October 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
As I roam Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., I’ve come across hundreds of friends, family, colleagues, schoolmates, and acquaintances who keep posting about the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. Headlines on local news sites read “Plainview Resembles War Zone as Hurricane Winds Pound Region” and “Hurricane Sandy: Massive Fire Destroys Dozens of Homes in Queens, NY.” Downed power lines, destroyed homes, flooded streets, beloved places in ruin. It breaks my heart to see what damage has been caused by nature, but at the same time, it gives me new hope that now, maybe, just maybe, people will understand: This is no ordinary storm.
Of course, to many people, hurricanes are, by their definition, no ordinary storms. Unfortunately, however, they are quite ordinary. Hurricanes form in tropical climates, where the water is at least 80 Degrees Fahrenheit. The storm continues to build as it moves from the western coast of Africa to the Caribbean, where the bands of thunderstorms that encircle the calm eye of the storm provide a positive feedback loop that builds the storm bigger and bigger, until it eventually hits land and dissipates. The movement and rotation of hurricanes is caused by the Coriolis effect, the same effect that creates the crosswinds and trade winds that helped the sailors who discovered America and that up until recently moderated our climate. It’s all a perfectly normal, natural process.
Hurricanes are normal. Sandy was not your typical hurricane, however.
Jim Cisco, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster coined the term that best describes Sandy: Frankenstorm. It’s a mashup of worst-case scenarios. While slightly comedic, ABC News was spot on to mix in footage from The Perfect Storm, the 2000 George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg picture based on the 1991 nor’easter that mixed itself into Hurricane Grace and ravaged the northeastern United States exactly 21 years ago. Sandy approached the Northeast just as a cold front was approaching from the west and winds were blowing down furiously from Canada. Oh, and it was happening on a full moon, which means the highest tides of the month were ready to surge up onto land. It was to be, perhaps, a more perfect storm.
Hurricane/Frankenstorm/Superstorm Sandy was poised, from the beginning, to wreak havoc. Sure, the natural weather conditions I just discussed were set to make it a pretty rough storm to begin with, but if this storm had happened 50, even maybe 10 years ago, it would not have been nearly as destructive. The main destructive forces at work were Sandy’s diameter of gale force winds (at about 1,000 miles, they made Sandy the largest Hurricane in history), the high storm surge (at least 10 feet), and the heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some areas), which is associated with massive flooding. All of these factors are what make Sandy a freak of nature Frankenstorm, and they can all be attributed to one thing: Global Warming and Climate Change.
Cynics and climate-change deniers, before you say a word, I’ll make it clear. Global warming did not cause Hurricane Sandy. As I said earlier, hurricanes are very regular, natural things. It did, however, exacerbate it, by creating climate conditions that fostered a more dangerous storm. And here’s how:
- Warmer Oceans = Stronger Hurricanes. Hurricanes are warm-water storms, so by raising the temperature of our oceans, we create more hospitable territory for hurricanes. Normally, when a hurricanes reach the Northeast, they hit water too cold to survive in, and downgrade to tropical storms, make landfall, and disintegrate. Thanks to the greenhouse effect and the unimaginable amounts of greenhouse gasses we have emitted over the past three centuries, our oceans have risen about 5 degrees Celsius, creating northern waters that can continue to support hurricanes longer, allowing them to hit harder and over a larger area.
- Higher Sea Levels = More Damaging Storm Surges. Melting sea-ice has, as we all know, raised sea levels quite dramatically. Even if we hadn’t raised ocean temperatures (hypothetically, since then we obviously also wouldn’t have melted the sea ice), higher sea levels make shorelines more susceptible to gigantic storm surges. It’s plain and simple: There’s more water, and it’s closer to the land, so it makes for floods like no one has ever seen.
- Paved Roads = Nowhere to Go. Ok, so this is less to do with global warming, but still important. Humans have paved the world, in the interest of giving us places to go and ways to get there. Ironically, this has given water nowhere to go. In a natural ecosystem, water would be absorbed into the ground, and any excess would become runoff that would eventually find its way to streams and rivers. When we’ve paved over the entire northeast, however, there’s nowhere for that water to be absorbed. Asphalt is non-pourous. So, all of the water – from the 12 inches of rain and the 10ft storm surges- becomes runoff, pooling up and flooding many neighborhoods. Check out the gallery below for pictures of what that looks like.
It should be quite obvious now as to why Sandy is no typical storm, and how we’ve made this problem worse for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong: This was an absolute tragedy, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this storm, especially all those back home on Long Island and in the Tri-State Area. It’s going to be a long recovery, but this is not the time to wallow in self-pitty. This is a time to wake up, and get going.
Think of Hurricane Sandy as Mother Nature throwing a bucket of water on you to get you up and out of bed. Get moving people. Repairs will take some time. While they’re happening, let’s fix some other things as well. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by building just a new levy, or by perparing better next time. No, this problem will only be solved by changing our ways. We NEED to stop our fossil fuel dependence. We need to stop polluting our air. Hopefully, we’ve all now finally felt the effects of global warming. Lives are at stake here. We’re not going to see the change overnight. We might not live to see it. But if we stop now – not in 20 years, not in 10, but NOW – we might leave a world for our grandchildren to inhabit.
Bill McKibben, one of America’s greatest environmentalists, has wrote extensively on this subject. He’s put out a recent piece about the hurricane, but the more important piece of writing he’s recently put out is a Rolling Stone article about climate change, in which he reminds us that we’ve already surpassed the safe level of carbon that can be in our atmosphere. It’s no longer a problem for our grandchildren. Its our problem We’re living it. Sandy is a wakeup call. We need to fix this.
Special thanks to Prof. Bob Wilson (Syracuse University) for some of the key facts for this post.
July 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
ATTENTION: MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT!!!
For those of you who made it past that warning, I’m safely assuming that you’ve either seen The Dark Knight Rises or just don’t care (and should reconsider your priorities) because this movie, as you likely know, was EPIC. While I could ramble on for hours about the merits of the movie, there is, as always, that specific aspect of the movie I want to discuss: One of the major plot points of the movie centered around clean, sustainable energy.
Christopher Nolan‘s Gotham is designed to be a mirror of real life. Over the three movie arc, the city has been plagued by issues with clean water, terrorism, an income gap, organized crime, corruption, and everything in between. For the third and final movie of the trilogy, however, Nolan decided to tackle perhaps the biggest real-world issue he has to date: the environment. Right from the start, Bruce Wayne and Miranda Tate are involved in a discussion about a sustainable energy project that they had invested in. As it turns out, the project, which was incredibly expensive, did in fact successfully create a nuclear fusion-powered device – something in our world that we are years away from.
The problem with the nuclear fusion device parallels the issues faced throughout history with nuclear power: There is incredible danger involved, in contrast with the incredibly high levels of efficiency. If everything goes right, nuclear power is the perfect solution. If not, however, the damage would be catastrophic – in the case of Bruce Wayne’s device, being able to be turned into an immensely powerful nuclear bomb.
My point? As I always love to point out, sustainability and environmentalism is truly becoming mainstream – do I sense a Captain Planet movie in the making? (PLEASE CHRISTOPHER NOLAN, PLEASE!)
July 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
Check out this awesome post from the Green Education Forum all about sustainability education!
July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
When we last left our planet, the Middle Ages were dawning, and people were crowding closer and closer together. Sure, there were some ups and downs – kingdoms rose and fell, peoples who were once considered barbarians settled down and became the emerging peoples of Europe, and intercontinental trade was once again begun, on a scale like never before. Perhaps the most important change during this period of time, however, was the largest influx of people to cities the world had seen to this point. As you would imagine, when more and more people crowd together, they create more and more waste. But this is just where the problem begins.
The Industrial Revolution, which followed the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is perhaps the most significant turning point in the history of environmentalism thus far. With the mechanization of the Western world came a whole new set of problems and challenges. First and foremost, what was powering these machines? Coal, and a lot of it. The problem? Coal is dirty. To create the steam needed to run the newly mechanized world, ungodly amounts of coal were ripped from the British landscape, and then from all over Europe, the United States, and eventually from the entire world.
If you think that the environmental impact of mining all of this coal was pretty serious, the environmental impact of burning all of this coal eclipses that by a long shot. A personal favorite anecdote that I’ve always been told about this period of time involves the adaptation of a species of insect which was forced to adapt by becoming black in order to blend in with the soot-covered buildings of London. From coal mines to cities and factories, there was coal dust, soot, smog, and smoke in the air everywhere – by far the most pouted skies in history.
This environmental impact was not the only effect of the industrial revolution – there were plenty of other things that resulted out of the Industrial Revolution, though most of them would end up being detrimental to the environment in the long run. Our consumerist culture, our complete disregard for our world’s air and water supply, a lack of concern for the limits of our natural resources, and the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels would all play a role later on in history.
Before I wrap this up, let me remind you that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t all bad. The technological advances led to a higher standard of living for the world at large, and created widespread employment and limitless opportunities. Social mobility finally peaked out from it’s hiding place, and the old world order began to decline. Perhaps most importantly, we could never fix the environmental problems of the early industrial revolution without the technologies it helped to create.
July 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
The first video is a unique take on the anti-bottled water campaign. Not only does the video cover the dangerous effects of the bottled water industry, it delves into how and why it got to be the way it is, and provides plausible solutions for the problem.
The second video explains something that even I find very difficult to understand, the Cap and Trade system:
July 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
Check out these three cool stories about environmentally friendly products!