Starting Monday I’ve been politicizing #Sandy. Specifically I tweeted.
I can almost hear in my head the right wing radio blowhards responding to this comment with their mocking strawman “The left want you to believe that WE are responsible for hurricane Sandy! Preposterous! It’s like when they blamed Bush for Katrina! My friends, these are “Acts of God! We had nothing to do with it!”
My second tweet was in response to their probably response:
Monday, Maggie Koerth-Baker, the science writer at Boing Boing, wrote this wonderful post: Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? The answer depends on why you’re asking. It really is a brilliant piece and I encourage you to read it. It addresses the questions that many have as well as the innocent and not so innocent reasons people ask. (BTW Maggie owes me some Boing Boing swag for a contest I won, if you see her tell her I’m still waiting. Her excuse was she was busy with her book tour Before the Lights Go Out but it’s over now. P.S. I take an XL.)
Was this [hurricane Sandy] an unavoidable act of nature? Or was this something caused directly by changes to Earth’s climate that have happened because we burn fossil fuels which increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
Again, there’s not an easy answer. And, again, part of the problem here is that we’re expecting science to operate on the scale of American media news cycles, which doesn’t really work. We want to talk about this while the storm is raging or, barring that, at least immediately afterwards. But scientists aren’t really going to have anything particularly deep to say about this specific storm for months, if not years. During that time, data will be analyzed and compared, and other events will happen, and that’s really the stuff that we need in order to say much of anything other than, “We don’t know for certain.” In some ways, expecting anything else means forcing scientists to speculate and extrapolate in ways they aren’t usually comfortable with and that aren’t a terribly great way to understand the big picture.
[Emphasis mine because that is a really important insight.]
I was once explaining the American media to a Ph.D. in physics I was working with, he got very annoyed with the way the media worked. “But Spocko, in science things rarely are 100% certain, yes there is a high correlation of this cause with that effect, but it is only one factor in a complex system.” Another creator of high-end technology didn’t like the way his comments about scientific reality got twisted by his competition and picked up by the media. I helped them both find metaphors they felt comfortable with and then helped them switch to teaching mode to educate the different media outlets they were going to talk to. But they both wanted the media to be something it wasn’t and something they wished it was.
Later in Koerth-Baker’ s piece she quotes Greg Laden, an anthropologist who does some very good blogging on climate science, had a lot to say on this topic — particularly, the fact that even though we can’t say “Hurricane Sandy was caused solely by climate change”, we can say that climate change is probably affecting several factors that probably influence the development, growth, and movement of hurricanes.
She makes the case that weather is complex, “Hurricane Sandy could be both a completely natural occurrence and a product of climate change. Simultaneously. Some of the factors that caused this storm might be nature-made. Others might be man-made. And teasing apart which factors were responsible for which aspect of the storm’s damage is incredibly hard.”
So if scientists can’t tell you whether Sandy, specifically, was caused by climate change does that mean we just wait for the all the data to come out years from now? No. Because in the mean time the people who want to deny that climate change is real and impacts us will exploit anything less than 100% certainty. That’s what they do. That is their job. That is why they are getting paid millions.
If you knew that a group of people – through their attitudes, actions and policies, led to the death of someone you loved would you want to tell people about this group? Would you want to talk about them and what they are doing right now, when you are feeling the anger and pain of loss? Would you demand change? Or would you listen to the same group of people telling you, “Now is not the time for recrimination and blame.”
Anger can change the configuration of your thoughts. If moves people. It gets people to change their attitudes, actions and sometimes their politics. And if you are on the other side of righteous anger you will use all sorts of methods to calm the angry people down. Because angry people demand change.
One of the games the right plays is when something happens that they know could lead to change, “in the heat of the moment” they start screaming.”Let’s not politicize this tragedy!” I see it after every single mass shooting. Why do they do that? Does it really come from their deep feelings of respect for the family of the dead? I’m sure there are some who think this way. But I think it is more about using “respect for the family of the dead” as a shield to prevent change.
The other group of people who worry about talking about the root cause of some event are people who think that change happens only with reasoned debate “in the cold light of day.” They don’t want to be accused of exploiting the tragedy. They believe that it is distasteful and disrespectful or that it dishonors the death of the person. This works out great for the people who want the status quo to continue. Personally, if someone can use my death to make changes so others don’t die I say, “Do it! Make it so! Engage!”
So how can we actually politicize #Sandy? I’m starting by calling them out.
”Hey right wingers who deny climate change, blood from this storm is on your hands. This is not a simple “Act of God”. Men and woman who have your attitudes, have taken your actions and implemented your policies have led to this. Changes need to be made.
If you aren’t the kind of person who gets angry and makes demands for change there is still something you can do. Keep linking climate change to extreme weather events and specifically the human related actions that lead to it. Because as Maggie concludes, climate change is real and we need to care about it. I say, let’s do something about it.