As the Eastern Seaboard deals with Hurricane Sandy, climatologists are trying to understand the conditions that created the storm. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, has suggested that climate change is at least part of the answer.
"The air is on average warmer and moister than it was prior to about 1970 and in turn has likely led to a 5 to 10 percent effect on precipitation and storms that is greatly amplified in extremes," Trenberth is quoted as saying in an article on thinkprogress.org. "The warm moist air is readily advected onto land and caught up in weather systems as part of the hydrological cycle, where it contributes to more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring."
Reports suggest the damage Sandy is causing in the United States may reach into the billions of dollars. But many other countries, much less well off than the United States, are in Sandy's path as well. The devastating effects of the storm will be felt especially keenly in countries struggling to establish their economies and industry.
Take, for example, Haiti. Sandy’s aftermath there includes 52 confirmed dead so far, 20 missing and scores of new cholera cases. "It is yet another grave reminder of just how badly the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country needs economic development, if only so it can finally have the kind of homes, roads, bridges and drainage systems that won’t be swept away like so much Caribbean beach sand every time a cyclone comes through," wrote Susana Ferreira for Time Magazine.
A 2008 hurricane in Haiti killed hundreds of people and destroyed 60 percent of the crops. The country's location makes it especially susceptible to storms induced by climate change. This is problematic because “more frequent and more intense storms and rainfalls could harm Haiti’s food supply, as serious erosion and poor soil health lead to decreased livestock and crop productivity,” according to Madeleine Rubinstein, the research coordinator for the Columbia University Climate Center.
Haiti is not the only country where climate change-induced storms are wreaking havoc. Indonesia and Bangladesh are highly sensitive to tropical storms. Rising seas threaten to cover island countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati.
For this reason, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik believes that reducing carbon emissions is one of the most effective avenues for addressing global poverty available to Western policymakers. Rodrik isn't the only one advocating this type of approach. In a blog post the European Development Commission argued:
"If the fight against poverty is to be based on our traditional carbon-heavy growth path, the climate consequences will be devastating, even if the richer parts of the world were to get rid of all emissions today. The result would be floods, drought, dramatically reduced food production and a great loss of our precious biodiversity. All of this would obviously lead to a dramatic increase in poverty around the whole world, but as always the poorer countries would be the hardest hit."