Category Archives: Hurricanes

Storm surges: we ain’t seen nothing yet?

Tamino’s Open Mind remains one of the “must read” climate blogs – a recent post on hurricanes and storm surges is well worth reading:

One of the difficulties studying changes in the frequency and intensity of cyclones is that the record of past storms is inhomogeneous, due to changes in observational capabilities and how storms have been measured and recorded. But a new paper by Grinsted et al. has found evidence of past cyclone occurrence in the western Atlantic which impacted the U.S. east coast, evidence which is homogenous over a period of nearly a century, by studying not storm records, but surges in sea level recorded at tide gauge stations.

The Grinsted paper is well worth noting, and includes the following graph:

Note the correlation between a) surge events b) frequency of surge events c) accumulated cyclone energy and d) annual average global mean surface temperature between the late 1920s and this century (in particular note the period post 2000).

Four separate pieces of data; four different, yet parallel stories; one fact.

The globe is warming, and the climate is changing. Signal from the noise.

Tamino once again proves to be a valuable guide to the science, noting:

In my opinion, Grinsted et al. have identified an important and reliable indicator of landfalling storms in the U.S. southeast, and have found clear (and statistically significant) evidence of increase in activity over time and association with warmer temperatures. As the world continues to warm, expect the trends to continue.

I concur: these trends will continue.

Climate politics shifting: NYC Mayor Bloomberg cites climate change a factor in US elections

“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans…  And heal the planet” – Mitt Romney

Sandy – and climate change – is having a profound impact on American politics and the Presidential election in surprising ways:

In a surprise announcement, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday that Hurricane Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign and that as a result he was endorsing President Obama. 

Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent in his third term leading New York City, has been sharply critical of both Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the president’s Republican rival, saying that both men have failed to candidly confront the problems afflicting the nation. But he said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the best candidate to tackle the global climate change that the mayor believes contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage. 

“The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of next Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote in an editorial for Bloomberg View. 

“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

Perhaps this is the break-through moment for climate politics in the US: when a respected, conservative leaning politician (Bloomberg is an independent with progressive views on a range of issues) helps dismantle the logjam stifling acknowledgement that climate change is central to the political discussion, and not a fringe concern.

The conservative politicians, think tanks, one particular global media corporation and journalists who have spent decades denying the reality are not merely looking out of touch with reality – it is now clear giving credence to their views was both foolish and dangerous.

The price of denial is writ large across Caribbean nations such as Haiti (60 dead) and the North East of the United States where the death toll has reached over 80.

The world has listened to these fanatics and merchants of unreality for too long.

But sadly it has taken two hurricanes in the United States – and far too many dead and billions in damage – to illustrate the folly of denial.

Twice climate extremes have destroyed the ambitions of conservatives in the US to hold or gain the Presidency. And twice they have chosen to ignore the lessons.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Presidency of George W. Bush, who was shown to be grossly incompetent. Recall it was Bush who sought to delay action on climate and ushered in the Republican war on science.

But denial among the GOP and conservatives only increased in intensity.

Now hurricane Sandy may have shifted the politics of climate change, most likely ensured a second term for Obama and discredited the sceptic movement in the eyes of most of the public.

The response of the millions who experienced the devastation of Sandy to the arguments of the sceptics will be personal and visceral:

“You’re a climate sceptic? Well I’m from New York – f*ck you”

Nor will the world forget the foolish utterances and names of those who denied climate change. The evidence of their stupidity and ideological zealotry is voluminous.

Romeny’s mocking of the issue of at the recent RNC will not merely haunt his failed bid for the Presidency: it will haunt conservatives in the US for decades.

It will haunt News Corporation for decades, who will be seen as one of the principle agents of denial.

And it will haunt conservative politicians in Australia, who fell under the siren song of the sceptic movement.

But it was bound to happen: reality was always going to catch up in the form of surging flood waters, withered crops and smashed and storm ravaged cities.

There will be an accounting and a reckoning, of that there can be little doubt.

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The fall out from Sandy: what hope for the politics of climate response? (Reprint)

Again The Conversation provides some of the best commentary and thinking on the climate change debate.

Nick Rowley from the University of Sydney reflects upon the impact Hurricane Sandy may have on the politics of global warming. More importantly he muses on what progress can be made to fashion a global consensus for action (reprinted below).

Within the article is a remarkable statistic: investment in renewable emery has jumped 800% in the last few years.

This figure comes from a report by Pew Environment Group and is worth reading. It is worth noting who is making the investment, and critically who is not:

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third. Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk.

I’ve been musing for some time that he price of listening to the climate sceptics – at least for the US – is the loss competitive advantage.

We can see this in how America is surrounding its lead on technology and innovation (not to mention its moral leadership) due to the reflexive denial of conservative politicians cultivated and feed by the sceptics movement and right-wing media.

One only has to look at the “war on renewable energy” waged by the conservative Republican Party and News Corporation. In dismissing non-carbon sources of energy, the United States is literally surrounding its technological advantage to the Asia-Pacific nations.

“Stick with coal!” scream the sceptics.

And while many advocate for a “Drill baby, drill” energy policy the rest of the world is leaving the US behind.

The above statistics prove the folly in such short-sightedness.

There can be little doubt that in the future we will utilise clean energy technologies from China, India and South Korea – and so will the Americans.

The phrase “Made in the USA” will come to carry the same overtones we now associate with the old Soviet and East European industries: shoddy, polluting and the epitome of inefficient technological obsolescence.

This is not the first time the Americans have surrounded a technological or economic advantage: one merely needs to look at the decline and near collapse of the American automobile industry (although it should be noted it has experienced a small turn around by switching production to more fuel-efficient vehicles to match their competitors).

The same dynamics are playing out again.

Where foresight and leadership are required you can trust the doubting voices to stifle innovation and genuine discussion on policy responses. Because ultimately that is what the climate sceptic movement promotes: paralysis.

It encourages the individual and nation to stand still and forgo innovation. Failing to even acknowledge the problem of climate change means forgoing a leadership role in the realms of politics and techologicaly.

Thus it seems America’s decline is marching lockstep with rising temperatures and increased extreme weather events

When a nation’s political elite are locked into denial or silence on an issue as fundemental as climate change it can only have negative effects in both the short and long term.

The silence on the issue in the American presidential election is the true victory of the deniers – but such self-imposed silence on a issue of strategic importance will cost the US dearly.

This is not to blame the individual American, many of whom are blameless – indeed when polled the vast majority accept the science and wish to see policies and regulations addressing energy and climate change.

The ruined foreshore of New Jersy, the wrecked and burnt homes and flooded subways of New York are the price of failed leadership.


After the deluge

By Nick Rowley, University of Sydney

I am writing with Hurricane Sandy having brought devastation to New York and the East coast of the United States.

Much has been written on the politics of climate change. But until a few days ago, a severe weather event affecting the Presidential poll in the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, would have been regarded as creative fantasy or another average Hollywood script.

And yet that is the situation now. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina led to losses of $US125 billion: the costliest event ever recorded in the US. It was also the deadliest single storm event, claiming 1,322 lives. Sandy doesn’t come close to those statistics, yet she has halted an election campaign, shut down a major global city and stopped trading on the New York Stock Exchange for two days.

In the autumn of 2005 when working at Downing Street on climate and sustainability, I spent four days north of New York with a group of scientists and business leaders concerned with the global climate problem. It was no hurricane, but while I was there the rain didn’t stop. At the conference I met a senior executive working with Munich Re, one of the two largest re-insurance companies. An actuary by training, he wasn’t the type of person swayed by emotion or any environmentalist requests to save the world.

Insurance companies have noticed the increasing frequency of devastating weather events, and now adjust pricing accordingly. rsgray16/Flickr

Re-insurers rigorously analyse the frequency and loss trends of different perils from an insurance perspective. They calculate and assess the risk, and advise on premiums accordingly. He had little interest in the political battles with sceptics and those denying basic climate science. He said he wasn’t qualified to understand the policy responses required. Having assessed the data it was clear to him that as the atmosphere warms, the relationships between ocean currents, ice caps, and atmospheric pressure become more turbulent. The weather turns more unpredictable.

In looking out of the window at the torrential rain all I saw were damp autumn leaves. But for him, the constant rain demonstrated the probability of future events that Munich were most fearful of: a pattern of severe storms tracking up the east coast to New York, New Jersey and Washington DC. Not the big “doomsday” scenario, but what Al Gore describes as an unstable series of climatic events that become “the new normal”.

Sandy is not some bolt out of the blue. It is the kind of event that insurers have been across for a while. And as the science, impacts and costs of global climate change become more clear and the risks more real, the next meeting of the world’s climate negotiators will take place in Doha at the end of the month.

Before the meeting Christiana Figueras, the diplomat charged with leading the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was in Australia last week. With a carbon price in place and potentially powerful institutions such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in the process of being established, Australia is a place of great interest.

Figueras is a seasoned United Nations professional: highly intelligent, committed, knows the system backwards, and feisty. I sat next to her at a private lunch convened by the Clean Energy Council. She enthusiastically described the growth in the regulation of carbon with more than 30 emissions trading schemes now in operation. This is indeed positive, but sadly few, if any, can yet demonstrate a price that will come close to de-linking economic growth from emissions growth

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Chatham House, London/Flickr

If only the politics of carbon pricing worked as well as the economic principles. And with the failure of Copenhagen to fulfil even the most modest expectations built up following the rise in public, business and political consciousness, there is currently no appetite to take the lead internationally on climate change.

Figueras sees this lack of momentum and argues it must be accelerated through three mutually re-enforcing dynamics:

  •  government and business working in tandem
  • an understanding that a burden-sharing approach must be replaced with an international race to lead in low emissions energy and infrastructure
  • an end to the logjam that pits the rapidly developing economies against those that have achieved their high carbon development already.

On these criteria there is cause for optimism. The first is latent. There are notable exceptions, but business responses to climate change have waned and remain more about the need for conspicuous concern rather than achieving measurable reductions.

The second is very much underway. According to Bloomberg, in 2004 only $US34 billion was invested in clean energy globally. In 2011 the figure was $280 billion. That is a more than 800% increase. Last year was the first when new investment in clean energy overtook investment in coal and gas.

On the third, new alliances have been formed between India, China, and Brazil. For them low carbon has the potential to be a massive potential source of competitive advantage over coming decades.

Figueras is impressive. I disagreed with little that she said. She recognises that progress cannot come from the top down, or just the bottom up, but through the actions of multiple State and other players working together.

Yet she believes heads of state must be kept away from the negotiations. Certainly, the Copenhagen experience cannot be repeated: leaders turning up to make speeches and rehearse positions. But for the international agreement that this problem demands to ever be reached, heads of state must be involved. Decisions that have implications for global economic, energy, transport, and trade policy will not be taken by negotiators, no matter how deft and able, working for environment ministers.

Heads of state won’t be in Doha. The timing and the place is wrong. But for the international response to move from flirtation with the problem to putting in place the rules that might temper the scenarios that my friend at Munich Re continues to work on, they simply must be around the table.

Nick Rowley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Ignoring the danger? NASA warning from six years ago on how a hurricane would impact NYC

From Chris Mooney:

In 2007, I published a book called Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming. It was inspired by what my family had been through in Hurricane Katrina (I’m from New Orleans), but at the end, I looked forward to what other families and other cities might have to experience—if we don’t start to think in a much broader way about our society’s stunning vulnerability to hurricane disasters.

As I wrote:

Even as we act immediately to curtail short-term vulnerability, every exposed coastal city needs a risk assessment that takes global warming scenarios into account…Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city’s vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge “the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.” (Pause and think about that for a second.) 

No need to pause and think any longer—last night, just over five years later, much of it came to pass. And indeed, climate change, a topic embarrassingly ignored in the three recent presidential debates, made it worse. 

Our political leaders and mainstream media continue to ignore climate change – or perhaps even worse, appreciate the gravity of the situation but remain silent for fearing of being labelled alarmist.

Perhaps it is time to for more truth-telling and less reticence.

It is not a case of “we told you so” – it is now time to begin adapting to the Anthropocence.

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On the flooding of the WTC memorial site: “After the horrible events of 9/11 we said never again. But this is what would happen…”

Al Gore’s did much to raise awareness of climate change with his film An Inconvenient Truth –which obviously explains the relentless war on the film and attempts at character assassination.

In a scene that now seems eerily prescient he demonstrates how rising sea levels and storm surges would impact different parts of the globe.

At one point the film shows the flooding of the WTC memorial site (go to 2:20 of clip):

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, water poured into the WTC memorial site:

Today NYC stand battered, flooded and reported deaths at around 39.

Video of National Guard searching for residents in New Jersey, note the scale of the devestation:

A house is destroyed by the force of the storm:

Raw video footage of flooding:

The New Normal (Part 26): Atlantic City, thousands flee while “Most of the city underwater”

Sandy makes landfall, and Atlantic City has borne the brunt.

The storm is not over yet, but the cost will no doubt be in the billions.

Below, US Route 30 into Atlantic City (source Reuters):

Quote: ‘The city’s basically flooded,’ said Willie  Glass, Atlantic City’s public safety director. ‘Most of the city is under  water.’

UPDATE: stunning image of New York subway station flooding from Instagram user ap973:

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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.

The New Normal (Part 24): Forget everything you know about storms, Sandy is different

Via The Weather Channel:

Via The Weather Channel:

The storm will cover the entire eastern sea-board of the United States and extending into Canada:

“Forget about everything you know about storms that have come up the East coast before…”

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