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Hurricane Sandy's wake-up call

Climate change is becoming harder to ignore

Photo: Oblique aerial photographs of Seaside Height Pier, NJ. View looking west along the New Jersey shore., License: N/A

Oblique aerial photographs of Seaside Height Pier, NJ. View looking west along the New Jersey shore.

In one sense, this presidential contest represented a major step backward when it comes to discussion of climate change and the steps needed to seriously address it.

As Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, notes in a Huffington Post blog, "... this year was the first time since 1984 that climate change was not even mentioned in the presidential debates. And while climate silence reigns, the planet warms. Year after year, extreme weather slams communities and wildlife habitats across the globe. Since 1980, the number of extreme weather events in the United States has steadily increased. Our economy, strained by the recession, must also shoulder the burden of rescue, repair and insurance costs, not to mention lost revenue from extended business closures."

Adds Clark, in a piece headlined "Hurricane Sandy and the Cost of Climate Silence":

"Opponents of climate change action often cite the cost of breaking our addiction to fossil fuels. But if left unaddressed, climate change only promises to be a bigger budget-buster down the road. It's not like Hurricane Sandy was the first weather disaster this year. The 2012 drought that had the U.S. in a stranglehold this summer has increased the price of corn and beef, and pork, poultry and milk prices are expected to rise as well. Already the drought has cost the U.S. economy $12 billion.

"The western United States also suffered through an onslaught of wildfires this summer: Over 3.6 million acres were burned in August alone. In Colorado, the wildfires this summer have caused an estimated $450 million in personal property damage so far. Our national forests and refuges suffered damage as well: The Little Sand Fire burned nearly 25,000 acres of land in the San Juan National Forest in southern Colorado."

The costs keep mounting.

Also mounting is evidence of just how severe the problem has become, and why it is only likely to accelerate if concerted action isn't taken quickly. 

A September editorial in The Washington Post did a good job of explaining exactly what's going on:

"The Arctic is getting warmer faster than almost anywhere else on Earth. The latest evidence came in an announcement from the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center saying that, as of Aug. 26, the Arctic sea ice cover shrunk to 1.58 million square miles this summer, the smallest area since satellite measurements began in 1979. ...

"Over the past three decades, the average extent of the Arctic sea ice has declined by 25 to 30 percent, and the rate of decline is accelerating. In the past, older, thicker ice would drift away and be replaced by seasonal ice. But now more of the older ice is melting in the Arctic, a phenomenon that had been relatively rare. Also, less seasonal ice is replacing it."

What's even more unnerving is something scientists refer to as the "feedback effect," which is associated with this change.