The Norman Transcript

November 11, 2012

Sandy latest warning that climate change must be addressed

By Catherine Hobbs
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — On Oct. 29, the Transcript’s lead editorial was from a Pennsylvania newspaper praising the U.S. for its oil boom that will make the U.S. surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. The very same day, Hurricane Sandy, popularly termed “Frankenstorm,” swept up the Eastern seaboard, hitting Pennsylvania hard and killing more than 100 people, potentially costing as much as $50 billion.

Unfortunately, Sandy is not the first and won’t be the last extreme weather event to be linked to climate change. And while it is good to achieve energy independence, boosting oil production will not help us avoid the consequences of climate change, which may produce global instability far worse than that caused by dependence on the Middle East for oil.

In fact, it would be better for us in the long run to leave our oil in the ground and develop alternative sources of energy that don’t produce greenhouse gases, those which raise the temperature of the climate’s atmosphere. Yet most people around here can’t imagine the shift to a new energy system.

Norman citizens, like most people in our country, can’t imagine doing anything but doing more of what we are already doing, even if it does have severe consequences down the road that their children will have to suffer.

Not only conservatives talk about the evil of having the government pick the winners and losers in economic battles, yet this has already happened in energy. The figure $4 billion is the most conservative number given for subsidies from taxpayers provided to the oil and gas industry every year.

Sen. Tom Coburn needs to get on this in his anti-government waste campaign. We need to begin by realizing the dire consequences of atmospheric warming and trying to imagine a future in which we use much less petroleum.

The influence of global warming can be seen in the circumstances that have come together to make Sandy one of the most destructive storms on record. This link has been made by Dr. Jennifer Francis, research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University.

“Warm ocean temperature is one of the main ingredients necessary for tropical storms to form and survive, so the fact that the oceans, in general, are warming and that sea-surface temperatures are now at an all-time record high off northeast North America suggests that any late-forming storms that move up this way, like Sandy, should be able to survive longer and track farther northward,” Francis said.

A rapidly warming Arctic, punctuated by record loss of sea ice this year, also has weakened the jet stream’s west winds in the Northern Hemisphere, creating waves that go farther north and south, Francis said: “As those waves get larger, they tend to move more slowly, which means the weather associated with them also moves more slowly ... leading to increased chances of the types of extreme weather associated with ‘stuck’ weather patterns.”

In other words, global warming puts more energy into these storms by warming the oceans. And September had the second highest global ocean temperatures on record.

Global warming in general has put our climate on “steroids,” making disasters like Sandy more likely to happen. We have already seen this in Oklahoma with a record number of weather-related disasters last summer. The federal crop insurance payments — again, taxpayer dollars — for last year were at record levels because of the worst drought in 50 years across two-thirds of the nation.

“This is a wake-up call for the next Congress to pass meaningful climate legislation,” said Mark Reynolds, Citizens Climate Lobby director.

CCL promotes legislation to place a steadily rising fee on carbon-based fuels, returning all the revenue from that fee to households. Such legislation will help us make the necessary transition to clean energy without inflicting economic hardship on the American people.

Energy independence is a goal we should seek. But in order to safeguard our future weather, we should invest in clean energies like solar and wind as well as promote legislation to curb our use of petroleum.

If we want to imagine a future without catastrophic weather patterns, we should work to imagine a different system of energy that doesn’t continue to warm our atmosphere.

Catherine Hobbs is with Citizens Climate Lobby.

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