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Sandy Brings Flurry of Attention to Climate Change

By Climate Central

As the flood waters from Hurricane Sandy have receded to reveal the extent of the storm’s damage - from the devastated coastline in New Jersey to the power outages that stretch as far west as Ohio - people are beginning to ask: can this storm be attributed to climate change?

Since Monday, hundreds of news stories and blog posts across the country, and across the spectrum of media, have been published asking just that question. Some of the best and most visible of those are collected here, to help guide you through this emerging debate.

Credit: NASA

The general consensus among climate scientists -- and this has been covered by Climate Central and many others -- is that absent rigorous attribution research, which can take many months or years, we don't know exactly how strong the link is between a storm like Sandy and climate change. Not yet, anyway.

Some of the superstorm’s impact came from a combination of factors that had nothing to do with climate change, such as the full moon that heightened high tides and exacerbated coastal flooding. National Geographic summed up those non-climatic factors well, in a piece written before the storm made landfall in New Jersey).

However, there were a number of factors that made Sandy’s impact worse and that can be linked to climate change. Those include sea level rise, an increase in ocean temperatures, and the odd weather patterns that steered the storm into the east coast. That weather pattern may be tied to the diminishing Arctic sea ice, although that research is still emerging. See coverage in the Associated Press and the New York Times for the scientific debate surrounding how much each of these factors contributed to the damage caused by Sandy. A longer, more technical discussion can be found on the New York Times Green Blog and on the Dot Earth blog.

You can also read Climate Central’s extensive coverage of the Arctic warming connection.

If you walk past newsstands this week it will be hard to ignore Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover, which states in no uncertain terms, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid”. (Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel commented on Twitter that the cover “may generate controversy, but only among the stupid.”)

Credit: BusinessWeek

Looking past the less-than-subtle headline, the article takes a nuanced approach to explaining how the role of global warming is not one of direct causation. Eric Pooley of the Environmental Defense Fund, as quoted in the article, draws a parallel between Barry Bonds taking steroids and hitting a single home run. As he puts it, “We now have weather on steroids.”

Finally, columnists, bloggers and politicians have not missed this sudden flurry of attention paid to climate change, after the subject was completely ignored during all three of the presidential debates. Here are a few noteworthy news stories, blog posts and op-eds that attempt to place climate change in the context of the national discussion.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg surprised many by officially endorsing Barack Obama for president on Thursday. Saying that Hurricane Sandy “had reshaped his thinking,” Bloomberg said he felt “Obama was the best candidate to tackle the global climate change that the mayor believes contributed to the violent storm” that has paralyzed his city.

In their press conferences following the storm, both Bloomberg and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo referenced climate change as a possible culprit in the devastation. A New York Times editorial called for a broader discussion of climate change.

The Guardian highlights figures, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who have called for the two presidential candidates to bring climate change back into the national discussion, after a campaign that has largely avoided the issue. They also have a piece that focuses more on Obama’s climate policies.

Linguist George Lakoff at the Huffington Post released this blog post on Tuesday. While he exaggerates some of the purported impacts of global warming (“If we hit 2.0 Celsius... the earth -- and the living things on it -- will not recover.”), he makes a novel point about the semantics of debating climate change, and argues that we move past the simplistic cause-and-effect point of view.

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