Another reason why “the storm of the Century” should be on everyone’s mind

The Fourth International Conference on Climate Change, hosted by The Philosophical Society of Quebec, taking place in London on Friday, November 9th, gains significance in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

A Conference designed for the professional, practitioner and layman alike; the world’s leading thinkers on climate change, climatology and environmental science are coming together to discuss policies, strategic perspectives and the science behind the debate. Not only that, but research papers, workshops and presentations by both researchers and practitioners will be included in the Conference.

Climate change cannot be a more timely topic as the world stood aghast, watching Hurricane Sandy ravage the US Eastern seaboard, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, other parts of the Caribbean and even Canada, leaving an unprecedented death toll, fear and destruction in its wake.

Superstorm Sandy By Flickr User Life Goes Through (CC).

Sandy, in an unprecedented move in that region, caused an astounding death toll of over 100 in the US alone and a staggering 71 in the Caribbean, where Haiti was the worst hit. The New York Stock Exchange closed down, millions were deprived of electricity and an energy, housing, and mass transit crisis soon ensued. Not to mention an economic toll nearing a whopping $50 billion.

The good news is, and perhaps the only virtue that came after the many vices of Hurricane Sandy, was that it brought the climate change debate to the fore of global discourse once again. As a wide-eyed world watched, people could not help but wonder whether our use of fossil fuels had anything to do with this.

But why all this talk about climate change anyway? And why now?

Put simply, Superstorm Sandy, with all its graphic reality, raised some very serious questions about climate change and whether this phenomenon can really create “natural” disasters of this magnitude at this scale. Wondering whether it was an act of man or God, scientists, politicians and laymen alike started wondering if climate change was the real culprit.

Their argument is easy to follow. Scientists believe that climate change will cause more extreme weather, storms and hotter oceans, which will only gain intensity and frequency in the future. As oceans become hotter, they add intensity and fuel to hurricanes. Adding credence to the argument that climate change was the one to blame for the intensity of the superstorm.

Hurricane Sandy New York Blackout By Flickr User David Shankbone (CC).

One prominent politician, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York had this to say: “It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality. Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”

A climate change scientist, who contends that climate change can only account for 5-10% of the Hurricane, offers an interesting perspective. Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado says, “We’ve got this new normal. We’ve got this changed environment, so my view is that everything is affected. If the question is how large this effect actually is, well, it’s not 100 percent. So of course you should never say: ‘This storm is caused by climate change.’ But that’s really the wrong approach.”

Trenberth continues, “We have to get past this aspect of saying ‘Oh, it might be just natural variability, because these sorts of storms can occur without climate change.’ That’s not helpful at all,” Trenberth said, “and the reason is because the human component is only going to grow over time.”

The fact of the matter is that climate change remains a divisive, polarizing subject in both the developing and developed worlds. One where it becomes increasingly difficult to come to a consensus because of its close ties to many of the world’s leading industries, not to mention economic growth.

While Hurricane Sandy successfully brought back the climate change debate to the fore, and “re-politicized” it, the skeptics out there are still unconvinced, arguing that Hurricanes – like Sandy and Katrina, and natural disasters at large are all consequences of natural variability. And that, consequently, there’s nothing for us to do about it.

Activists in Times Square By Flickr User 350.org (CC).

For those affected by Sandy, however, there are no doubts. And they want to see climate change become an audible public policy issue once again, one where the world’s major global players and emerging economies have a prominent role to play. This picture of a group of activists from New York’s Times Square sums up the current reality very effectively; a telling image from one of the States most severely hit by the Superstorm, calling for an end to Climate Silence.

If you feel like you have something to say too, this Conference will be a great opportunity for you to do so. Covering a wide range of themes, on climate change and beyond, we will keep you up to speed on the proceedings. Follow us on Twitter, where we’ll be covering the Conference using hashtags: #climatechange & #environment.

Now that the world realizes just how calamitous our climate can be, it becomes imperative that we share our thoughts with one another on the issue to bring us all one step closer to a global consensus.

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About Maya Madkour
I am a Sociologist, eternal optimist, and spreader of joy. I was born in London, raised in Cairo, and call Dallas my home away from home; where I have been travelling for the past fourteen years. This blog is a place where we can share insights, learn, grow and master the art of life together.

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