IT'S ABOUT FRACKING TIME—Hurricane Sandy Abruptly Puts Climate Change on the Election Agenda
By Tom Mitchell
Last week, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stressed their commitment to developing oil and gas to improve energy security. Climate change was not mentioned. This position is senseless. The U.S. Midwest has just experienced the worst drought in 60 years, one which has seen economic growth depressed by 0.4 percent GDP as a result and higher food prices resulting from a 13 percent drop in corn production. As the East Coast slowly emerges from the deluge and debris of the past 24 hours, the job of counting the cost has only just begun.
The evidence suggests the U.S. public has already woken up to the need for a change—70 percent now believe the climate is changing and a greater percentage than before want a switch to clean energy. Ignoring numbers like that may be rather more difficult now for both campaigns.
Scientists recently concluded that the drought was made 20 times more likely by climate change and it seems the U.S. public agree. So the message for the politicians is as clear as it can be—more oil and gas equals more extreme weather and other climate change impacts, all of which equal greater economic losses.
The U.S. public is concerned about the potential for climate change to increase the number and severity of extreme weather events. Why then is the U.S. so reluctant to take a leading role in the international fight to tackle climate change and why are the Presidential candidates focused on outdoing each other on support for fossil fuels? Clearly there are some strong vested interests at play and maybe climate change is just seen as too risky as a campaign issue.
Despite significant progress to reduce emissions at state and city level, the U.S. has done its best to block progress in international climate negotiations. It has consistently acted alongside Saudi Arabia and other oil states to ensure agreements are not reached, withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol and delayed climate finance support to developing countries. Now climate change has served up the October surprise. Hurricane Sandy—dubbed the Frankenstorm and linked widely to climate change in the U.S. media—has brought widespread flooding and sizeable economic losses. Insurers are already talking of more than U.S. $16 billion, more seriously the human cost is not yet fully known.
So first, let’s be clear on the science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ) special report Managing the risks of climate extremes and disasters for advancing climate change adaptation (SREX), of which I was an author, said:
- it is likely that there has been a poleward shift in the main Northern and Southern hemisphere extra-tropical storm tracks. Hurricane Sandy is an example, as was Hurricane Irene, which hit the same area last August. The IPCC also concluded that there is stronger confidence for a further poleward shift in the future, so the evidence is that Sandy and Irene are just the start. ‘Studies indicate a northward and eastward shift in the Atlantic cyclone activity during the last 60 years with both more frequent and more intense wintertime cylones in the high-latitude Atlantic.’ A set of studies attribute this trends to climate change. There is less evidence on the intensity and frequency of such hurricanes.
- it is likely that there has been an increase in extreme coastal high water related to increases in mean sea level. The record storm surge from Hurricane Sandy is probably the most destructive element, with the surge exceeding warnings in some places. In other words the potential for coastal flood damage from extreme weather is greater than before.
It will take time for scientists to assess whether Hurricane Sandy was made more likely by climate change. What we do know though is that indications from the IPCC report suggests that Sandy-like hurricanes and related extreme storm surges will become more common.
Hurricane Sandy has put climate change on the election agenda even if the candidates didn’t want it. The important thing now is what happens next. Tackling climate change must become a focus of the next administration, just as healthcare was for Obama’s first term. Continuing a fossil fuel focus and ducking international leadership on climate change is effectively a slow motion robbery of the future.
The impacts of climate change have already become so serious in some developing countries that they are fighting for a financial mechanism to pay for climate-related losses and damage in the climate negotiations. They are also petitioning the UN General Assembly to request a hearing by the International Court of Justice on who should be held accountable for the damages caused by climate change. The leaders of this action fully expect the U.S. and other industrialized countries to be the defendants.
Does the U.S. president really want to be put on trial in this way? Bold action from the U.S. on tackling climate change would help to stop all this. Whether they are in Baltimore or Bangladesh the future ability of people to batten down the hatches is dependent on a grown-up response from America’s top politicians.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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