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As Hurricane Sandy dissipates and recovery efforts begin, people are asking what role climate change plays in influencing such storms.
Oceans have absorbed much more of the excess heat from global warming than land and scientists understand that when hurricanes form, higher water temperatures can energize them and make them more powerful. Warming is also causing the atmosphere to hold more moisture and concentrate precipitation in stronger storms, including hurricanes. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, it retained much of its strength as it tracked across ocean water that was 9 degrees (F) warmer than average for this time of year.
However, the evidence is unclear when it comes to how frequently major late-season hurricanes such as Sandy may form in a warming world. Several factors, including differences in wind speed and direction, can break up hurricanes.
More broadly climate change is increasing sea levels globally, which affects all coastal storms, including hurricanes. Locally, sea level rise along the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts has been among the highest in the world. Additionally, Hurricane Sandy made landfall during a full-moon high tide, which further drove storm surges that caused extensive coastal flooding. With continued warming, such high tides will become higher and more damaging.
“Human-caused climate change is delivering a one-two punch that is chipping away at our coasts,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Sea-level rise and more intense precipitation from a warmer, moister atmosphere make coastal storms more damaging.”
New York City, which has integrated aspects of climate change into its disaster-response planning, is currently grappling with flooded streets and subways. Ekwurzel said that climate change and aging infrastructures challenge many coastal cities.
“For the most part, our sewers, roads and transportation networks were built for our grandparents’ climate,” said Ekwurzel. “When it comes to climate change, city planners need to be our first responders.”
The link between extreme weather and climate change is the subject of much ongoing research. A special report on extreme weather from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this summer concluded that coastal flooding and more extreme precipitation were strongly linked to human-induced climate change and are expected to get worse in the future. By contrast, scientists can have only “low confidence” when it comes to the historical link between hurricanes and climate change. In the future, the report said, it’s likely that heavy rainfalls associated with hurricanes will become more intense. Overall, hurricane strength—measured as wind speed—is likely to increase while the frequency of hurricane formation is likely to either remain unchanged or decrease.
UCS created an infographic that puts the report’s conclusions about weather extremes and climate change since 1950 in context.
The size of the circles relate to the strength of the evidence for the connections to climate change of observed extreme
events since 1950. Assessment based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change SREX report (2012).
Figure source: Union of Concerned Scientists.
Last year, UCS prepared a backgrounder on Hurricane Irene which broadly applies to Sandy, too. It covers global sea-level rise, increasing rainfall for hurricanes and the hard economic choices coastal communities face in a warming world.
Earlier this month, UCS released a letter from more than 120 city and county officials and scientists in Florida calling on the presidential candidates to discuss sea-level rise.
So, what role does climate change play in altering the characteristics and impacts of extreme weather and climate events? What approaches exist for reducing vulnerability and exposure and for managing impacts and disasters associated with extreme events? Scientists discuss the findings of a new international report that brings together, for the first time, expertise in climate science, disaster risk management and adaptation. Watch the video below:
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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Company Safety Data Sheets on New Chemicals Frequently Lack the Worker Protections EPA Claims They Include
By Richard Denison
Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).
By Grant Smith
From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.
By Brett Walton
When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.
In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.
This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.
If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›