Nature's wrath

The trail of destruction left behind by ‘super-storm Sandy,’ one of the largest storms ever to hit the east coast of the United States, underscores our immense vulnerability to Nature’s Fury.

After killing around 70 people in the Caribbean, Sandy gathered speed to lash the US east coast on Monday-Tuesday. Its ferocious winds blew off the roofs of houses, uprooted trees and toppled electrical power lines. It whipped up the seas to dangerously high levels causing severe flooding in New York City, plunging it in darkness. Wall Street, which closed for a day in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, was forced by Sandy to shut down for two days and the US’ oldest nuclear power plant, Oyster Creek, was put on alert. Life has ground to a halt across the east coast. The super-storm has killed around 16 people, an estimated 50 million people are affected, with over a million forced to evacuate. Damages have been pegged at over US$ 20 billion. 

By itself, Sandy cannot be attributed to climate change. However, it fits into a pattern of extreme weather events evident across the world that is attributable to climate change. The US experienced abnormally high summer temperatures this year, record drought conditions in its corn belt and now an unusually strong hurricane. Extreme summer temperatures affected around 1 per cent of the earth’s surface some decades ago; now they affect over 10 per cent of its land area. Climate change scientists warn that as ocean temperatures rise, the intensity of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes will increase. This will compel coastal towns to raise the height of sea walls. But Sandy has sent out a message that this alone is not enough. We need to go to the root, which is curbing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.

Sandy has underscored that even the world’s largest economy and military power is defenceless before extreme weather conditions. Ignoring climate change is therefore not an option any longer. Climate change was conspicuously missing on the election campaign agendas of both the candidates in the US presidential election.  Both candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, will rush to draw mileage out of the hurricane by reaching out to those affected by it. However, it is the statesman among them who will come out with a robust plan to deal with climate change.

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