Maine dodged a bullet last week when superstorm Sandy took a sharp lefthand turn, moving inland well to our south and delivering only a glancing blow to Maine.
The seafood industry was disrupted and 90,000 homes and businesses lost their power, but news reports from New York and New Jersey show that it could have been much worse for us if it had been our coastal communities flooded and destroyed.
Next time, it could be us, and there will be a next time. We are in an era of severe weather events that we can expect to get worse based on our inability to develop policy that responds adequately to climate change.
No one storm can be attributed to global warming. There were severe storms at every stage of history and like Sandy, they are the result of complex variety of factors, some related to climate change some not.
But there is good science to forge a link between severe weather and a changing climate and an unwillingness to address the man-made elements of climate change is to accept the consequences of more events like Sandy.
Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota was quoted in Nov. 1 article in Businessweek. “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”
In the same article Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, offered a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”
Once a bipartisan issue, climate change has become polarized with Democrats largely calling for action and many Republicans calling it a hoax. Both of Maine’s Republican senators were supporters of a cap-and-trade approach to reducing carbon emissions, and Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, was a leader in creating a regional market place for trading carbon credits with the ultimate goal of decreasing emissions over time. Superstorm Sandy should break the partisan gridlock once again.
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election, we will expect lawmakers from both parties to be serious about addressing carbon emissions and global warming in a comprehensive way. That means both limiting future emissions and building infrastructure that will protect coastal devoplement from the kind of storm surge that flooded New York and is a result of rising sea levels.
Maine was lucky this time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare for the next time.