and other gases causes planetary retention of heat). When someone shows that humans are not the direct cause of addition of most increases in GHGs to the atmosphere over the past century plus. When someone shows that the planet is not retaining an increasing amount of heat in the ocean and atmosphere. When the Arctic returns to the ice cover and weather norms of the ten thousand years of the Pleistocene prior to 1900. Each must be shown to the satisfaction of more than a majority of qualified scientists in the relevant scientific fields. I don’t even ask for 97%, just 50% plus 1 (I’m a lawyer and that’s the preponderance of the evidence standard).

        No arguing about consequences or sensitivity. No policy disputes, taxation implications, lifestyle pain, blah blah blah. All irrelevant.

        What’s your standard, Eric? Let’s hear it.

      • louploup2 says:

        Let’s review, Eric: I suggested that we establish a standard for changing each others’ mind regarding the reality of AGW. I went first, putting forth four points (not two as I wrote late at night), three addressing specific factual elements of AGW (1. Greenhouse effect, 2. Human emissions of GHGs, and 3. Global retention of heat as a result of 1 and 2), and the fourth concerned one readily observable impact (Arctic sea ice quantity). I said if each can be shown to be false by a majority of qualified scientists, I would accept that AGW is not real.

        In response, you cite one paper, “Potential bias in ‘updating’ tree-ring chronologies using regional curve standardisation: Re-processing 1500 years of Torneträsk density and ring-width data,” Melvin, et al. 2012. Your position appears to be that this one paper means “CO2 alarmists now have to demonstrate why this (recent) warming is different from a warming of a similar magnitude which occurred in medieval times, when CO2 levels were a lot lower, to have any credibility.” This paper does not address any of the points I raised. Not one.

        Citing Melvin, et al. 2012 to argue that because “natural (not human caused) warming is the null case” is a perfect example of the thoroughly debunked denier argument that if it can be shown that the MWP was at least as warm as current global warming, current global warming cannot possibly be caused by human activity. There are a number of flaws with this argument that have been shown ad nauseum. You can study the logical errors with the “MWP” argument in a number of places, including Michael Mann’s recent book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines” (2012). Fairly recent and thoroughly footnoted to the relevant literature.

        I know, asking you to read a book by Dr. Mann is like asking the Wicked Witch of the West to take a shower, but still… I assume you picked up Melvin et al (including Briffa) 2012 from If you’re going to get your science from that source, you should at least do some digging into the credibility of the cited authors. Both Melvin and Briffa are well known as supporters of the denier meme in the paleoclimate reconstruction scene. Cf.

        But really, the bottom line here is, So what? How does arguing over whether or not the MWP of many centuries ago (which has never been shown to be global in extent) was .08° higher than the high of 1998 or some other modern year negate the physics of the greenhouse effect, the fact that humans are discharging huge amounts of CO2e, and the fact that warming and its consequences are occurring? Can you respond to the question?

  5. Eric Worrall says:

    Good news, Hurricane Sandy has run out of puff – has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

    Obviously the storm surge and flooding is still an issue, but at least US cities wont have to deal with hurricane strength winds.

    • louploup2 says:

      No, but the cost is likely to be in the billions. NYC has had two hum dingers in so many years. This one had the worst storm surge since 1992. But no, of course the change in hurricane patterns, storm surges, blocked jet stream, Arctic storms, etc. have nothing to do with the increase in total energy available in the global system. Not a thing.

      • Eric Worrall says:

        Hurricane strength storms are in decline. And there is a good reason for connecting this decline to global warming.

        As they said on the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” (where I’m sure a lot of you get your science), Storms are caused by imbalances – and continue until the imbalance is settled.

        Its not the amount of energy in the climate system which matters, its the difference in temperature and pressure between adjacent regions. The bigger the difference, the sharper the pressure gradient, the fiercer the weather.

        Since the arctic has warmed faster than temperate and equatorial regions, global temperatures are now more evenly balanced than in pre-industrial times. The severe temperature differences and sharp pressure gradients required to drive major storms is harder to achieve, and thus rarer.

        This is further backed by considering ice age weather. Do you know how ice ages are detected in the core samples? Dust. Ice ages are stormy and dry, compared to interglacials. Ice age weather kicks up a lot of dust, some of which gets buried in the ice.

      • louploup2 says:

        OK, first try: Give citations to peer reviewed lit saying “hurricane strength storms are in decline.” Not just number, but also strength of each? Six cat 4s have lots more power than ten cat 1s.

        I get none of my science from a movie. I’ll ask you again; do you ever use or otherwise research the peer reviewed literature?

        Sandy’s power was caused by exactly what you’re referring to (pressure differential) and the “Frankenstorm” aspect is because of the merge with an independent pressure system in the subArctic (as I recall–too late to spend time redoing work for you).

        “the arctic has warmed faster than temperate and equatorial regions” Well, that’s a major concession, and what do you think is causing that? The climate fairy?

        “The severe temperature differences and sharp pressure gradients required to drive major storms is harder to achieve, and thus rarer.” And how did Irene smack New England in 2011, and Sandy the mid-Atlantic in 2012? You think there’s a trend for fewer or weaker storms up the eastern seaboard? Let’s see some citations to credible analysis of the data. You did see the recent paper by Grinsted, “Homogeneous record of Atlantic hurricane surge threat since 1923”?

        Dust. Sure, and pollen, and CO2, and isotopes. Give me a cite to a study or two that supports a point you’re trying to make (what is your point?), and I’ll read them.

  6. zoot says:

    Check out Eric’s website (click on his name) and see evidence of his cutting edge IT skills.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      The relevance of this is what exactly?

      • zoot says:

        Same as the relevance of the MWP to Sandy.

        Your move.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          The re-emergence of a MWP similar to today’s warming proves that something other than CO2 can cause climate shifts of a magnitude comparable to today’s climate shift.

          So Sandy could be entirely natural – nothing to do with anthropomorphic CO2.

          The only other candidate for a forcing which could have caused the MWP is solar variation. Briffa just gave Svensmark’s theory a big boost.

          Given that the 20th century saw a solar grand maximum greater than anything seen for the last 8000 years, the evidence is now that CO2 contributed very little to global warming over the last century.

      • john byatt says:

        the Medieval Warm Period has known causes which explain both the scale of the warmth and the pattern. It has now become clear to scientists that the Medieval Warm Period occurred during a time which had higher than average solar radiation and less volcanic activity (both resulting in warming). New evidence is also suggesting that changes in ocean circulation patterns played a very important role in bringing warmer seawater into the North Atlantic. This explains much of the extraordinary warmth in that region. These causes of warming contrast significantly with today’s warming, which we know cannot be caused by the same mechanisms.

      • zoot says:

        The re-emergence of a MWP similar to today’s warming proves that something other than CO2 can cause climate shifts of a magnitude comparable to today’s climate shift.

        You flounce through here with your asinine gotchas, your arguments which have been debunked a hundred times before and your complete inability to understand basic science and you ask what is the relevance of your 1980’s webpage?
        You Eric, are a tosser. If masturbation were an Olympic sport you would be a multiple gold medallist. I’m fed up to the back teeth with pretending people like you, who are threatening the very existence of my grandchildren’s grandchildren, are deserving of anything other than contempt.

      • john byatt says:

        this has already been explained to you,

      • louploup2 says:

        Eric–I manage to stay somewhat more polite than zoot, but I agree with his sentiment that you are deserving of contempt. You don’t respond to direct questions and continue to post claims and citations to claims that have been debunked by all but the most committed deniers, like Watts. Why should we not call you an asshole when you behave like one (repeatedly dropping your turds)?

  7. ozes williamstrange666 says:

    Never let facts get in the way of a good narrative eh. ? 🙂
    You guys never cease making people laugh.
    Glad to see you reporting the gerghis debacle.???????
    So much for the science here eh.

    • john byatt says:

      Are you nuts

      “Here is a table showing the top 20 hurricane losses 1900 to 2011, normalized to 2012 dollars. In other words, the figures show an estimate of what the losses would be were historical storms to occur in 2012. The numbers come from ICAT based on an extension of Pielke et al. 2008.”

      How does the cost translate to the question


      Did climate change make this storm worse than it would have been otherwise?


      and you are claiming that the cost proves it does not ?

    • john byatt says:

      What allowances did roger make for the improved building codes


      • john byatt says:

        This comment is relevant

        ..Sandy isn’t even a blip compared to some past hurricanes. This is largely due to the warning, emergency infrastructure, etc. Thousands have died on the east coast of North America from storms.

        Today most people have power out, flooded basements and lost work for a couple days. A century before people’s whole live were in turmoil from such events.

        I was in Atlantic Canada when a tail end of a hurricane hit in the 1970’s…there were a couple of fatalities…a similar storm hit just over a century before and whole shipping fleets and coastal towns were wiped out with the death toll is the thousands.

        bottom line

        rogers opinion is nonsense

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