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Editorial viewpoints from Climate Central's writers and editors.

Will Sandy Be the Climate Change Wakeup Call We Need?

Calling Hurricane Sandy a disaster almost underplays the enormous devastation wrought by this freakish monster of a storm. Four days after Sandy came ashore just south of Atlantic City, millions are still without power, gas stations are running out of fuel, and the death toll continues to rise.

But for those of us who worry about climate change, Sandy might not have been an unmitigated disaster. The storm wasn’t “caused” by climate change, as Climate Central and others made clear. But in at least two, and possibly three ways, global warming almost certainly made Sandy worse than it would otherwise have been.

Bayville, NY on Oct. 30, 2012. Credit: Flickr/Casual Capture

That connection suggested to many commenters that after so many years of official reluctance to take on the issue climate change — including an unsuccessful U.N. conference in 2009, the failure of Congress to approve a cap-and-trade bill in 2010 and, most recently, the almost complete silence of the presidential candidates on the climate issue (in Obama’s case, a deliberate silence that dated back to the early days of his presidency) — that Sandy would serve as a long-awaited wake-up call that will bring action at last. After two years of freakish storms, killer heat waves and terrible droughts, Americans are finally connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change, so maybe political leaders will, too.

Signs of hope were bursting out all over. “Something important has happened,” super-activist Bill McKibben declared in The Daily B...


Scientists Eat Crow on Geoengineering Test. Me, Too

Harvard’s David Keith calls it the “goofy Goldfinger scenario”  – a rogue nation, or even an individual, would conduct an unsupervised geoengineering experiment — and he confidently predicted in a story I wrote last month that it would never happen.

It took about a month for him to be proven wrong. In mid-October, the Guardian reported that an American named Russ George had dumped 100 metric tons of iron sulfate into the waters off western Canada, triggering a bloom of algae. George claimed he did it with the knowledge of Canadian authorities, using equipment lent to him by NOAA (which said it didn’t know of his plans).

Some species of algae produce dangerous toxins for both sea life as well as humans. The term "red tide" is often associated with these algal blooms.
Credit: NOAA

Scientists (presumably including Keith) were outraged that such a thing could happen. It’s not that they have anything against algae, but rather that the project was a type of geoengineering —  a suite of anti-climate-change strategies that are highly controversial because they have the potential for triggering significant unintended consequences.

But triggering an algae bloom is also a way to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and along with spewing particles into the stratosphere to block some of the sun’s heat, it’s one of the main techniques geoengineers talk about using if efforts to limit those emissions ultimately fail.

Before they would be prepared to take such a major step, however, responsible scientists would take baby steps first: they would do small-scale experiments, under controlled conditions, with the super...


A Forecast for the American West: Hot and Hotter

By Alyson Kenward

(The full version of this Op-Ed is on

Over the summer and on into the fall, images of flames, smoke plumes, firefighting teams and ruined homes have been on replay, and with good reason: As of Aug. 31, this year tied the record for total acreage burned by wildfires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. More than 8.4 million acres have burned to date — an area larger than the state of Maryland up in flames.

But as intense as the wildfires have been this year, they provide just a glimpse of the future of the American West.

In a new study, my colleagues and I analyzed more than four decades of fire data from the U.S. Forest Service. We found a clear long-term trend toward more and larger fires in 11 Western states.

Click here to read the rest of Alyson’s column in the Los Angeles Times

To Say ‘Deep Water’ is a Great Read is Selling it Short

Dan Grossman

How high and how fast will sea level rise? It’s a hugely important question: the ocean is creeping ever higher thanks to global warming, posing a growing threat to life and property all over the world. The current consensus says sea level should go up another 3 feet or so by 2100, a disastrous enough scenario that would put many millions of people at risk in the U.S. alone. But some experts suggest the rise could be as much as 16 feet, which could make cities — including New York, Shanghai and Mumbai — virtually unlivable.

Its obviously important to nail down the number, and one way scientists do that is to look to the past, to see how climate and sea level matched up during ancient episodes of warming and cooling. It’s the search for ancient shorelines that’s at the core of Deep Water, a terrific new e-book by veteran journalist Dan Grossman. The central narrative involves a research expedition across Australia led by Maureen Raymo, a scientist based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Grossman traveled with Raymo and her crew for a month, getting to know the scientists and learning about what they do, how they do it, and why it’s so important.

What makes the book so extraordinary is not simply the writing, which is pretty great. This isn’t just a plain-text Kindle-type ebook, however (although you can get it in that form if you prefer). It’s a full-fledged multimedia production that includes video (Grossman is an accomplish...


Extreme Weather Can’t ‘Surprise’ Insurance Companies

By Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres

Severe weather has been clobbering insurance companies, and the headlines just keep coming. “Drought to cost insurers billions in losses,” said the Financial Times a few days ago. “Many U.S. hurricanes would cause $10b or more in losses in 2012 dollars,” the Boston Globe said about the latest hurricane forecasts. “June’s severe weather losses near $2 billion in U.S.,” said the Insurance Journal earlier this year.

This year’s extreme events follow the world’s costliest year ever for natural catastrophe losses, including $32 billion in 2011 insured losses in the United States due to extreme weather events. This is no short-term uptick: insured losses due to extreme weather have been trending upward for 30 years, as the climate has changed and populations in coastal areas and other vulnerable places have grown.

Credit: USFWS/flickr

The U.S. insurance industry continues to be “surprised” by extreme weather losses. But the truth is that weather extremes are no longer surprising. Back-to-back summers of devastating droughts, record heat waves and raging wildfires are clear evidence of this. Last year’s crazy weather triggered near record underwriting losses and numerous credit rating downgrades among U.S. property and casualty insurers.

And in the face of a changing climate, such events can be expected to increase in number, and severity.  It’s time for insurance companies to recognize this new normal, and incorporate it into...



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