Thursday November 01, 2012 | 03:15 PM
Posted by Mike Tetreault

During this year’s presidential race, it’s been impossible to miss the loud silence on conservation issues, and global warming in particular. I keep wondering if we're all burying our heads in the sand.

 

Then Hurricane Sandy roared up the East Coast

and 8 million Americans (including 159,000 Mainers) were plunged into darkness. Thousands in New York and New Jersey are still navigating flooded streets, homes and businesses. Early estimates place the national cost of storm recovery at $50 billion.

Suddenly, climate change is a hot topic:

This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek cover screams, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

CNN asked whether Sandy is “a taste of things to come” 

And the Boston Globe spoke of the increased risk of storms in a warming world, citing New England examples.

 In recent days, scientists from all over the world, including a number of my colleagues at The Nature Conservancy, have pointed out that a warming world will see more of these ‘super storms.’

 

Now, no responsible scientist is going to say with 100% certainty that Hurricane Sandy (or Irene, or Katrina, or any other specific storm for that matter) was caused by climate change. It’s impossible to draw a direct cause-and-effect line. 

 

 

But, what we can say is that our warming planet is contributing to the potential for more extreme and erratic weather – increasing the chances of epic storms far outside the norm. It’s stacking the deck, while adding wild cards.

And regardless of any actions that we may take to slow the changes to our climate, we’re already facing the consequences of a warmer world. July 2012 was the warmest on record in the United States, and the summer water temperature in the Gulf of Maine was the highest ever measured.

What Hurricane Sandy so vividly reveals is how unprepared we are, as a society, to adapt to these changes.

 

We will continue to see droughts like the one that affected two-thirds of the United States this summer, and the wildfires that resulted from bone-dry forests. We’ll see larger storms and weird weather like the Halloween storm that battered New England this time last year.

But there are actions that we, as a society, can take now to make a difference.

 

Nature itself is one of our best defenses against natural disasters. Healthy forests are resilient, and are able to withstand strong winds. Natural salt marshes and dunes can help buffer storm surges up and down the Atlantic coast. Rivers that are connected to their floodplains and tributaries can better handle floodwaters. Healthy oyster and coral reefs can help protect our coastlines.

Of course, whether we're talking about natural defenses or sea walls and levees, there's no silver bullet, and nothing can fully protect us from major storms like Hurricane Sandy. But, we'll need a range of solutions that include both natural and built infrastructure to reduce our vulnerability as best we can.

 

Fighting about the causes of weather and climate won’t solve the immediate problems facing our world.

 

But not preparing for the inevitable, when nature offers so many potential solutions? That really would be burying our heads in the sand.

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Mike Tetreault leads The Nature Conservancy in Maine, where he works with partners in conservation, government and community development to identify solutions which ensure that Maine's natural resources are available for people and for nature.

He holds a degree in environmental studies from Brown and a MS from the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont, and has studied resource management in Kenya, Mexico and throughout New England.

Tetreault started his career teaching wilderness leadership and environmental education, and has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1998. He lives in Bath with his wife, their daughter and a menagerie of pets.


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