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Climate scientist: Sandy just a taste of things to come

November 1st, 2012
11:59 AM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

Superstorm Sandy is a sign of more things to come, says climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer.

He's been studying climate change for three decades and is a geoscience professor at Princeton University, but superstorm Sandy stunned even him.

“I knew it could happen. But until it happens to you, and hits you on the head, you don't really fully appreciate what it's like to be in a situation like this.”

Oppenheimer lives in the area of lower Manhattan still experiencing a blackout.

“I went down to the coast before the storm peaked to watch the seas rising. And even though we've predicted stuff like this in the past, it was a shock to me to see it.” 

Sandy's death toll climbs as U.S. citizens battle to recover

Oppenheimer said that New York City officials have been getting warnings from scientists for two decades about the potential damage from a major storm.

“We had one of these hundred-year storms in 1992, and since then, they've know the subway system could flood. They've known the power could go out. And they actually laid plans for the future, which are sensitive to global warming and the threat, but they don't have the political will to actually start moving very fast and putting anything into effect.”

Even though some of the subway stations have been raised, Oppenheimer said officials haven’t grappled with the major changes needed to safe-guard infrastructure.

As part of the rebuilding effort, he said, New York should raise subway entrances and protect roadways to prevent water from flowing in.

Oppenheimer also believes that the government should also prevent companies from building major infrastructure along the coastline, unless absolutely necessary.

He believes these goals are achievable in the U.S. because other major world cities have been able to build preventive infrastructure.

“We need to consider the more long-term and more difficult, more expensive measures, like the possibility of doing what London did, which is build a storm barrier, which is lowered when there's a big storm coming up and protects London from a Thames tidal surge.”

Oppenheimer said it will cost tens of billions of dollars and take decades to complete.

“But if you don't start now, as the world warms and these storms become more frequent, we're going to be caught out again.”

Towns battered beyond recognition


Filed under:  Climate • Latest Episode
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Phillip Noe

    This has been known for over 30 years. Now its too late for many of the serious consequences. All we can do it mitigate the damage by reducing emissions as soon as possible. This means NOT supporting policy makers and candidates (mainly Republicans) that are unwilling or less willing to take the necessary steps.

    November 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  2. Gary Brown

    You are so right, Gods prophecy is being full filled It is surely going to get worse as time goes on, My prayers are with all the people effected by this devastating event. Take care Christ-iane

    November 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  3. JasonGreenstein

    Climate change?? Climate is always changing naturally...that's what the Earth does and is supposed to do. Human-induced global warming on the other hand is a completely absurd claim. Only a moron would believe Sandy was a result of human induced climate change. Sandy was a category 1 storm system...what was devastating about Sandy was the storm track. We have FAR stronger storms every single year that never make landfall, and we've had them for hundreds of thousands of years. Not to mention the fact that climate is over the course of decads whereas weather is day to day...Unless your claim is that human induced climate change has been brewing up this category 1 storm for the past 3 decades.

    Human induced climate change...give me a break. More like an unlucky track with a storm that could have been much stronger traversing the east coast. Storm tracks like this are bound to happen eventually...that's why only a fool would live in a hurricane prone place and not accept the fact that their property could eventually be destroyed by a hurricane. Human stupidity, overpopulation in a hurricane prone area, and an unlucky storm track...there is your answer all you couch climatologists out there.

    November 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • JB

      absolutley agree with this post. Unfortunately, political hay will be harvested from this storm and billions will be spent in a useless attempt to "reduce global warming". The only sound reason to control carbon output, etc is to make life more pleasant by reducing smog, pollution of air and water, etc. We can do nothing to alter the weather of this planet.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • Greta

      Not to call you out but I have a different understanding about weather and climate. In my opinion Climate is what is happening this instant over the entire world.....it is the next instant and the next. Climate is changing every minute and that change is demonstrated by the weather.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Reply
    • Prakash Magal

      Although I agree with JasonGreenstein's comment that Climate change is nothing new, it is a fact that overexploitation of earth's resources due to population explosion is accelerating the degradation. What about the proof of the ice coverage melting due to warming? Naturally the sea levels goes up that much which will cause flooding and during storms like Sandy cause extensive damage. Again climate changes, global warming and ice ages have occured several times in the past and follow a cycle.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:22 am | Reply
  4. Delaware Jack

    The Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago—that's a very long time ago! Clues tell us that the Earth's climate has changed many times before. There have been times when most of the planet was covered in ice, and there have also been much warmer periods. Over at least the last 650,000 years, temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased and decreased in a cyclical pattern many, many times. People didn't cause the climate change that occurred thousands or millions of years ago, so it must have happened for other natural reasons.

    November 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
    • Kerry

      You miss the point, like so many others. It doesn't matter what is causing it, adjusting and adapting to these changes are the key to survival. Like London's storm barrier. Or moving away from the coast. Floating cities and homes, mega dams, etc., etc. Each state and country along the coastal regions will have to figure out how best to save themselves. There will different solutions to each problem. This is where the engineers and feasibility studies will come in handy. Moving forward on it seems to be the problem. First the people have to be convinced there is a problem. As we see the denial is strong.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply
      • Greta

        Kerry
        I agree with your assessments. It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind climate-change denial. The failure to take steps toward improving our resistance to weather/climate events is immoral in my opinion.

        November 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  5. Kerry

    Unfortunately, too many people in the the US are still in denial. Insight and vision does not seem to run strong here. The bottom line is always profit. The rich can move and/or build again. Unfortunately it's the little guy who always suffers.

    November 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  6. Dan

    Climate change is natural so do nothing about it, except move yourself away from problem areas (buy a house on a hill, etc.). The lack of engagement, understanding and compassion is almost mindboggling and could ONLY come from America. Cancer is natural, so let's let that happen eh, heart attacks are just a part of life so roll em on, inequity is a fact of life so let's crap on our neighbour if it benefits us. Surely all those years of evolution didn't land us with these frankly infantile sentiments! (Have you got to grips with evolution yet, climate sceptics?) Wake up and realise where you are in history, intellect and empowerment and you might, possibly, start to make the world a better place for those millions outside your comfy palace of complacency!

    November 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  7. David

    1821 & 1938 were the other recent times New York area was hit by Hurricanes equal to Sandy. There is further abundant paleo evidence/studies that the area has been devastated many times going back hundreds of years. To link one such hurricane to anthropomorphic global warming, is based on incomplete research in my view.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  8. Plantiful

    Actually, you are mostly all incorrect on many of the facts.
    First, the basics:
    1) The term 'climate' is used to describe the long-term conditions that are being experienced. The term 'weather' is used to describe the conditions for today or this hour- the short term. Today's weather, in someone's state, does not have anything to do with climate change. Climate change is the long term (think of decades as relatively short term), changes that are occurring over the entire globe. The climate change that scientists are monitoring and observing are the long term temperature increases and the causal increases in carbon dioxide.
    2) Yes, the climate has changed naturally over the many millions of years of "recent" history. The climate variations, namely the ice ages and inter-glacial periods are largely the result of cyclic changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun, These cycles typically occur in the time frame of 20,000-25,000 years and are called the Milankovitch cycles. The climate changes that we are seeing today are occurring due to the rapid introduction of carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas. Over the course of a mere 120 years, we have increased the CO2 content of the atmosphere by 40%. This rate of increase is unprecedented, and is 40X faster than the fastest rate of introduction found in 650,000 years of ice core data. The CO2 is from burning fossil fuels, as found by the decreasing amount of C-13 in the atmosphere: fossil fuel contains little, if any, C-13 which decays.
    3) There are still things that can be done to slow our introduction, but few are willing to do it. Saves money too.,

    Good luck.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  9. Finally!

    I searched high and low- and finally found the blog of the state run socialist anti-capitalist anti-american Obama controlled media try to propagandize this storm as being man made global warming/climate change. Someday and I hope in my life time, this criminal – obscene scam is going to be exposed and the perpetrators punsihed. If Sandy was redirected by the wind- 200 miles east – nobody would even have noticed it. Did Global warming direct the hurricane to NYC? Are Hurricanes something new that started in 1984 when Algore start his campaign? what caused the 1900 Galveston Hurricane – man made global warming. One more thing, mr "Client Scientists" weather disturbances are caused by the delata in temperature between the poles and equatoe- this is weather science 101- in a world that is warming for whatever reason this delta decreases not increases- that is also a known. What specifically is the link between mad made CO2 and hurricanse= precisely? not propaganda not 'someone told me' – spell out the facts!. There are none.

    November 2, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  10. Bud

    Here comes winter. I hate the cold of winter, don't you. Got a big load of fire wood which will burn all day, every day, for the next 5 months. Would encourage you all; Go chop down a tree, or 2 or 3, and burn them so we can get this planet warmed up. Doing my part in creating an anthropomorphic tropical paradise. Burn baby, burn. The sooner we get this done, the better. What food grows in snow?

    November 3, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
  11. Saul Valdez

    Earthman Brother U.S. as a world citizen I say that I regret what has happened on the east coast of your country, especially in New York where Sandy superstorm seriously affect the infrastructure of this region. This should be a time of reflection for you, because if hurricanes are increasing in intensity is due to humans, you have exported to the world a model of life based on unlimited consumption and depletion of natural resources, we earthlings take all our own extinction. The ecological footprint of the average American is 9 acres, this means that if all humans do what you, would occupy more than 7 planets land to feed ourselves. Brother I invite you to value natural assets available to us and change.
    No more consumption-based society without limits, we decrease dramatically emissions of greenhouse gases, we leave behind the transportation and power generation based on fossil fuels and find alternative energy sources. the land belongs to all the world's citizens expect the leadership of your country to undertake the greatest adventure of the century, preserve this precious and beautiful place, our home.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  12. Brent Deck

    Those on both the far right and the far left seem to be taking the position that if global warming is caused by nature, it does not warrant any intervention, even if the result of inaction holds disastrous consequences for the human race. Each group appears willing to place adherence to its cult’s religious dogma above the welfare of humanity.

    So long as the debate is centered intractably on the cause of climate change rather than the solution, no progress is likely.

    Brent Deck

    November 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  13. Ravens52

    It was a terrible disaster 2012 maybe true.....

    November 6, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  14. The snake........

    1821 & 1938 were the other recent times New York area was hit by Hurricanes equal to Sandy. There is further abundant paleo evidence/studies that the area has been devastated many times going back hundreds of years. To link one such hurricane to anthropomorphic global warming, is based on incomplete research in my view.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  15. BlackTigger19

    I feel really bad for those people that went throw super storm Sandy. I agree that they need to build this thing to protect rode ways and subways, It sounds like a good idea to me any ways.

    November 7, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
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