Keeler: The planet's speaking -- and it's angry
People: This is your planet speaking: Listen up!
That's what I feel like screaming as I navigate my way through the aftereffects of Sandy and the nor'easter. The impact on my family -- a couple of downed trees, five days without power, a second power loss, and a wary eye on the gasoline gauge -- has been negligible compared with what others are suffering: homes destroyed, businesses without products to sell or customers able to buy them, elderly people huddled in the dark and cold, raw sewage backing up into the road and down into basements in Baldwin and cascading into Reynolds Channel from Nassau County's Bay Park treatment plant.
The other primal scream running through my mind is a message to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chief climate change denier in the United States Senate: "Hey, senator, how about buying a house on the South Shore of Long Island?"
Inhofe is not just any senator. He's the ranking minority member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works -- and he sits on its Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety. But he calls the catastrophic effects of climate change a hoax. Well, senator, hoax this!
There's no way to judge how much climate change contributed to the ferocity of Sandy. The full moon and high tide were factors, of course. But we do know this: Hurricanes get their strength from passing over warm water. In late October and early November, they tend to weaken by the time they get to the Northeast, because cooler water temperatures calm them down. Don't be fooled by the snow that followed Sandy: Ocean water temperatures have been rising steadily, and that was very likely a factor.
There's a broad scientific consensus that climate change will bring us a wide variety of freakish weather in the years ahead. Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, likes the term "global weirding" to describe what's happening and what's coming. So do I. And what we're experiencing right now is just an overture to the loud, raucous, percussion-heavy climate symphony that lies ahead for us.
Our planet is a delicately balanced system, a single living organism, and it's speaking to us now, saying: Enough, already!
From the time our species figured out how to walk upright until not terribly long ago, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 275 parts per million. Then came the Industrial Revolution and the mass use of fossil fuels to make it go. Now the level is above 390, and scientists agree that we need to get it back down to 350.
Just enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the effect of keeping the planet warm enough to support life. But too much carbon traps too much heat in the atmosphere, melts ice sheets, warms oceans and makes sea levels rise.
As Sandy has now reminded us emphatically, we are an island. We love our ocean and our bays for swimming, boating, fishing, and all the fun stuff you can do here. But we now have to realize that water can be a huge threat to our island way of life.
For the short term, the answer is adaptation: We have to figure out how protect ourselves from the damage we've already done to the planet's atmospheric balance. If we never put another ounce of carbon into the air, what we've done already will give us monster storms for years to come.
For the longer term, we have to figure out ways to cut the amount of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, we emit, to avoid making future disruptions even worse. And when climate change deniers, like Inhofe, cry hoax, our response should be: "Hoax, schmoax! Remember Sandy!"
Bob Keeler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.