October 29 marks the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Had she headed 200 miles farther north of her Atlantic City-area landfall and then taken a left, we’d still be dealing with the havoc left in her wake. The cost of the largest Atlantic hurricane ever was the tragic loss of 159 human lives and $68 billion in damage. Sandy was not so much an environmental disaster as she was a public-safety and economic one. Add in the droughts, heat waves, storms, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and wildfires of 2012, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, the total cost to America was a staggering $120 billion.
Experts predict 10 Sandy-like storms by the end of the century, and chances are the Bay State will be slammed by at least one. The Cambridge-based Union of Concerned Scientists forecasts that Boston should expect today’s once-a-century coastal impacts to become once-a-year outcomes during that same time period. With flooding from a superstorm like Sandy, The Boston Harbor Association predicts that almost half of Boston and its neighborhoods would be flooded with waves knocking at City Hall’s doors. Further, the international economic think tank, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, recently cited Boston eighth among the world’s major cities most threatened by flooding due to sea-level rise.
The prevailing view among meteorologists is that superstorms are the product of climate change and the attendant hotter and higher oceans that energize such storms. At its annual meeting in Boston this year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science agreed that climate change is producing extreme weather. We’re experiencing weather on steroids and we have to prepare for its uncertain and possible catastrophic effects.
Be it increased sea-level rise and coastal erosion, more frequent and severe droughts and flooding, or just plain weird weather, it’s time to plan for what was previously the unexpected and manage what is now the unavoidable. Since Sandy, our conversations about climate change have themselves changed. The current challenge is not so much about saving the planet from heat-trapping gases as it is about saving us from a warming planet. It’s not throwing in the towel but rather facing the realities of living with, coping with, and adapting to the effects of global warming caused by emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants and motor vehicles.