Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hurricane Sandy and climate change

Sandy is a storm without a silver lining. We have lost lives, homes and businesses.

Let America not also lose the chance to learn the lesson of our generation, if not our century.

In the storm's aftermath, the question we hear again and again is: Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? Unfortunately, that is invariably followed with the blanket hand wave of dismissal — oh, you can never blame any single storm on climate change. That mistaken caveat leads us down the wrong path.

Think about it:

Do you know whether your aunt's cancer was caused by the cigarettes she smoked?

No, but we know without a doubt that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

Do you know whether too much weight and too little exercise caused your uncle's heart attack? You cannot say for sure about those extra pounds — but no one questions the scientific fact that inactivity and excess weight drive up the high rate of heart attacks.

Do we know that the lead paint in a neighbor's house caused his child's developmental delay? No, the cause cannot be tracked that definitively, even though we know exposure to lead at a young age causes measurable developmental problems — and that removing lead in gasoline has seen a big rise in IQ among kids.

So why do we allow the complexity of cause and effect trap us into refusing to answer the right question on climate change?

Scientists know with absolute certainty that climate change has increased Earth's temperature, and that it has fueled more heat waves, more intense precipitation, more intense droughts, and more wildfires.

They're confident those extremes will soon become the new norm.

Hurricanes occur naturally; we know that. So do rainstorms and droughts. And so does cancer, heart attacks and developmental delays.

But don't mistakenly separate the Hurricane Sandy that hit our coast from climate change. We don't make that distinction between cigarettes and cancer, between obesity and heart attacks, between lead and developmental delay.

What climate change does is make many "natural" events more frequent and worse. By continuing to pump millions of tons of carbon pollution into our atmosphere every single day, we are throwing Earth's complex climate system out of whack and this is the price we pay.

Science tells us that the destructiveness of this storm was fueled by climate change — driving higher sea levels that pushed up storm surge, and higher ocean temperatures that contributed to the monstrous size of the storm and loaded extra rain into the clouds.

Science has identified another powerful potential factor: The record-breaking melting of Arctic sea ice's impact on the jet stream may have created the block of high pressure above Greenland that drove Sandy west into the continental United States, rather than allowing it to spin off east into the north Atlantic, as most late-season hurricanes do.

So in short, the answer to the question, "Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy?" is: Climate change makes storms worse. Just as smoking cigarettes makes cancer more widespread; as obesity increases heart disease.

But the right answer goes beyond the simple acknowledgment that climate change is having a costly, negative impact on our lives. It leads to a call for action, and a coordination of the overwhelming scientific evidence with business and political leadership that, so far, has been sadly lacking.

Just as our leaders agreed to require smoke-free public spaces, and just as they agreed to remove lead from gasoline that harmed children, our leaders must step up to the climate challenge and call for strong action.

We must demand that they acknowledge the reality of climate change, how we are causing it and how it is changing our world, and agree on a path to solve this problem.

That path means stopping our contributions to climate change — a cessation that scientists say is possible only if we can agree, as a society, to change the way we extract and use energy.

Answering this question leaves us with another, undoubtedly more important one: How soon will we start?

Catherine Thomasson is an internal medicine physician and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility (

© 2012 Physicians for Social Responsibility. Distributed by MCT Information Services

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18