As the East Coast grapples with the fallout of Hurricane Sandy, Democrats are sounding the alarm over climate change, suggesting that carbon pollution played a role in bringing about the deadly storm.
“Hurricane Sandy is exactly the type of extreme weather event that climate scientists have said will become more frequent and more severe if we fail to reduce our carbon pollution,”
Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Bobby Rush of Illinois wrote in a letter Wednesday to Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Waxman and Rush called on Upton to convene a lame-duck congressional hearing on the matter, accusing Republicans of ignoring the issue.
“For two years, the House of Representatives has pretended that climate change is not happening and that the consequences can be dismissed without concern,” they wrote.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cited climate change in a press briefing earlier this week, arguing that, “Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think, is denying reality.”
But scientists say the evidence is far less concrete than the politicians appear to believe.
Martin Hoerling, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Sandy wasn’t boosted by global warming -- the storm merely revealed natural forces at work.
“Great events can have little causes,” he told the New York Times. “In this case, the immediate cause is most likely little more that the coincidental alignment of a tropical storm with an extratropical storm.”
The climate change debate has been absent from the campaign trail this year as economic recovery and foreign policy have dominated the headlines. But with Sandy’s unprecedented devastation – leaving New York City subways flooded and ravaging coastal towns throughout New Jersey – activists are hoping to yet again spotlight the issue.
The office of Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman sent a note to reporters reminding them of a previous hearing on the threat of rising sea levels to domestic infrastructure.
“When sea levels rise, the storm surge associated with extreme storms gets even worse,” Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, said at the April hearing. “These impacts … are not theoretical and they are not disputed and they are not in the distant future.”
As for Sandy, Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist with Canada’s University of Victoria, said climate change didn't make an ordinary storm extraordinary.
"The ingredients of this storm seem a little bit cooked by climate change, but the overall storm is difficult to attribute to global warming," Weaver told the Associated Press.
But the science is anything but clear cut. Michael Mann, a Penn State University scientist who has been studying the climate for decades, said that ocean waters were about 1 degree warmer thanks to manmade climate change, one factor that clearly caused Sandy to swell.