On Tuesday night, President Obama signed a $50.5 billion relief bill to help Northeastern states recover from Superstorm Sandy. Sandy, which ranked among the most destructive storms in U.S. history, caused more than $70 billion in damage. The $51 billion package contains funding for a federal program providing grants to disaster victims and roughly $33 billion for long-term reconstruction of impacted coastal areas.
Before Sandy, there was Irene. Before Irene, there was Katrina. No, this isn't a trashy soap-opera. This is our new climate reality. Unfortunately, these freak weather events are not so freaky anymore. As Laura Furgione, acting director of the U.S. National Weather Service stated, "The normal has changed, I guess. The normal is extreme."
The cost of our new reality isn't cheap. The price tag of Sandy was $70 billion. Irene rang in at close to $16 billion and Katrina, a whopping $125 billion In less than a decade we have witnessed, experienced and grieved multiple "once-in-a-century" storms, costing thousands of lives and over $210 billion in damages.
It's not hard to understand. More greenhouse gas emissions create warmer temperatures, which creates more hurricanes. According to a scientific paper in Nature Climate Change, researchers from MIT and Princeton University found that with warmer temperatures, these mega storms could become even more powerful; previously "100-year storms" could occur as frequently as every three to 20 years. Additionally they found that increased emissions could cause today's "500-year floods" to occur as frequently as once every 25 years.
Could this be the apocalypse after all? Dec. 21, 2012 is long gone and the world didn't erupt in flames, or crumble before our eyes. But 2012 was riddled with apocalyptic weather scenarios, like some bad Bruce Willis film, only real. There were hurricanes and floods, earthquakes and droughts, heat waves and wildfires, and it was the hottest year ever in recorded history. Anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced these natural disasters might have felt as if the end-of-times was truly upon us.
However, our national solution to addressing the new normal, meaning extreme, is nonexistent. We are doing ourselves a tremendous disservice, quite literally ensuring the undoing of our planet and the future of humanity, by refusing to face the fact that these consistently severe and devastating events will not only continue to occur, they will accelerate in frequency and aggrandize in severity in our current emit-as-you-go scenario.
Let's pretend that the recent extreme weather disasters were not caused by climate change but by an unknown foreign enemy, call them for the sake of argument... terrorists. Could we imagine what the government's response would be then? We are today, facing the wrath of the terrorist-weather-monster, and there is no call to action, no call to arms. How many more climate-induced attacks must we endure before the government takes action and people wake up? Don't we, as citizens of this great nation, have the right to be protected? If not, shouldn't we demand to be? Where is our patriotic spirit? It's time that our leadership recognizes this threat for what it is. It is time for Obama to take down climate change like he took down Osama.
"Hurricane Sandy was the worst hurricane since the founding of New York in 1624," states Jeff Masters, the co-founder and director of meteorology at Weather Underground. And yet what solutions have we heard? Thanks to Congress, we have $33 billion of federal aid for reconstruction. That's a start but it's not a solution. "So we have to start thinking of things that we haven't thought about. For example, maybe we ought to have retractable sea walls that go up 15 or 16 feet, all around lower Manhattan," stated Representative Nadler in response to Sandy. Seriously? Build a fifteen-foot wall around Manhattan -- this is a solution? What would have been the public's response to 9/11 if President Bush suggested we just build walls around New York City to prevent future terrorist attacks?
You don't prevent a hurricane by building walls. That is retroactive thinking rather than proactive doing. While we sit idly by, emissions continue to go unchecked and while these short-term, band-aid solutions may help us cope, they do nothing to address the root of the problem.
"The world is on the cusp of a tipping point into dangerous climate change," according to the conclusion of a recent report in "Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost." Scientific study after scientific study has in fact concluded with nearly 1000 percent certainty that we are, in fact, screwed. If that doesn't provide a wake-up call perhaps this will. Another report entitled "Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of A Hot Planet", commissioned by 20 governments and written by more than 50 scientists, economists and policy experts, concluded that climate change is costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6 percent annually from global GDP.
And yet, the excuse for doing nothing to address global climate change, for straight-up deleting it from the vernacular, is that it is too expensive. Call us crazy but wouldn't it make more sense to consider a long-term investment in our future through embracing renewable energy, funding innovative technologies and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, rather than "reconstruction efforts" or throwing money at the problem after the fact? We're no experts but it seems that pretending the problem doesn't exist isn't working.
It is time for widespread community uprising and brave political action. We know that our freakish climate today is caused by the steep increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and the only way to stop these crazy weather events -- or at least to get them to chill out (pun intended) -- is to limit our emissions. We can cap 'em, trade 'em, or slap a price on 'em and let the market do its thing, but we must do something to limit them. And if continue to do nothing, 2012 won't be the last year of apocalyptic storm events. It will only be the beginning.