Monday, November 5, 2012

Climate Change: Sandy as a Teachable Moment

How to Make Hurricane Sandy a Teachable Moment

By Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the prime concern now must be to help the many people who are suffering greatly from its effects.

At the same time we should not miss an opportunity when appropriate to respectfully and cordially increase awareness of the many important lessons related to the monstrous storm. 

For example:

1.   Climate change can have disastrous consequences. In addition to the tens of millions of people who are greatly suffering due to Hurricane Sandy, please also consider how food prices are spiking because the US corn crop was devastated as almost 2/3 of the US is suffering from drought, and the many houses lost and acres of forests destroyed due to severe, widespread wildfires in many states. Also, there are great potential dangers at a time when glaciers all over the world and polar icecaps are melting far faster than the worst-case projections of climate scientists.

2.   We may be facing a new normal, with severe heat waves, droughts, wildfires, wild fires, and storms that are more frequent and more severe. Hurricane Sandy is the type of “extreme climate event” that global warming models predict. While some are in denial about the planet warming, we should consider that every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade; the ten warmest years since temperature records have been kept have occurred since 1998; July 2012 was the single hottest month for the US since such records were kept in 1995.

3.   It is essential that saving the planetary environment become a central focus for civilization today. Unfortunately, climate change was not even mentioned in the 2012 US presidential and vice presidential debates.

4.   The federal government, through FEMA, can play a very important role in responding to disasters. However, if Mitt Romney had his way, there would be no FEMA and we would have to depend for help on the profit-driven private sector.  Also, the Ryan budget would reduce funding for FEMA as well as many other programs that Americans depend on, mainly to continue and increase tax benefits for the wealthiest Americans and highly profitable corporations.

5.    Republicans are generally in denial about the tremendous dangers from climate change, despite a very strong consensus in over a thousand peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and dire warnings by scientific academies all over the world that climate change is a major threat, largely caused by human activities, and despite the many wake-up calls we have been receiving in terms of severe, sometimes record-breaking, storms, tornados, floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires, Anyone who thinks that climate change is a hoax promoted by liberals should visit the website of ConservAmerica (, previously called “Republicans for Environmental Protection. This conservative group only endorsed four percent of Republicans in the 2010 U.S. midterm elections, because so many Republicans are in denial about climate change and other environmental threats. Paul Ryan is a climate denier and has a miserable record on the environment.

6.    Governmental workers, including first responders, should be applauded for their courageous, dedicated efforts to respond to emergencies, not demonized, as many Republican politicians have been doing.