By Julio Godoy
Back in 1779, the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya painted a scene that obviously was already common at the time in that retrograde country of his: An old man – or it can be an old lady – is beating a child on the bottom in front of numerous other children in a classroom. Some of the children are crying, for they just suffered the teacher’s barbarous pedagogical methods. Goya titled his masterpiece “La letra con sangre entra” – freely translated, “spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Since then, the saying is used to express either the notion that discipline is sine qua none of school and education, or that people won’t learn by a rational approach to events, but have first to suffer the harsh consequences of their folly, to finally grasp whatever evil happened to them, and avoid it in the future, by modifying their own conduct.
It seems the U.S. society is finally learning to accept the reality of climate change – but it had to be Goya’s way. The “Frankenstorm” Sandy was apparently necessary for U.S. society’s mainstream to come to terms with the dire reality of global warming and climate change.
Otherwise there is no explanation for the U.S. magazine Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s cover of November 1: “It is global warming, stupid!” that it titled in the aftermath of the devastating storm, rephrasing Bill Clinton’s famous campaign slogan of the early 1990s.
In the cover story, Bloomberg BusinessWeek first describes Sandy as a Goya-like brutal teacher giving the U.S. north-east coast a particularly bloody rod treatment: The magazine recalls that storm killed at least 41 people in New York, caused economic losses as high as 50 billion U.S. dollar, and left some eight million homes without power: It then goes on to quote a number of distinguished scientists to confirm that the storm developed to that monstrous force of nature only because of human-made global warming.
Baseball player doped with steroids
The most memorable quote goes to Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who compared Sandy to a baseball player doped with steroids. “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 other words: Greenhouse gases emissions are the atmospheric steroids Sandy needed to become a Frankenstorm. The argumentative line is that storms are surely natural phenomena. Sandy would have happened without global warming – but it became that Frankenstorm only because anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide have helped to warm up oceans. By the same token, average global temperatures have increased, making the atmosphere more humid, adding force to an otherwise “normal” storm. Et cetera.
For decades and until Sandy lashed out, most U.S. citizens would deny the reality of climate change, and prefer to boast, as George Bush Sr. once did: “The American way of life is not negotiable.”
During the pre-Sandy electoral campaign, both candidates did not even mention global warming and climate change. While Barack Obama avoided the subject, obviously out of fear that such a theme would repel voters, Mitt Romney also remarked that his objectives as president did not include to “slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.”
Although Romney in the past admitted that climate change is real, he has also said that “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.” He and many of his compatriots may not want to know it – but for the rest of us are very clear about the causes of climate change. Or, as the New York Times science columnist Maggie Koerth-Baker recently put it, Romney acknowledges that climate change exists, “but would still rather not take any decisive steps to deal with it.”
Playing to the gallery
By so doing, Romney and Obama have been playing to the U.S. gallery – for that majority of their fellow citizens who prefer to continue burning fossil fuels and emit more greenhouse gases per capita than anywhere else in the world, in the name of a reckless conception of freedom, and ignoring the overwhelming evidence that their stupid spitting in the sky is falling in their eyes – in our eyes, actually. Ask the Haitian or Cuban peoples about the devastation Sandy also caused in their countries!
As for overwhelming evidence: According to the German reinsurance company Munich Re, the largest in the world, the rising number of natural catastrophes is more evident in North America than anywhere else. In a report released October 17 and titled “Severe Weather in North America,” Munich Re found out that between 1980 and 2011, the overall loss burden from weather catastrophes was 1,060 billion U.S. dollars, in 2011 values. The insured losses amounted to 510 billion U.S. dollars. Some 30,000 people lost their lives due to weather catastrophes in North America during this time frame.
The study also shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America.
As if it was necessary, Munich Re recalls: “Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways. Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity. The view that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense in various regions due to global warming is in keeping with current scientific findings, as set out in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as in the special report on weather extremes and disasters (SREX).”
That Sandy’s rod may indeed be educating the spoiled U.S. child is shown by Romney’s most recent backpedalling on climate change. Asked by a bystander during a rally in Ohio November 2 whether he thinks that “the rising of the seas is funny”, Romney responded, “I never imagined such a thing is funny.”