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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Deadly Hurricane Sandy speaks to us in first person from its very own blog, created by IPS environmental journalist Stephen Leahy.
- Hi, this is Sandy. By the time you read this, I’ll be gone, after dissipating into increasingly weaker remnants of strong winds, heavy rains and snowfall in the Great Lakes region of North America.**
I am saddened by the damage and loss of life but am truly surprised you are so shocked by the extent and severity. I was born on Oct. 22, and over the course of 10 days I killed more than 150 people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damages in numerous countries in the Caribbean and on the east coast of the United States.
Haven’t you noticed hurricanes, cyclones and other storms have become more powerful in recent years? And that extreme weather events like record flooding, droughts and heat waves are happening more frequently?
In 2012 extreme weather records were broken all over the U.S. In 2011 there were 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters in the U.S. including flooding, hurricanes and tornados.
Did you notice my relatives? They’ve been all over the planet. In the past 20 years extreme events have had major impacts on developing countries like Bangladesh, Burma and Honduras that have suffered most in terms of damages and lives lost.
Last year, we displaced 38 million people with climate-related disasters such as the flooding in Pakistan and China.
And all this is happening in part because the air and sea have become warmer over the past 50 years.
The world has already warmed 0.8 C since the pre-Industrial era and will rise at least 1.6 C even if emissions of the hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil and natural gas ended today. (There is a time lag in the climate system. The current global warming is the result of CO2 emissions from the 1950s to 1970s.)
You should bear that reality in mind. There is twice as much warming to come, guaranteed. I’m sorry to say it may be too late to do enough to prevent a threefold or even fourfold increase in the current warming.
You can dial down the thermostat if you really want to.
You should also know there are more superstorms or “Frankenstorms” (more properly anthrostorms, since we are caused by human activity) like me coming. Not today or next week, but in the near future.
The climate is now supercharged with extra heat energy. I’ve called it like being on steroids. The climate is 0.8 C warmer. That’s the average increase over the entire planet. Many places are much warmer, such as the Arctic where it is two to three degrees warmer on average now.
Canada is 1.3 C warmer today than 50 years ago. It will be four degrees warmer in a few decades. Temperatures in the U.S. will not be far behind.
In a few decades the entire planet will be two to three degrees warmer. That might not sound like much, but it means a 200 to 300 percent increase over today.
Storms and extreme weather are powered by heat energy. I don’t want to think what will be coming.
But it doesn’t have to go that way. Believe it or not, the reality is that humanity is in control of the global thermostat.
The increase in temperatures in the air and oceans is mainly due to emissions of CO2. Those emissions of CO2 come from burning coal, oil, and gas and cutting down most of the world’s forests (trees take CO2 from the air to grow).
The U.S. could shift from energy sources emitting CO2 to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2030, as studies published in Scientific American have shown.
So don’t curse me; you’ve made me stronger with fossil fuels.
There are estimates that I caused 50 billion dollars in damages in the U.S., in addition to the several billion in damages in the Caribbean countries.
That’s a lot of money – enough to give every human on the planet around eight dollars. But it is only a fraction of the 600 billion dollars that the oil and gas industry is spending this year alone in exploration and new production, according the Harvard University research study, “Oil: The Next Revolution”.
This 600 billion dollars invested in fossil fuels will bring extreme weather no human has ever witnessed. And it will be an “investment” in extreme weather lasting more than a hundred years.
So don’t curse me if your home is flooded, your life disrupted or worse, if you’ve lost a loved one. Hurricanes and tropical storms are nature’s pressure relief valves. It’s not our fault we’ve been amped up on fossil-fuel “steroids” you’ve put into the atmosphere.
Every day, millions more tons of CO2 are added, trapping ever more of the sun’s heat.
A ton of CO2 is about three barrels of oil (159 liters each). And every ton of CO2 “lives” in the atmosphere for 100 years. That means every barrel of oil, ton of coal or cubic foot of gas burned adds more CO2, trapping more and more of the sun’s heat for the next 100 years.
It’s curious you’d spend 600 billion dollars on additional sources of fossil fuel when there is already more than enough production capacity to push CO2 levels from current the 390 parts per million (ppm) to far above 450 ppm.
It’s a curious investment when your experts and leaders say they want to return to a safer level of 350 ppm. Think about that when you forget about me.
* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.
**Hurricane Sandy Speaks – Stephen Leahy´s blog