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Silence on Climate Change Is Deafening

This post originally appeared in the National Journal's Energy Experts blog as a response to the question: "What Is Climate Silence Costing Us?"

The recent silence on climate change in the U.S. political discourse is extremely troubling. As we can see from the recent spate of extreme weather events, the costs of inaction are clear in terms of both environmental and economic impacts. If we are going to meet the challenge of the global climate threat, we need to have a real, rational discussion about climate change. Having that discussion requires national leadership on this issue.

The irony is that despite the relative silence on the campaign trail, U.S. public opinion on climate change is shifting, with a growing number of people recognizing that more needs to be done to address this issue. As WRI’s president Andrew Steer said in a recent New York Times interview, “On climate change, the political discourse here is massively out of step with the rest of the world, but also with the citizens of this country. Polls show very clearly that two-thirds of Americans think this is a real problem and needs to be addressed.”

More Extreme Weather: America Prepares for Hurricane Sandy’s Impacts

This post was co-authored by Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

With much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast bracing themselves for Hurricane Sandy's landfall, it’s important to note the human toll this hurricane has already left in its wake. At least 39 lives were lost in Haiti and Cuba, and more than 3,000 buildings were damaged in eastern Cuba alone by the hurricane.

Many are predicting that this storm will bring significant damage to United States. If Sandy hits with full force, the Mid-Atlantic could face rainfall totals between 3 and 7 inches in Washington, D.C., historic flooding along the coasts, and widespread power outages resulting from wind gusts that could exceed 60 mph. The storm could exceed the impacts of Hurricane Irene, in August 2011, which brought record rainfall and cost nearly $10 billion in damage.

States along the eastern seaboard are preparing for the storm. Governor Christie ordered the evacuation of New Jersey’s barrier islands and closure of the state’s casinos by 4 p.m. Sunday. Governor Cuomo ordered New York City’s transit service to suspend bus, subway, and commuter rail service starting at 7 p.m. Sunday.

The Climate Change Connection

Extreme Weather: A Mixed Bag for Dead Zones

This post was co-authored with Bob Diaz, a WRI partner and professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

This year’s extreme weather events—a warm winter, even warmer summer, and a drought that covered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States—has certainly caused its fair share of damages. But despite the crop failures, water shortages, and heat waves, extreme weather created at least one benefit: smaller dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

On a normal year, rain washes pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous from farms and urban areas into the two bodies of water, fueling algae growth. When this algae dies, it consumes oxygen and creates hypoxic areas, or “dead zones,” which can kill fish and other marine life. Less rain this year meant fewer pollutants making their way into the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. The Chesapeake Bay’s summer dead zone was the smallest since record-keeping began in 1985, and the Gulf of Mexico’s covered one of the smallest areas on record.

Timeline: Extreme Weather Events in 2012

Over the past several months, extreme weather and climate events in the form of heat waves, droughts, fires, and flooding have seemed to become the norm rather than the exception. In the past half-year alone, millions of people have been affected across the globe – from Europe suffering from the worst cold snap in a quarter century; to extreme flooding in Australia, Brazil, China, and the Philippines; to drought in the Sahel. Records have been broken monthly in the continental United States, with the warmest spring and 12-month period experienced this year and severe fires and drought affecting large swaths of the country.

So how bad has it really been? Below we have put together a timeline of extreme climate and weather events in 2012. We have by no means attempted to be comprehensive in listing events, but have aimed to include some of the most significant occurrences this year. Please let us know through the comment section if we are missing some, as we plan to update the timeline periodically.

Hurricane Isaac Caps Off America’s Summer of Extreme Weather

This post was co-authored by Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

Almost seven years ago to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, a new hurricane came ashore on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. While Hurricane Isaac has been much less intense than Katrina, it has caused serious damage, with heavy rains, storm surge, and winds of up to 100 miles per hour.

Hurricane Isaac comes at the end of a U.S. summer season filled with extreme weather events. From heat waves to droughts to wildfires, the United States has seen little in the way of relief from severe events over the last several months. In fact, the majority of the lower 48 states are still facing drought. While Isaac may relieve drought conditions in some areas of the country, recent forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center project drought conditions to continue through large parts of the country at least through November.

America’s Vulnerability to Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

Summer 2012: The Season of Record-Breaking Extreme Weather

This post was co-authored by Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

The summer of 2012 is poised to go down as a record-breaker. (And no, we’re not talking about the Olympics).

Extreme weather and climate events continue to make headlines throughout the United States. Last month marked the end of the warmest 12-month period the nation has ever recorded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently declared July to be the hottest month ever in the United States since the government began recording temperatures in 1895. And already, 2012 has seen more temperature records tied or broken than in all of 2011, a year with an unprecedented 14 extreme weather events in the United States, each causing more than $1 billion in damages.

The Missing Link: Droughts, the Economy and Climate Change

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

The effects of the vast drought afflicting America’s farm belt are rippling across the economy. Major companies apparently feeling the heat from rising crop prices include McDonald’s, Smithfield Foods, and Archer Daniels Midland, which processes agricultural commodities.

More than half of the nation’s pasture and rangeland is now plagued by drought – the largest natural disaster area in U.S. history. And with corn prices soaring as crops wither, other sectors are nervously watching the weather forecasts and assessing potential impacts on their business. For example:

The Science Behind the U.S. Drought

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

Heat and drought continue to blanket the United States, leaving 54 percent of the nation’s pasture and rangeland, 38 percent of its corn crop, and 30 percent of soybeans in “poor” or “very poor” condition. As of the end of June, 55 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate or extreme drought – the most extensive drought in more than half a century (see map from last week’s US Drought Monitor).

U.S. Drought Demonstrates Complexity, Severity of Water Risk

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

As much of the United States continues to suffer through what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has called the country’s most extensive drought in more than 50 years, there is growing concern over how broad and severe the impacts may be. Events like this drought—which are projected to become increasingly common should climate change continue unabated—provide a sharp reminder of how heavily communities and global economies rely on water.

They also teach another lesson: Natural resource challenges like water scarcity cannot simply be viewed as environmental issues. They are real, material drivers of risk that governments, businesses, and investors must carefully consider in the context of the global economy.

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