Hurricane Politics

By Mckibben, Bill | Newsweek, September 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Hurricane Politics


Mckibben, Bill, Newsweek


Byline: Bill Mckibben

Extreme weather is getting worse. But it's politics as usual with Obama refusing to confront climate change.

As Hurricane Irene bore down on the East Coast, I was standing outside the White House with hundreds of others protesting. For seven days we staged daily sit-ins and were hauled away to the police station. I spent two nights at Central Cell Block in D.C. (which is precisely as much fun as it sounds) for the crime of standing on the sidewalk protesting the Keystone Pipeline, which will connect the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico--and in the process spew carbon into the atmosphere.

But the largest civil-disobedience protest in the recent history of the environmental movement did take the day off on Sunday. Not because of the police but because of Irene, busily ramming her way up the Eastern Seaboard. When we resume this week (climate star James Hansen plans on getting arrested), it will be with one more reminder of why we must act on climate change.

You'd think by now we'd get the message on global warming. We know, of course, it didn't cause Irene, that it has to do with the spin of the Earth and waves of weather rolling off Africa. But one reason the East Coast went on red alert was that there was unusually warm water all along the Atlantic Seaboard. Usually, says Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, it's difficult for hurricanes to keep their strength much past North Carolina because ocean temperatures plunge below the 79A[degrees]F level that can generate those strong winds. Not this year: "Sea surface temperatures 1A[degrees] to 3A[degrees]F warmer than average extend along the East Coast from North Carolina to New York." In fact, in all the years of record keeping, only one summer has had warmer water--last year.

Which means if your oceanfront condo turns into an ocean-dwelling condo, you've got global warming in part to thank. We've always had hurricanes--and droughts and floods. We've just never had so much crazy weather all at once. Even before Irene, the U.S. had already set a record in 2011 for the most billion-dollar weather disasters. Recently, JFK airport marked its all-time rainfall record, on the same day that many Southwest cities set new records for most days above 100A[degrees]. …

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