Editorial

Is there some good to be had from Hurricane Sandy?

Monday, November 12, 2012    

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ENVIRONMENTALISTS across the globe are hoping that the return of Mr Barack Obama to the White House will increase the will of the United States to proactively address issues such as global warming and climate change.

For those not paying attention, scientists insist that emissions such as carbon dioxide, which are fuelled in part by the use of fossil fuels including coal and oil to power industry and commerce, are rapidly increasing global temperatures. Scientists say global warming is, among other things, helping to trigger alarming extremes in weather patterns and rising sea levels, and will ultimately threaten the sustainability of life on Earth.

The irony is that Mr Obama — who had much to say about the need for environmental greening as a long-term remedy for global warming, prior to and early in his first term in office — was largely silent on these issues in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Readers will recall that the issue never arose at any of the highly publicised pre-election debates.

Mr Obama’s latter-day low-keyed approach to the environment perhaps evolved from the belief that there was little to gain and much to lose by appearing to take on the powerful oil/coal establishment.

As it turned out, the late season Hurricane Sandy which devastated the US north-east coast days before the election, after cutting a path of destruction across Jamaica and the northern Caribbean, has ensured global warming and other environmental issues are now back on the agenda in US political circles.

In the aftermath of the storm, the influential mayor of New York City, Mr Michael Bloomberg, endorsed Mr Obama because he was obviously the ‘greener’ of the two presidential candidates. Mr Mitt Romney and the Republican Party had already largely penned themselves into a corner on the issue by ridiculing Mr Obama’s perceived commitment to a greener environment.

As fate would have it, Hurricane Sandy was preceded months earlier by one of the worst droughts ever to hit US agriculture — an event also linked to an increasing trend to weather extremes because of global warming. There is even a suggestion that victory for Mr Obama in some traditional swing states such as Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa may have flowed in part to perceived links between drought and global warming.

In the case of Sandy, note that most weather experts aren’t saying that it was the result of global warming. Rather, they say, increasingly warm sea temperatures are adding fuel to storms such as Sandy, particularly in terms of dangerously high levels of rain, sea surges, size and duration.

The experts say that on its trek north over the Atlantic, Sandy collided with a winter system which was itself influenced by global warming. The collision of the two systems formed what meteorologists referred to as a ‘superstorm’ which veered westwards across the populous and highly industrialised US north-east.

Perhaps weather ‘phenoms’ such as Hurricane Sandy will push the industrialised world, including the United States, towards stronger action on reducing harmful emissions.

Mr Clifford Mahlung, head of the climate branch of Jamaica’s Met Office, tells us that a test of the willingness of the world to act will come at international climate talks in Doha, later this month.

Are the world’s rich and powerful countries ready to sacrifice short-term gains for the greater good of us all?

If catastrophes such as Hurricane Sandy can help to push the developed world in the right direction on issues affecting the natural environment, they will have done some good, we feel.

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