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Hurricane Sandy Highlights the Need to Move to Renewable Energy Sources

By Post Carbon | Sun, 04 November 2012 00:00 | 6

Somewhere in the midst of watching the Weather Channel's reporting on the approach of Superstorm Sandy, I was struck by the lack of meteorologists saying anything about what was behind the highly unusual phenomenon that was unfolding. Buried in a stream of "unprecedenteds" was the idea that a rather small late season hurricane that normally would have spun harmlessly off into the north Atlantic was about to be drawn into a winter low-pressure system. The two would combine to create a superstorm, a thousand miles in diameter, that would cause tens of billions of dollars in damage to the most populated area of the U.S.

The missing ingredient in nearly all the talk was an explanation of what a hurricane, even a small one, was doing in the North Atlantic at the end of October. The answer of course is global warming which—even though it has raised average ocean temperatures by only 1 degree F—has extended the hurricane season enough to produce this calamity. We should give CNN some credit for the day after the storm they called an array of climate scientists to find out what happened. All of the scientists pointed a finger directly at global warming and noted that the problem was only going to get worse and worse as the sea level was rising and the Arctic was melting much faster than had been predicted five years ago.

For years climate scientists have warned us that seemingly minor changes in global temperatures would lead to unusual weather events having serious consequences. They clearly got it right, for in the past decade we have had several major hurricanes that tore up Gulf oil production and nearly did in New Orleans and several other Gulf towns; outbreaks of tornados that flattened towns in the Midwest; floods in the Mississippi valley; droughts in Texas and the corn belt; blizzards on the East Coast; and two monster storms in a row slamming into the New York area.

When the phenomenon of global warming was figured out some 20 or 30 years ago, nearly everybody agreed that it sounded reasonable and that someday we would have to do something about it. The problem, of course, is that the "something" turned out to be major reductions in the use of fossil fuels. Needless to say, the fossil fuel industry had a problem with this as it implied the eventual contraction or even elimination of the industry. But there is more. All industrial economies depend heavily on fossil fuels for their existence. If your country is not currently burning vast quantities of the stuff, you sure would like to as it is seen as the only way to a "better life."

Related Article: Why US Energy and Economic Prospects Improve if Obama Loses

Because the standard forms of non-fossil fuels—wind, waves, solar, biofuels, nuclear—are currently more expensive and unlikely to be available in the quantities needed to replace fossil fuels without a significant economic contraction, a split developed between those concerned that fossil fuels will eventually kill us off and those more concerned with current economic growth. The problem that those concerned about global warming faced in explaining the danger was that its consequences seemed so distant that adults alive today did not really have to worry about anything serious happening in their lifetimes – or so they thought.

The first round of this dispute clearly went to the fossil fuel industry and their numerous allies. The competition was not really much of a contest for the growth advocates had the advantages of plenty of money and a public audience that was not really into scientific arguments. Recent polls show that the number of Americans who believe the earth is warming has fallen to 67 percent – down about 10 percentage points since 2006. Only 64 percent believe it is a serious problem.

This leads to the question. Just when will popular sentiment shift decisively in favor of reducing the use of fossil fuels? Part of the problem, of course, is that carbon emissions likely will have to be reduced substantially all over the world for many decades in order to have a significant impact on global warming. This is a major problem. For now, outside of the European Union, few nations have yet absorbed the seriousness of the problem and are not willing to give up prospects of a better immediate future in order to deal with a threat that might not materialize for decades. Most national leaders, be it in the US, Russia, China or anywhere else, govern with the implicit understanding that they will work tirelessly to improve the economic lot of their peoples – unfortunately for now this is the "prime directive" for most nations.

Related Article: Hurricane Sandy Highlights the Safe, Reliable Nature of Renewable Energy Sources

Short of a new technology that will produce energy more cheaply than fossil fuels and without carbon emissions or other bad side effects, we are back to the issue of just how bad extreme climate events have to get before the urgency of global warming outweighs economics. The problem is seeing that a drought in China is part of the same problem as a flood in Missouri and has to be dealt with by the same policies.

In the wake of this week's New York disaster, there has been a revival of talk about higher flood walls and flood-proofing buildings. These might be suitable for a few high value locations such as Manhattan, but when it comes to flood walling the earth's coastlines or even America's coastlines to deal with the sea level rises now projected for the next century it is highly impracticable.

It is difficult to say what will convince a critical mass of the people and their elected representatives that we have a very serious problem. Clearly a repetition of the same disaster, such as failure of America's grain crops for several years in a row, or an annual inundation of New York City would be a good impetus. We also have the problem of the widespread and ever-increasing costs of these global-warming induced disasters. Insurance companies are already feeling the pressures despite having passed on flood risks to government. Perhaps this will do the trick.

By. Tom Whipple

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Leave a comment

  • Randy on November 05 2012 said:
    "The answer of course is global warming which—..."

    And, ah, how did Mr. Whipple arrive at this far-fetched conclusion? Every out-of-season hurricane is now the result of global warming? Really now. Sez who? Show us the data which proves the point. And the proof is,...where? Or is Mr. Whipple writing with a political agenda? This is completely insane. People writing for 'Post Carbon' clearly have an agenda which supersedes all science. Any violent storms are now the result of global warming, with no proof necessary. It is merely an assumed 'fact.' Unbelievable. Any absurdity will now go unchallenged by people who should know better. Every utterance from these agenda-driven groups is now presumed to be backed by science. It's not. We are destroying our culture with this nonsense. We've lowered the bar for real science and actual debate. It's so very sad.
  • David on November 05 2012 said:
    I think you're missing the whole point of "Global Warming". G-d controls the temperature, the weather, the level of the seas, etc. If he wants there to be major destructive storms, it will happen. If he wants to raise the temperature of the oceans to be the vehicle for delivering these massive storms, he will. If he wants to lower the temperatures of the oceans, he will. These storms are a message to humanity, the U.S., individuals, etc to figure out how to better serve G-d. So let's all figure out how to better serve G-d and then the messages will stop. Burning fewer fossil fuels is not the answer and it's arrogant to think that causes changes in the weather.
  • Simon on November 05 2012 said:
    I agree with Randy, why is oilprice publishing this unsubstantiated garbage from this Al Gore reject. Embarrassing.
  • Mel Tisdale on November 06 2012 said:
    The only thing that amazes me about the whole global warming issue, and it is highlighted by the above comments, is that anyone could possibly worship a God capable of blessing a nation that had a sizeable portion of its populace that feel the same way as Randy, David and Simon.

    It is even more surprising that this same sizeable portion of its population proclaims itself to be Christian, when the concept of "Do unto others as thy would be done by" is an alien concept to them. It is a measure of just how awful these people are that many of the "others" onto which they are doing such harm is in fact their own children.

    Though, judging by the level of maturity present in Randy, David and Simon's comments, perhaps they have not reached an age where they can have children. Don't worry lads, when you have grown up a bit and can take responsibility for your actions, you might change your mind. You could prepare for that time by just adding up who benefits from having a population that is of the opinion as yourselves. If you don't benefit, but fossil fuel industry executives do, scientists with fossil fuel industry funding do and media outlets that get advertising revenue from companies that benefit from fossil fuel use do, then perhaps you might like to borrow a calculator from an adult and work out what 2 plus 2 is. You may well be very surprised at the answer.
  • Tom on November 06 2012 said:
    I feel certain the "renewable energy" infrastructure would be just as vulnurable, if not more, to hurricane Sandy as was the conventional structure. After all solar panels and wind turbines are erected exposed to the elements and no more secure than the buildings upon which they stand which were destroyed by wind, rain, fire and flood.
  • VanLance on November 13 2012 said:
    With respect to all the above claims, I would like to offer some uncontested facts:

    a) Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    b) The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850.

    c) The Arctic is feeling the effects the most. Average temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have risen at twice the global average, according to the multinational Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report compiled between 2000 and 2004.

    d)Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering from the sea-ice loss.

    These facts are just a few examples of how humans are directly impacting Climate change.

    An upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events, such as wildfires, heat waves, and strong tropical storms, is also attributed in part to climate change by some experts.

    A report, based on the work of some 2,500 scientists in more than 130 countries, concluded that humans have caused all or most of the current planetary warming. Human-caused global warming is often called anthropogenic climate change.

    A follow-up report by the IPCC released in April 2007 warned that global warming could lead to large-scale food and water shortages and have catastrophic effects on wildlife.

    Good factual information on this topic has been deliberately hidden from the public.The truth be known, we humans have started something ecologically, we can't stop. G-D help us!

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