Science and its practical consort Engineering mostly come out of this week with enhanced reputations. For some years now, various researchers have been predicting that such a trauma was not just possible but almost certain, as we raised the temperature and with it the level of the sea—just this past summer, for instance, scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost anyplace on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system….
In so doing, it should shame at least a little those people who argue against the computer modeling of climate change on the grounds that “they can’t even tell the weather three days ahead of time—how can they predict the climate?” But in fact “they” can tell the weather, and in the process they saved thousands upon thousands of lives. They can tell the future too. No serious climate scientist believes that the sea will rise less than a meter this century, unless we get off fossil fuel with great speed; many anticipate it will rise far more. Think about what that means—as one researcher put it this week, it means that any average storm will become an insidious threat….
Building new defenses will be expensive but relatively popular; cracking down on the fossil fuel industry will be a great trial, and indeed Cuomo has an important test approaching. He must decide at some point in the coming years whether to allow fracking within the borders of the Empire State. A lead author of a very weak report from his Department of Environmental Conservation is a climate denier; after Sandy it will be interesting to see if the governor asks for a new study from people in touch with actual science. I think he might; as powerful as the fracking lobby is, the sight of a hundred apartment and office lobbies filled with seawater is more visceral. We’ve been given a warning by science, and a wake-up call by nature; it is up to us now to heed them.