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Keeler: After Sandy, Cuomo raises the inconvenient truth of extreme weather

Gov. Andrew Cuomo walks through lower Manhattan early

Gov. Andrew Cuomo walks through lower Manhattan early Tuesday morning as megastorm Sandy was moving out. (Oct. 30, 2012) Credit: C.S. Muncy

Finally, an important government official saying the truth about our planet. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been on top of the detailed preparations for Hurricane Sandy and the recovery, rose above the nitty-gritty reality of the moment to speak a stark, important truth that our two presidential candidates would do well to hear.

"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents," the governor said at a news conference on Tuesday as officials discussed the aftermath of the storm. "That is not a political statement. That is a factual statement. Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality.”

The reality, of course, is that the warming of the planet is changing the climate in ways that will continue to spawn freakish weather events. It's the new normal. Get used to it.

The governor didn't use the phrases that have been all but missing in this presidential election cycle: global warming or climate change. But he did offer a lighthearted remark that summed it up neatly in one sentence: “I said to the president kiddingly the other day we have a 100-year flood every two years now.”

To his credit, Cuomo made clear that the changing weather expectation is going to have to change the way the greatest city in the world rethinks its future. “So this city doesn’t have experience with this type of weather pattern and this type of situation," the governor said. "I think it’s something we are going to have to take into consideration and educate ourselves. And as we are going through the reconstruction and the rebuilding, we have to find ways to build this city back better and stronger than ever before -- to make sure that if there is another situation like.”

Amen to that. In those remarks, Cuomo covered half of what the response to climate change must be: adaptation to the change that has already happened and is very likely to continue happening. Adaptation has become crucial, because we haven't done enough as a nation -- or as a species -- to curb the carbon we are dumping into the atmosphere.

Cuomo's comments are encouraging, as far as they went. Let's hope that his hands-on experience in managing the immediate crisis, and in planning to rebuild the city smarter and better, will lead him to think more deeply and show some leadership on the causes of climate change. Adaptation is necessary, but far from sufficient.