Hours before Hurricane Sandy hit, activists protested climate inaction in Times Square

Jeremy Hance
October 30, 2012

Activists protests climate silence in New York City ahead of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
Activists protest climate silence in New York City ahead of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of 350.org.

On Sunday, as Hurricane Sandy roared towards the coast of the Eastern U.S., activists took to the streets in New York City to highlight the issue of climate change. Activists organized by 350.org unfurled a huge parachute in Times Square with the words, "End Climate Silence," a message meant to call attention to the fact that there has been almost zero mention of climate change during the presidential campaign, including not a single reference to the issue in the four presidential debates.

"Meteorologists have called [Hurricane Sandy] 'the biggest storm ever to hit the U.S. mainland,' which is a reminder of how odd our weather has been in this hottest year in American history," 350.org founder Bill McKibben said in a statement. 350.org contends that a "serious discussion" on climate change is missing both from the presidential campaigns and the media.

To date, this has been the hottest year in the U.S. going back to when record keeping started in the 1880s. In addition, July was the hottest month ever in the U.S., even beating records set during the Dust Bowl.

This record heat is a having an impact. Recent studies have found that climate change is likely increasing the chances of especially intense hurricanes, although the jury is still out on whether or not climate change will increase the chances of more hurricanes in general.

Rising sea levels are also increasing the chances of catastrophic storm surges, like those seen during Hurricane Sandy in New York City. According to preliminary reports, lower Manhattan suffered a storm surge of 14 feet. In addition, warmer oceanic waters increase evaporation, meaning storms like Hurricane Sandy pick up more precipitation leading to greater rainfall. Finally warmer weather is also increasing the chances of hurricanes at the very beginning and end of the normal hurricane season.

The waters of the Atlantic Ocean were particularly warm ahead of Hurricane Sandy, around 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, allowing the storm to pick up extra water vapor ahead of landfall.

"We hope everyone will pitch in with the Red Cross, and with local relief efforts," MicKibben added. "Community is our greatest source of energy, and our cleanest!"

Worldwide, global temperature have risen by around 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past century due to anthropogenic climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, which trap heat in the atmosphere, continue to rise despite decades of warnings. The last decade was the warmest on record with 2005 and 2010 generally considered tied for the warmest year.

The U.S. has long dragged its feet on climate action, especially compared to other wealthier nations. Although comprehensive climate and energy legislation was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, it could not find the needed votes in the U.S. Senate and died quietly in 2010. Since then President Barack Obama has only infrequently mentioned climate change, while many Republicans continue to deny that climate change is occurring or is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Mitt Romney, for his part, recently stated he didn't know if climate change was caused by greenhouse gas emissions despite scientific consensus. He also turned President Obama's pledge to "begin to slow the rise of the oceans" into punchline during his Republican National Convention speech, while a surrogate for Romney's campaign has stated that the ex-governor does not see regulating greenhouse gas emissions as a legitimate concern of the federal government.

Activists protest climate silence in New York City ahead of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
Activists protest climate silence in New York City ahead of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of 350.org.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 30, 2012).

Hours before Hurricane Sandy hit, activists protested climate inaction in Times Square.