What we have been experiencing recently is only the harbinger of a future that will be punctuated by more severe weather extremes and increasing damage. —Gary Yohe, Professor of Economics
Wesleyan’s celebrity economics professor Gary Yohe has received much media coverage after releasing a rather troublesome report on Tuesday about Superstorm Sandy and climate change. Yohe, a senior member of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore), starts his report off with a laundry list of crazy climate events that have taken place globally in the past couple of years. He then claims that this isn’t “the new normal,” but rather “only the harbinger of a future that will be punctuated by more severe weather extremes and increasing damage—all driven as the future unfolds by past and future emissions of heat-trapping gases.” Yohe elaborates:
the changes in the current climate that have been observed across the planet are the products of only about 50 percent of the warming to which we have already committed ourselves with our past emissions. This means that the planet would warm another 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit through the middle of this century even if concentrations of heat-trapping gases were to achieve their maximum tomorrow — not likely, since sustaining a specific concentration starting tomorrow would require an 80 percent reduction in emissions overnight.
Basically, we’re fucked.
This clear consequence of climate change has come at a really interesting point in our politics, as well. The Romney campaign is caught in an awkward position, trying to reframe Romney’s previous threats of gutting of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), as well as his disbelief in climate change. As Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic puts it:
Suddenly, millions of Americans, including Republican and independent voters swamped by the devastating storm, are talking again about the impacts of global warming and climate change. Suddenly, the whole nation has been reminded that the Republican candidate last year suggested that it was “immoral” for taxpayers to continue to countenance the funding of federal disaster relief at its current level.
As we all, even former (and struggling) climate change deniers, face the facts and realize the extent to which our lives will be affected from here on out by changing climate patterns, I recommend reflecting on two issues this brings up:
- How these catastrophic climate events, even when they hit cosmopolitan areas like Manhattan, disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups of people. Sure, this wasn’t Katrina, but it’s important that we realize that as climate change gets crazier and crazier, the worst affected are those who are underprivileged.
- How we each contribute to climate change. Even as the storm roared on, many woodframe houses on campus were completely lit up, including lights on in many empty rooms. It is crucial that we not only recognize how Sandy relates to climate change, but our own relationship with climate change. Though it may seem small, this recognition, awareness and action is what our generation must push forward, even as the consumption of our parents’ generation affects us with increasing vigor.