Bloomberg Businessweek: ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’

The cover of the year goes to Bloomberg Businessweek, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Bill Clinton famously campaigned on the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Upwards of $50 billion damages from the Frankenstorm Sandy — which was made far more destructive by manmade climate change — underscores the point that it will be increasingly difficult to separate the economy from how we respond to (or fail to respond to) global warming.

The story opens:

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

The piece goes on to provide much-needed clarity — and our favorite climate metaphor:

An unscientific survey of the social networking liter moodature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.” Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

In an Oct. 30 blog post, Mark Fischetti of Scientific American took a spin through Ph.D.-land and found more and more credentialed experts willing to shrug off the climate caveats. The broadening consensus: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.” Even those of us who are science-phobic can get the gist of that.

And for those who mistakenly claim there is no data showing an increase in warming-driven extreme weather disasters, BBW has this rejoinder:

If all that doesn’t impress, forget the scientists ostensibly devoted to advancing knowledge and saving lives. Listen instead to corporate insurers committed to compiling statistics for profit.

On Oct. 17 the giant German reinsurance company Munich Re issued a prescient report titled Severe Weather in North America. Globally, the rate of extreme weather events is rising, and “nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.” From 1980 through 2011, weather disasters caused losses totaling $1.06 trillion. Munich Re found “a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades.” By contrast, there was “an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe, and 1.5 in South America.” Human-caused climate change “is believed to contribute to this trend,” the report said, “though it influences various perils in different ways.”

Global warming “particularly affects formation of heat waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity,” Munich Re said. This July was the hottest month recorded in the U.S. since record-keeping began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that two-thirds of the continental U.S. suffered drought conditions this summer.

Kudos to Bloomberg Businessweek for their being as blunt as many climate scientists have become (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).

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42 Responses to Bloomberg Businessweek: ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’

  1. BillD says:

    Great cover–do they also mention that scientists say that we know the cause of global climate change and the cause is the green house gasses that come mostly from fossil fuels. After all, Gov Romney says that he doesn’t know the cause of global warming, so he things that it’s fine to increase our use of fossil fuels and to forget about renewable energy.

  2. Jim Baird says:

    Energy is a 5 trillion/year global enterprise.

    The UN says we are doing over 6 trillion/year in environmental damage.

    The best way for the US economy to recover is to meet the demand for a service the planet is literally dieing to get its hands on.

  3. idunno says:

    Even more shocking than accuracy from BusinessWeek, there’s now inaccuracy from the only US publication with an, until now, impeccable reporting record…,30192/

  4. Lore says:

    Reading the comments from the Businessweek article shows the usual repeated and long ago debunked denialist talking points. Will it take the force of a category-5 hurricane to roll over NY for people to finally to wake up?

    “Ignorance and fanaticism are forever hungry and need feeding.”

  5. Hey Joe,

    My wife and I postponed our weekly movie date to stay home and watch you on the PBS News Hour last night. We were rewarded as we watched your demonstrate winning intellectual jiu jitsu on the hapless mouthpiece from the Right Wing Institute. Your main point, that we need to reduce our carbon output rather than, or at least along with starting to throw money at sea walls and the like got through the background noise. Congratulations.

    Coincidentally, or synchronously, I posted the following comment on Dot Earth about an hour before your appearance. It responds to a Revkin piece about our choices re: infrastructure development in a warming world. Your sentiments precisely, as far as I can tell from the TV show.

    “We can’t adapt to climate change that’s proceeding at its present pace. Build a high sea wall and in a decade or so the waves will top it. The rains will flood the city within it. The heat will force us to abandon our habitats.The affects of climate change will get worse, and worse, until we start to address the root causes.

    We need to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time pull much of the historic carbon out of the atmosphere. There are good, cost effective technologies available for doing both. Deploying those technologies will create wealth, which will at least partially offset the costs of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. Also, depoloying those technologies will prove far less costly than building massive sea walls, moving coastal cities inland and so on. (We’ll have to do some of that I any case, but the sooner we start drawing down atmospheric carbon, the less we’ll have to spend on rebuilding our cities.)”

  6. Susan Anderson says:

    Abandoned – that should have been the fake ramparts.

  7. Paul Magnus says:

    Nice. Clarity distilled.

  8. SecularAnimist says:

    When the NY Stock Exchange is shut down for two days in a row, it gets their attention.

  9. Peter Whitehead says:

    I like Al Gore’s soundbite:

    ‘Dirty energy brings dirty weather’

  10. Sandy hitting Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC head on may be the best thing that has happened to improve the chances of real, meaningful action on AGW. Even NJ Gov Christie is (sorta) on board, or at least at little more open to the idea that AGW is real and the government has a role to play.

    Attempting out-guess what level of adaptation is going to be adequate, and then diverting precious investment dollars to bet on that guess, is insane. I agree with the above comment–prevention is the only sensible approach from an economic or any other standpoint.

    Cuomo, Bloomberg, Christie–maybe they will set an example for other pols to come out from the climate shadows and call for what is needed–a WW2-style effort to shift off fossil fuels. We need agreement on this. Some strong persuasion, yes, some tough deals, yes, but ultimately, agreement. Sell this event as a preview of things to come. The Barry Bonds analogy is brilliant and compelling.

    That will mean some compromise from our side, too. It’s a national problem (and an international one, but let’s stick to home for now). It’s not fair, for example, for the coal-dependent states to shoulder the entire burden of transitioning their fleet of power plants. This is part of the WW2 model–shared sacrifice.

  11. dick smith says:

    For me, this was the most important line in the entire article–from Business Week no less!

    “Despite Republican fanaticism about all forms of government intervention in the economy, the idea of pricing carbon must remain a part of the national debate. One politically plausible way to tax carbon emissions is to transfer the revenue to individuals.”

  12. craig peterson says:

    Another good post. But I was stunned listening to this NPR interview yesterday from a NOAA official denying climate change had ANY effect on Frankenstorm Sandy:

  13. BayBunny says:

    Finally! I’ve been hoping for years that this phrase would be used in the media or by a politician. Bill Clinton said it – and it stuck – because in the 1992 election the economy was the most basic issue. Even more basic than that is climate. You can’t address economic issues if the climate is going haywire.

  14. BayBunny says:

    BTW – good work on the NewsHour last night, Joe! You had the guy from the American Enterprise Institute nodding along at the end. And they’ve borrowed from your “Let’s hope Sandy isn’t short for Cassandra” quote in the title for the story online.

  15. Richard Miller says:

    Dear Jim,

    Thanks for this post, do you have links to those figures so I can integrate them into my climate communication.


  16. kevin king says:

    Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.
    That’s the exact opposite of what we want to discuss. It’s the global warming crackpots who have hijacked this and made it a political issue. The next 10 years are going to be fun
    as we start to find ways of prosecuting these pseudo-scientists for the economic damage they are wreaking..
    can’t wait to sue

  17. Jack says:

    That’s a good point, when the link between extreme weather and climate change becomes accepted fact to the extent that it can be successfully proved in court, I can’t wait to see the denier machine get sued for the damages they’ve done in delaying action!

  18. Jack says:

    Actually those analogies aren’t sufficient, when will scientist stop underplaying it!

    Climate change BOTH increases the amplitude AND the frequency or likely hood of such evens. Hence over a time period, on average we’ll have an extra event, which can be said to be 100% as a result of climate change.

  19. Paul Magnus says:

    It really is past the time where the FF industries are nationalized to ensure that we can mange the change over quickly.

  20. John Stanley says:

    George Lakoff has just made a key semantic distinction. It’s one the climate science community should take urgent note of… Global Warming SYSTEMICALLY caused Superstorm Sandy.

    The semantics is crucial. We have been parsing our climate physics lingo ad infinitum in academic journals, in the fruitless pursuit of direct causation. This well-intentioned exactitude has become one long communications failure. Why? Because it misses the point. We are not looking at direct causation anyway. We are experiencing systemic causation.

    What is more, this interpretation is something the layperson can understand. As Lakoff notes: “Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies”.

    Dr Joe, how do you like that distinction? See

  21. @pdjmoo says:

    Sorry folks…but “It’s the ENVIRONMENT Stupid” – Climate Change is a direct result of our degraded environment and ecosystems. We need to focus on the causes, not the result. Our emptying oceans, poisoned soils, waters and biodiversity loss through pesticides, chemicals and monocrop Big Ag farming with synthetically genetically engineered food wiping out our healthy ecosystems; destruction of forests and all life within them; pollution from fossil fuels; a frightening loss of species that keep a balanced, healthy biosphere; and it goes on and on.
    Unless we humans pull back from the brink of unbridled, unconscious consumerism that is driving profits, not health, then climate change may well take us out. Environment in this instance means everything around us, immediate in our backyards and local neighborhoods and far away. How we become responsible for and nurture our natural world back to health is crucial and that starts with each one of us becoming more conscious of our actions and spending power, remembering that without Nature We Do Not Exist. To the degree Nature is sick and out of balance, so are we. We only have one planet to live on, and She is sick, very sick right now. Everything is interconnected. Nothing in Nature stands alone from it’s symbiotic relationships. I doubt we would ravage our personal living homes the way we are ravaging the very resources we, and all life, depends upon not just to live, but to survive. It is time to wake up to the holistic nature of the planet, that includes us – the human species- not just items on a quarterly balance sheet.

  22. Cognitive linguist George Lackoff said “Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy”

    ” …global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy – and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let’s say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.

    Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

  23. A.J. says:

    The deniers or downplayers are out making the counter-arguments again, including William Gray and Accuweather’s Dan Kottlowski:

    When are we going to see these people ‘together’ with actual climate scientists who can address this stuff, instead of the usual “he said, she said”? As long as the public hears nobody challenge them in real time, the “debate” about the risks may well continue into the next decade.

  24. michael says:

    You want to find good fight? Try telling, it global warming stupid to a hot head conservative. It’s really fun. Beware they do fight nasty.

  25. Joe Romm says:

    I don’t. I already commented on it. Not good science. Not good rhetoric.

  26. Mark E says:

    This post sounds like a setup to introduce Jims commercial venture with OTEC. Although it would not invalidate these stats if accurate when people evaluate the claims I feel one should be aware that elsewhere Jim has said he holds patents and is trying to drum up interest in this energy technology. Having heard the pitch in other threads it struck me as a panacea where there is an assumption that so-called excess BTUs get transferred from the ocean surface to the depths where – and this is where any notion of OTECs holistic deep ecology utterly breaks down – they are assumed to harmlessly disappear… sort of like invisible CO2 was assumed to disappear at the dawn of the industrial era.

    Will we ever learn?

  27. John Brookes says:

    As was suggested by James Hansen. We have done this in Australia, but not as explicitly as I would have liked. Taxes on low income earners (up to around $60k) have been reduced. I would have preferred a 3 monthly carbon tax dividend – so that you could see that it came directly from the carbon tax.

  28. TKPGH says:

    Well said, sir. Maybe this will give the rest of the media teh courage to say the same thing.

  29. We need to learn about “systemic causation” – every weather is a result of the changed climate. We may or may not be able to know each and every specific cause, but in general terms, Sandy was caused by climate change.


  30. Thanks, I try. But more thanks to Joe, who is the fount of such thinking.

  31. That’s Hoerling. He’s the next best thing to a climate change denier.

  32. muoncounter says:

    “… every weather is a result of the changed climate.”

    That’s far too broad a statement to have much meaning. Weather happens quickly, we see it. Climate change is slow, we don’t see it or we forget it’s happening because of our limited attention spans.

    The emphasis here is on the extreme weather events (such as a hurricane with record low barometric pressure and the resultant record storm surge) and the increasing probability that these events occur.
    “The probability of these unusually hot, hot spells, forest fires and extreme droughts has increased substantially over the last few decades. Now they are occurring about 10 percent of the time. And those are the things that have big economic impacts.”

    And that’s what climate change is doing.

  33. Hank Roberts says:

    > the usual repeated and long ago debunked
    > denialist talking points

    Nobody wants to consider the possibility that many of the clicks and views and rebunked talking points appearing on their beloved website are likely from automated posting bots.

    But ya know, the may be considerably less in the way of blinkered clueless disbelief out there from real people than appears on the Internet.

    Sturgeon’s Law applies.

  34. Bernard J. says:

    “Let’s hope Sandy isn’t short for Cassandra”.

    Indeed. This has been my over-riding concern from the first denialist murmmerings days before Sandy even hit the east coast.

    Sadly, I suspect that the fullness of time will demonstrate this to be exactly the case.

  35. tammie says:

    Lets not forget what increases the cost of damage is what we allow re; how we develop. We have eliminated 1.2 million acres of coastal wetlands since 1932, and currently about 10.3 mi2 per year, or 59,000 acres of coastal wetlands per year. Losses include from Levees which cut of re-sedimentation, oil and gas exploration along with navigation channels that allow for salt water intrusion. And the majority of loss is due to development, that doesn’t restore coastal wetlands to make up for what it disturbs due to property rates along the waterfront. Its estimated that each 2.7 miles of healthy coastal marsh reduces tidal surge from storms by one foot. Although this figure is debatable and will vary depending on geography, wind speed and vector etc, wetlands along with barrier islands, are the most natural and cost effective means to reducing storm surge.
    So while we discuss the contribution from Global Climate shift (not warming, greater extremes) we also need to discuss the collective of how we live on this planet, how we develop.
    Why stop here? The massive loss of homes in Colorado to wildfires outside of Colorado Springs was due to allowing developers to build in an area that was known to be a tinder box, and warnings were given. It wasn’t a matter of if but when. Same thing with all the flooding that occurs because we build in flood planes, or allow all the stormwater runoff to be shifted downstream to create erosion and flooding, not to mention to carry pollutants. We allow folks to build on slopes that we know are unstable and will eventually collapse. I could go on, the list is extremely long, and it is continually proven that we are a stupid species by allowing foolish development because of the stars of tax revenue in city officials eyes. We have an ill informed congress who is blind toe the impacts that humanity creates through all of our processes, and if you don’t want to call yourself an environmentalist that’s fine with me, but be a pragmatist and look at the loss of tax payers dollars in picking up after the messes of disasters that we create simply because as a country collectively, we refuse to heed the insight of the scientific or environmental community. We can engineer our way around a lot, but isn’t it time to recognize the limitations to our ability?

  36. AJ says:

    It’s sad to me that it took New York getting hit before Bloomberg had the will to throw his considerable weight into this issue. Three debates and a long campaign season and we’ve heard hardly a word about climate change except for some early, basically universal denials of its existence by the GOP primary players.

    Yet, we’re 7 years removed from my city being hit by a far more devastating, in terms of lives lost, storm. Island nations around the world are this many years closer to their destruction. The momentum of the IPCC report, an Inconvenient Truth, and the rest of the movement have been squandered. A Democratic Congress led by a Democratic President took no action.

    But New York gets hit, and suddenly it’s a game-changer? I’m all about taking action on climate change ASAP, but the last time New York galvanized this nation into action during a national tragedy, the net effect was negative: loss of civil rights, political momentum toward an illegal war of aggression, and the loss of respect for America around the globe.

    I hope this time New York leads us in a better direction.

  37. Ken Barrows says:

    “to transfer revenue to individuals”
    So, they can burn some fossil fuel. Quite brilliant.

  38. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Even a Category-10 hurricane will have no impact, particularly if those devastated are other than the denialist zealots. Total indifference to the suffering of others is a central Rightist character trait.

  39. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Excellently said! The world will go on for a wee while yet, but the rapidly fulminating ecological collapse caused by our insane, greed-driven, destructiveness, will, if not reversed by heroic action and not a little aid from the odd few miracles, see humanity vanish. The time has come where humanity must decide whether to allow the insatiably avaricious destroyers to go on wrecking the joint, or stop them, by any means available.

  40. No Ken,
    Redistribution is essential, because it allows pooor people to afford the carbon price they have to pay for their small and quasi mandatory use of carbon fuel. Rich people have ALLWAYS a very big carbon footprint, and they will pay a lot with the same carbon price for everyone on earth. This is the simple math behind the carbon price with redistribution, as proposed by Hansen and a lot of others. We have to reduce our carbon footprint, specially we rich people! This is the very purpose of a carbon price.

  41. SqueakyRat says:

    Everything may be interconnected, but causation still has a direction. Global warming is, largely, the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, not “degraded ecosystems.”