Hurricane Sandy has lessons for the world

By Dan Bloom  / 

Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - Page 8

The recent monster hurricane that hit the east coast of the US was not caused by global warming, as most climate scientists will attest.

It was just, as the pundits have dubbed it, an unusual “superstorm.” Such storms have been hitting that region of North America for centuries.

Hurricane Sandy was a combination of a powerful tropical hurricane and a northeaster, and the New England region sees such storms every once in a blue moon.

There was one in 1938 that my New Yorker father told me about. There was a big New England hurricane in 1955 that made an unforgettable impression on me when I was a kid. In 1988, another monster storm hit the New York region and do not forget Hurricane Katrina which struck New Orleans a few years ago.

Storms happen. They are not caused by global warming or climate change.

However, there is one thing Sandy did that none of the earlier storms did: it cemented in the world’s imagination, via news photographs and blogged videos, images of sea level rises, residential destruction and power outages that speak of things to come when global warming does impact the Earth.

After Sandy, there should be no more debate about whether climate change and global warming are happening, only over the details and when climate chaos will hit. It may happen 500 years from now, 1,000 years from now, or maybe in a few centuries.

Nobody can predict the future, but climate scientists and now the general public in most nations know that climate change will threaten life on Earth in ways that for the moment only Hollywood movies can imagine.

Remember the story of Cassandra? She is a figure from Greek mythology who was blessed with the gift of prophecy, but cursed because her warnings would always go unheeded and she would be mocked and pilloried.

Ancient Greece gave us the tragically relevant tale of Cassandra. Now the modern world, from former US vice president Al Gore to James Lovelock and hundreds of climate scientists in between, gives us new iterations of the same story.

These people can be called “climate Cassandras” because they are warning of very possible future climate scenarios and yet still have a hard time being taken seriously, including in Taiwan. Academia Sinica and National Taiwan University have some of their own “climate Cassandras” doing research and writing papers with “wake-up call” urgency.

Interpreting scientific atmospheric data and using computer modeling to predict climate trends is as close to trustworthy prophesy as civilization is likely to get.

While superstorm Sandy was said by some to be hard evidence of global warming and climate change, most scientists say climate had nothing to with the week-long event. Hurricanes happen, period.

Superstorm Sandy washed ashore in Manhattan, but the images broadcast worldwide can help turn the tide in terms of showing humankind what might be in store for it in the future if it does not get its act together now.

Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Taiwan.