Superstorm Sandy capped a year of bad weather in the United States, including droughts. These dramatic events have wrought all kinds of havoc, but they have also had one positive effect: growing awareness that we are all beginning to feel the effects of a warming climate.
Nothing made that more clear than Sandy slamming into New York and New Jersey on Oct. 29. Power is still out in some places, the worst-hit states are littered with mile after mile of wrecked homes and businesses, whole coastal neighborhoods have become uninhabitable. With an estimated damage price tag of $90 billion, Sandy is shaping up to be the second-most costly hurricane after Katrina.
All the conflicting weather phenomena will surely be discussed during the United Nations' latest round of international climate talks, which convened Monday in Doha, Qatar. While global warming appeared to be a tacitly verboten subject during the just-concluded presidential campaign, President Barack Obama raised the issue, finally, during his victory speech, calling for a "national conversation" on climate change.
The United States, with the highest rate of automobile emissions, a major greenhouse gas, has to take the lead. With a second term assured, Obama needs to make tackling climate change among his top priorities, right up there with growing jobs and reducing the deficit. If he does, future generations of Americans will hail his second term as the moment when this nation finally pulled its head out of the sand on global warming.
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We all need to be more engaged in the stark realities of climate change, which will affect the national economy over time just as much as will the huge federal debt.