Sunday, December 30, 2012


Whether Sandy was caused by, made worse by, had nothing to do with climate change is one of those questions that can sell a lot of beer and be the subject of seminars, posters and blogs without end.  Eli is actually not going to take a position on that, or rather reserves the right to be all over the place on the issue.

However, it is one of the choices in the Bunny Poll and a few words are in order, so let the first few come from Greg Laden, the keeper of the list who put it at Number 1:
Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.
Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?
Grim Trajectories
Has climate change created a monster?
Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?
Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast
Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?
What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy
Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”

Eli's POV is a bit different.  Sandy was an object lesson in what to expect if there is no consequent action on climate change.  There was no specific driver that could not be explained in terms of natural variability, but each of those drivers are expected to exceed the range of natural variability in the 21st century because of climate change (sea level, storm surge, extratropical sea surface temperatures, changes in circulation that steered the storm, etc.) and those drivers were at what experts believe are low values compared to what they shall be in the near future.   So yes, not only will it get worse if we do nothing, it will get a lot worse. 

Sandy almost cost us the world's best city (Brooklyn, ancestral home of the Rabetts), wiped out the US East Coast barrier islands (Eli has been warning for many years that the cost of that in real estate values would easily exceed any  costs of dealing with climate change), was a strong wake up call to the 1%, most of whom own homes on the seashore (it's personal now) and a heads up to all those who had better things in their lives to think about.

In Dickensonian terms, Sandy was the spirit of Christmas Future. 


carrot eater said...

My take is perhaps similar.

When the deniers are in their "warming is a good thing" phase, they'll say climate change will be mostly beneficial, and we'll happily adapt to any adverse effects. They say this without thinking what the word 'adapt' entails.

Sandy was an illustration that bursts through this mindset, making it more difficult to unthinkingly take comfort that we'll easily adapt.

David B. Benson said...

I make out about 40 cm SLR. Somebody over on Deltoid estimated that shoved an additional 10 billion kg of sea water onto the New Jersey and New York shores.

I'll attribute most of that SLR to anthropogenic causes. So I think there is a decent claim that the damage Sandy did was much worse due to anthropogenic global warming (but maybe some to ground water pumping as well).

Martin Vermeer said...


of that 40 cm no more than about half is due to anthropogenically caused sea-level rise, the rise that is seen globally. The rest is local, crustal subsidence, and although some may be due to ground water extraction (and thus also anthropogenic), most will come from the periglacial forebulge subsidence which is important along the whole US Atlantic coast.

I think an important point that is missed about Sandy is not how big it was or how outside the range of natural variation (questionable), but how unusual it was in that location, and at that time of year, explaining the relative unpreparedness. That's the point isn't it: most changes are surprises, and most surprises are unpleasant. Especially the big ones.

David B. Benson said...

Martin Vermeer --- Ok, 20 cm.

As that geostatic sinking was well known to at least geologists it is unfortunate that emergency planners had not produced a somewhat better sea wall in downtown Manhatten, at least.

David B. Benson said...

Some sea level rise consequences from Fairfax Climate Watch:
which uses conservative (in the engineering sense) estimates of future SLR.

The growth of sea level is actually not exponential but rather sigmoid, i.e., S-shaped. Otherwise, the article is well done.

Martin Vermeer said...


the first half of this sigmoid is well approximated by an exponential. As this is the major difference between Hansen and Sato's assumption of a collapse-like disintegration (with a very short time scale, five years?!), and the more commonly used assumption of a linear dependence between ice melt and temperature anomaly, I think the author may be forgiven for simplifying in this way ;-)

Anonymous said...

"Our leaders now treat climate change as a guilty secret. Even after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the record droughts and wildfires that savaged the US, the two main presidential contenders refused to mention the subject, except for one throwaway sentence each." -- ( George Monbiot)

If a Sandy makes landfall and there is no leader willing to acknowledge the obvious link to climate change, does it have an impact on policy?


Brian Dodge said...

this would be a big ol' $70+ billion can o' whup ass. I've seen an add featuring politicians and celebs calling to "rebuild" the areas wiped out; do they really think this was a one off bolt of lightning that won't strike again? Maybe we should send Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Christie, and Governor Cuomo a message - "Hey dummies, since it's clear that there is ZERO political will to do anything to stop global warming, we're going to have to adapt to climate change. 'Adapting' does not mean rebuilding what's been destroyed just so it can be destroyed again - that's as stupid as standing there with your legs spread and a dumb look on your face after you've just been kicked in the nuts. Kiss shoreline development(or redevelopment) goodbye."

Anonymous said...

If there were some way of FORCING (by law) folks like Bloomberg and Obama to live on Staten Island, we would see how fast they can actually move on climate change mitigation.

Elitists like Bloomberg and Obama never act (on anything) unless they have something to gain by it.

And then, of course, there are the "apologists" (those who make excuses) for the elites,

The latter put political ideology (political party) ahead of what is best for our children and grandchildren.

The apologists are actually worse than the politicians, IMHO.


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...


And then there are idiots like you who think everything is simple and that elitists like Obama and Bloomberg can mitigate climate change by waving a magic wand.

Try visiting us in the real world some time, 'kay, Punkin?

Anonymous said...

Dear Ray,

Einstein once commented that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

He might just as well have said "idiocy".

One of your NASA colleagues (Jim Hansen) understands this.

Why can't you?