Year 3, Month 11, Day 12: O-Bla-Di, O-Bla-Da

The Athens Banner-Herald (GA) runs a column by one Eugene Linden, who is trying to hell people something:

Even as Sandy underwent its bizarre metamorphosis from hurricane to winter storm, the question arose in many inquiring minds (at least those not beholden to a solemn oath of climate-change denial): Was this historic storm a symptom of global warming? Climate science has two ready answers: Absolutely! And, of course not!

On the one hand, a warming globe makes megastorms more probable, while on the other, it is impossible to pin a global warming sticker on Sandy because the circumstances that turned it into a monster could have been mere coincidence.

There is, however, another way of looking at Sandy that might resolve this debate, and also help frame what we really should be worried about when it comes to global warming: An infrastructure created to defend against historical measures of worst-case natural threats was completely overpowered by this storm.

New York City’s defenses were inadequate, and coastal defenses failed over a swath of hundreds of miles. Around the nation, such mismatches have been repeated ever more frequently in recent years.

This summer, barge owners discovered that dredging in the Mississippi River, predicated on the history of the river’s ups and downs, left it too shallow for commercial traffic because of the intense Midwestern drought. And, famously, levees in New Orleans that were largely through the process of being improved even as Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 were still breached in 50 places. Then, seven years to the day after Katrina struck, Plaquemines Parish was drowned by Hurricane Isaac in flooding residents described as worse than Katrina’s.

Will the American public wake up? Details at eleven. Sent November 10:

The relationship between global climate change and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, or the drought that devastated America’s corn belt this summer cannot be understood without recognizing the big difference between specific causation and systemic causation. A specific rock broke a specific window; a specific iceberg collided with the Titanic; a specific O-ring failed on the Challenger. Conversely, a metastatic lung tumor cannot be traced back to a single cigarette, and the catastrophic weather that hammered America’s East coast cannot be attributed unambiguously to the accelerating greenhouse effect. But does this mean that smoking is safe, or that our emissions of carbon dioxide are without effect on the planet’s weather systems? In a word, no.

By conflating these two different kinds of cause, our media has abdicated its responsibility to the citizenry it is supposed to serve. If we as a nation (indeed, as a species) are to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we can no longer afford ignorance on matters of basic science. It is time for all of us to face the facts.

Warren Senders