by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
November 1, 2012
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It would be too facile to say that Hurricane Sandy was Mother Nature's revenge for the silence of Mitt Romney and President Obama on climate change during the presidential debates. Had one of those gentlemen taken our suggestion to address the issue, that might well have been a game-changing factor on Nov. 6.
But will this massive, deadly storm that's taken at least t50 lives and has left millions without lights even tonight make a difference in the presidential election? It's too late in the game for both candidates, but if President Obama wins a second term, he would do well to make dealing with climate change as big a priority as health care reform was in his first term.
The American public certainly agrees. Polling shows that 70 percent of Americans now believe the earth's climate is changing, that human activity is to blame, and that switching to lower or no-carbon sources of energy is a necessity for the nation. Ironically, the storm came even as the very first cold fusion reactors ever marketed went on sale in Italy.
Americans were saying this well before Sandy. But after a year with massive forest fires in Colorado and New Mexico, record-breaking drought in the Midwest, and now one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the Northeast, the only ones who don't believe in climate change are the oil and gas companies and the politicians who work for them.
Any reputable climate scientist will tell you that you can't take one weather event and say it was caused by global warming. But they will tell you that the pattern of extreme weather that we are seeing around the world is caused or aggravated by global warming.
The weather data backs this statement. We've seen progressively warmer temperatures over the past two decades. If anything, climate scientists have been too cautious, because extreme weather events are happening sooner and in greater numbers than first thought.
Storms like Sandy are becoming the "new normal," thanks to the lethal combination of rising sea levels and warmer water temperatures. Sandy had a diameter of 980 miles, so even here in southern Vermont, we saw winds as high as 60-70 mph even though we were more than 300 miles away from the Jersey Shore, where the storm made landfall.
And here in Vermont, where many towns are still trying to rebuild from flash flooding caused by last year's megastorm, Hurricane Irene, we breathed a sigh of relief that we didn't get hit again.
But last year at this time, we were digging out from a Hallowe'en-weekend snowstorm that dropped as much as four feet of snow on New England. And, in the last few years, we've seen more heavy rainstorms hit our region than ever before.
Even in a place like Vermont known for weather extremes, it's unusual to have 90-degree temperatures in late March, followed by heavy frost in April, a combination that wiped out 30 to 40 percent of our apple crop. The previous year, we had crop damage from a hard freeze - in May.
The extremes are fast becoming the norm, no matter how hard the climate-science deniers try to spin the facts. And the consequences of these extremes are becoming more deadly.
A recent report from the international humanitarian organization DARA found that 100 million people will die by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change. The world's poorest nations are looking at a future of drought, famine, water shortages, crop failures, disease and increased poverty, while developed countries will see a drop of 2 to 4 percent in their respective Gross Domestic Products.
For at least two decades, we've known that the solution to slowing global warming is reducing fossil fuel use. We haven't, and so the consequences of two decades of inaction can be seen all around us.
The choice that now confronts the world is a simple one: Continue on our present path and see a planet where deadly floods, droughts, famines and superstorms are a regular occurrence. or work to make increased energy efficiency and increased use of clean energy such as cold fusion, solar and wind the foundation of a cleaner, greener future.
It's time for the official silence about climate change to end, and time for our leaders to not just acknowledge that our planet is heating up, but to do something about it.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an MA from the JFK School of Government at Harvard University and has been a prize-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.