There are jokes and there is seriousness behind the origin myths of storms, the names we choose to give what attracts and repels us, the stories we tell about things we struggle to understand. My quick mix here of mythology and meteorology, etymologies and cultural history is only meant to point to the obvious: Science is not the language of everyday culture, even, often, for scientists.
And because of that, scientific facts alone have not and will not be enough to get us to comprehend or cope with the scale of the issues our planet faces, the clouds of crisis that with that sweet name Sandy, literally gathered around my hometown within minutes, when the power went out and put half of Manhattan into a week of darkness.
Let's step back again to language of the Mad Men years, to to be precise.
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The seeds of the climate storms and changes that bring us here today go back to scientific debates that took powerful shape in In that year, two scientists provoked some weather in our intellectual discourse that matters significantly for how we think and talk about climate change -- and climate change denial -- and how we give name to things and ideas in a world where the children of Typhon increasingly rage wildly. First, there was Gilbert Plass, who wrote an article in Scientific American using, for the first time together in a major journal, the expressions "greenhouse gases" and "climate change," speculating about how one might affect the other.
And later that same year, another scientist gave a famous lecture, called " The Two Cultures. Snow, warned that we had "two polar groups Between the two, a gulf of mutual incomprehension. But Snow believed both cultures had rich knowledge to share, that the gap between them was bridgeable. He dedicated his life to that possibility. I hope our being here together is further dedication to that same conviction, that we can understand one another and that there are urgent things to say.
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Perhaps, though, the gap is not most urgently between us -- not between the humanities and sciences. It is really more that all of us together must find the language to bridge the gap between science and the public imagination, between the dangers the world faces and the complacencies that fuel them. We say that education fosters mutual understanding. And usually we talk about doing this by reaching across different cultures separated by geography. But there also an urgent need for mutual understanding between different cultures that even share the same cities and towns and popular culture, but are divided by education, income, opportunities, histories of belief, habits of mind.
Since those two lectures -- the first concerns about climate change and the blunt acknowledgment that smart people could not seem to talk to each other -- since then, in 50 years, trillions of dollars have been spent in coastal development, with attendant deforestation, air and water pollution with millions of people pressed, often desperately, into flood zones or on the barren edges of growing deserts, while carbon dioxide emissions have doubled in the last decade, and sea levels have risen as much as five inches -- five extra inches of water in the past half century for the children of Typhon to throw at us, while millions of others have no water at all.
The higher the water rises, the faster it flows because it faces less friction above the surface. So storm surges run inland faster and farther -- drowning more of our kith and kin. The U. Army Corps of Engineers calls this the "depth-damage function": as the waters rise, the damage rises exponentially. My neighbors and I saw this with stunned surprise as Sandy "depth-damaged" New York and New Jersey with speed and ease that we were not prepared for.
What else are we not prepared for?
Let me repeat that: One tenth of all mammals in the Western Hemisphere will likely be wiped out. As ENS reports :.
Hardest hit will be primates, including tamarins, spider monkeys, marmosets and howler monkeys, some of which are already listed as threatened or endangered Nearly all the hemisphere's primates will experience severe reductions in their ranges, on average about 75 percent. The problem is that climate change will catch up with mammals before they have the capacity to adapt. And because of human habitation, they will have nowhere else to move. Consider human habitation itself. Consider it in just one small, tragic and beautiful place. Consider Haiti where I was last week with the Secretary of State and President Clinton to celebrate the opening of a sustainable power plant, new housing, roads and an industrial park.
It was a joyful occasion, but it doesn't change the fact that Haiti, as I'm sure you've heard, happens to be directly in the path of a hurricane corridor.
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Each year, during the rainy season, it is battered by a rising number of tropical storms. Talk about the children of Typhon. One thousand people died. And 60 percent of Haiti's crops. And now this year: New York and New Jersey are just beginning to pull ourselves out from the havoc and suffering and loss of Sandy. More than dead. Thousands homeless.
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Current projections forecast large swaths of coastline exposed to storm surges reaching more than nine feet above sea level. These historical benchmarks are not loss estimates.
Of these, Eloise has the track closest to the current forecast, while Opal and Dennis made landfall further to the west. Also of note, Hurricane Hermine impacted this region in as a Category 2 storm, which was weaker than the current forecast for Michael. Hermine brought down a number of trees along the coast and near Tallahassee, so there are fears that Michael may do the same and even worse. With the countdown until landfall rapidly ticking away, unlike the slow, stalling approach of Florence, time to prepare for the impact of this major hurricane is unfortunately in short supply.
Chief Research Officer, RMS Robert Muir-Wood works to enhance approaches to natural catastrophe modeling, identify models for new areas of risk, and explore expanded applications for catastrophe modeling. Robert has more than 25 years of experience developing probabilistic catastrophe models. He has also written numerous research papers and articles in scientific and industry publications as well as frequent blogs.
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