THIS week, Isle of Man oM Friends of the Earth secretary Cat Turner shamelessly steals BloombergBusinessweek’s headline, and hopes that amid the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, some small positives emerge.
Watching TV coverage of New York and its environs dealing with Hurricane Sandy has been an eye-opener this week, made all the more immediate as I’ve been reading the tweets of friends and colleagues living there:
4th Alarm still ongoing. Multiple people in the water. Bellevue hospital taking on water. Most of lower Manhattan flooded with no power’
Almost as attention-grabbing was the headline ‘It’s global warming, stupid’ – an unprecedented snub to presidential candidate Mitt Romney by the usually measured BloombergBusiness Week, and a clear message that hardheaded business interests take climate change very seriously.
Of course, many other places suffer catastrophic weather events too – and sadly, most of them far less well equipped to respond than the wealthy, sophisticated and generally well-prepared US.
But the statistics were still attention-grabbing: at the time of writing, 8 million homes were without power; over 15,000 flights had been cancelled, hundreds of thousands of people had been evacuated from their homes and there had been at least 40 deaths in the US.
Insurers were estimating that the economic losses from the storm could reach $50 billion.
And alongside all those numbers, the sight of Battery Park underwater, lower Manhattan flooded, hospitals, government offices, and (oh my!) even Wall Street closed.
It was a reminder that whilst mankind might have built New York City, manmade climate change can cripple it.
And it seems a reminder was needed. In the pre-election debates that have been taking place over the last couple of weeks, a focus on this most pressing of challenges to mankind was frighteningly absent. Pre-Sandy, climate change simply wasn’t seen as a vote winner.
All that has changed, of course, and amid the awful chaos and distress Sandy brought, therein lies the potential twinkle of a blessing: Sandy has made climate change real and immediate for millions of ordinary people.
Hard on the heels of the terrible drought that’s afflicted the country, she had compounded the suffering of millions – millions of voters, mind – in a way that can’t be ignored.
Now, hurricanes aren’t new and it would be naïve (and dishonest) to blame all lively weather on manmade climate change.
Would Sandy have happened without climate change? Probably.
Is she worse because of climate change? Almost undoubtedly.
With perfect timing, one of the world’s biggest insurers – the German behemoth Munich Re – issued a report on October 17 which dealt with the rising incidence of extreme weather.
It cites a ‘nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades.’
The US isn’t alone – the company also says that there was ‘an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe, and 1.5 in South America’.
They are big hikes. To what does this hardheaded business vehicle, not given to flights of fancy, ascribe these events?
Anthropogenic (or manmade) climate change ‘is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways’.
It was useful to see a major financial firm acknowledging the existence and impact of climate change (which we used to call global warming, until the complex weather events it brought with it became uppermost in people’s minds).
Useful, because it seems there are still those willing to peddle lies about its existence. Only this week, the UK Meteorological Office has had to issue a stern rebuke to the Daily Mail, which published misleading claims that it (the Met) had stated that global warming had stopped 16 years ago.
This was a fib, but one eagerly and credulously seized upon by climate change deniers. If you’ve access to the internet, you can read the Met’s response here: metofficenews.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/met-office-in-the-media-14-october-2012/.
The Met says: ‘It is the second article Mr Rose has written which contains some misleading information, after he wrote an article earlier this year on the same theme’. . . then quietly but effectively proceeds to set out the true situation.
In an era which, in the US, has been dubbed one of ‘post-truth politics’, let’s hope government and popular responses to Sandy, and the wider climate and weather events against which she arose, can be borne out of an honest appraisal of our impact on the world – and the fairest and most effective ways to bring about much needed changes.