Hurricane Sandy, Global Warming, and the Butterfly Effect

I am stupid. I do not believe in Global Warming. No need to believe in what you know. And I know that globally averaged air temperatures increased for the last 150 years or so. I did the math myself using observations to conclude, that air temperatures around northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island increased 5 times the global average over the last 25 years (Greenland’s Warming, Melting, and Sliding to Sea). So, why am I stupid?

Cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, Nov.-5, 2012

I am stupid, because I totally disagree with what has just hit the news stand about Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the eastern seaboard of North America: It’s Global Warming, Stupid screams this week’s edition of Bloomberg Businessweek with a dramatic cover draped in red.

I do not deny that some element of global warming scenarios contributed in some way to this storm, but so did the butterfly I rescued earlier this year from my cat Zoe. The butterfly flapping her wings, I am convinced, contributed to the atmospheric turbulence and thus the weather we got, including Sandy. If this sounds crazy, it is, but so is the headline. We can argue all day, if Global Warming or my Butterfly Effect contributed more significantly to Sandy, but we will not come to a firm scientific conclusion.

The Businessweek article has some excellent points on page three with regard to climate change and policies that we can and should make to reduce carbon emissions, but it discredits these well-reasoned policies by using flood waters in Manhattan as the call for action with a screaming headline calling me stupid. If we make policies based on ill-informed drama, political manipulations, and without supporting good empirical evidence, then we do harm.

A shallow and short-term political victory does not address the deep and long-term social problems posed by climate change. Solutions to these problems such as carbon-trading, energy efficiency, smart growth, and adaptations are all endangered, if we chose to exploit emotions of the moment. This sets us up for an equally ill-informed and short-sighted political backlash. We ignore science at our own peril. This cuts both ways with regard to the political hackery and partisan politics on the issue of climate change. I can’t stand it, but then, I am stupid.

ADDENDUM Nov.-2: An excellent description of the storm’s evolution and relation to climate was published in Science Magazine.

3 responses to “Hurricane Sandy, Global Warming, and the Butterfly Effect

  1. It’s annoying when things like this get politicized. There are so many things people hijack for their own purposes, purposefully muddying the waters.

  2. Your definition is narrow here you focused just on Sandy. What about the inevitable rise in global sea level along the New Jersey shore and New York that helped drive the storm surge to record levels? What about the loss of beaches to erosion and then their rebuilding all along the NJ coast, but rebuilt without actual dunes that would absorb energy? What about the extra warm water off our East Coast in the week before Sandy, coinciding with the path of Sandy? What about the understanding that warmer air and warmer water add energy to a developing storm? This is just the tip of the iceberg of science that should not be ignored in this case.

    • Mauri: All true and I am very much aware of all these processes. Some of those are better understood (3 mm/year global sea level rise) than others (more extreme events due to weakening baroclinicity of jet-stream due to ice cover). I admit that I try to be closer to the “honest broker” as opposed to the “activist” when it comes to global warming and its impacts, that is, I am reading both Roger Pielke Jr. and Nate Silver’s book(s).

      Please note, however, that data and good models tend to influence me alot, have a look at the 2 recent blog posts that more directly deal with flooding and what causes them. Again, my focus is narrow, but I think I address some of your concerns there, with data … or so I hope.

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