When considering Hurricane Sandy, which has caused tremendous damage and loss of life in New Jersey and New York City, it’s hard not to wonder what impact anthropogenic climate change has had. The standard line is that it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change, by virtue of weather’s stochastic nature. But I’d like to recommend James Hansen’s piece in the Washington Post from this August:
Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
Hansen was writing in specific response to the recent heat waves and droughts, but his piece invites the question of whether we can speak so unequivocally about this Hurricane, too.
Andrew Revkin posted an interchange with a reader today that dealt with this question directly. The correspondent took issue with Revkin’s standard disclaimer on the climate change causation, saying:
No one is saying that a Hurricane Sandy would not have happened if not for climate change. But I believe there is little doubt that the record-breaking scale and potential destructiveness of Sandy is due in large part to the amplifying effects of warmer ocean temperatures, higher atmospheric moisture content, and unusual Arctic weather patterns.
Their discussion is a fascinating survey of the current science. There’s no doubt, though, as they agree, that immediate action is necessary if we are to abate future impacts with as little cost as possible.
My own favored policy is a fully rebated carbon tax, which is endorsed also by Hansen at the conclusion of his article:
We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.
I hope all of you out there affected by Hurricane Sandy are safe and sound.
Image credit: The Washington Post’s graphics department prepared this view of the storm’s predicted path.