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Changing weather

Published October 30. 2012 4:00AM

We can't help but note the terrible irony that as the nation assesses the damage from another major weather catastrophe - this time a hybrid hurricane-nor'easter with the benign name of Sandy - that climate change was a non-issue in the presidential campaign.

Republicans never cease to warn of the financial burden deficit spending is leaving future generations, but seem blithely unconcerned with what kind of planet our children's children may inherit. Worse yet, they scoff at those who caution about the disruptions to human activity, food supplies and habitable areas a warming planet may cause.

Gone is any discussion of cap and trade, which originated as a conservative idea for capping emissions by penalizing polluters and awarding those industries that reduce emissions by using market incentives. Republicans now call it an unnecessary "business tax," while most Democrats avoid making an argument for reducing greenhouse gases for fear of being labeled anti-business.

Given the growing economies of China and India, will it be difficult to slow and reverse greenhouse emissions? Of course. But to not even try is inexcusable.

While the recent storm cannot be directly linked to global warming, the trends are ominous. In 2011 the United States set a record with a dozen billion-dollar-plus weather disasters. That was more than the number of such disasters seen during the entire decade of the 1980s, even accounting for inflation. NASA studies show that high clouds are increasing as the Earth warms, and with them rain and storms. In the Northeast the frequency of extreme weather is double what it was in the middle of the 20th century. The vast majority of climatologists are convinced human activity is creating, or at least speeding up, the Earth's warming.

Warming of the Gulf Stream off the East Coast has destabilized frozen methane deposits trapped under nearly 4,000 square miles of seafloor. Methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas. Scientists believe this phenomenon, which could accelerate global warming, is happening elsewhere as well.

But don't expect that to show up in presidential speeches this week.

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