By Stephen Leahy

I am saddened by the damage and loss of life but am truly surprised you are so shocked by the extent and severity.

Haven’t you noticed hurricanes, cyclones and other storms have become more powerful in recent years?  And that extreme weather events like record flooding, droughts and heat waves are happening more frequently? In 2012 extreme weather records were broken all over the US. In 2011 there were 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters in the US including flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Did you notice my relatives? They’ve been all  over the planet. In the past 20 years extreme events have had major impacts on developing countries like Bangladesh, Burma and Honduras that have suffered most in terms of damages and lives lost.

Last year, we displaced 38 million people with climate-related disasters such as the flooding in Pakistan and China.

And all this is happening in part because the air and sea have become warmer over the past 50 years. The world has already warmed 0.8C and will rise to least 1.6 C even if emissions of the hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil, and natural gas ended today. (There is a time lag in the climate system. The current global warming is result of CO2 emissions from the 1950s-1970s)

Tree fall in Hoboken, NJ

You should bear that reality in mind. There is twice as much warming to come, guaranteed. I’m sorry to say it may be too late to do enough to prevent threefold (3X) or even fourfold (4X) increase in the current warming.

Canada is 1.3 C warmer today than 50 years ago. It will be 4C warmer in a few decades. Temperatures in the US will not be far behind.

As the last of my winds and rains ebb I wish you a complete and climate-wise recovery. Our planet is not as it once was. You have seen some of the changes in your lifetime: the superstorms, floods, drought, heat waves, and the melting of the Arctic.

Jersey shore Sandy flood

Other changes are invisible such as the 30 percent increase in the acidity of the oceans. This rising acidity is harming coral reefs, fish and many other inhabitants of the oceans. One third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from burning fossil fuels has been absorbed by the oceans. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it makes them more acidic.

All of these changes and far more with only 0.8C (1F) rise in global temperature. You want to believe all of this is natural. It is true I am part of nature but I have felt and fed off the extra heat energy in the oceans and additional moisture in the air you have unintentionally put there. The air, oceans, landscape have changed. Some call this time of major human impacts on the planet “The Anthropocene”. A big word to describe a big change: the era when humanity is influencing every aspect of life on the planet.

This reality means humanity’s childhood is over. That means accepting that we are all part of nature. It means accepting that humans are no more important to the planet than any other form of life. And it means understanding that in order for humanity to flourish, nonhuman life must be able to flourish as well.

My winds destroyed tens of thousands of trees. You may kill as many to clear wires, homes and property. Some will want to kill many more trees in cities, towns and along roads to prevent future disruption and damage. I say move the wires, keep the trees. Trees cool the planet, slow winds, trap climate-heating CO2, filter air pollutants and provide you and many other creatures with life-giving oxygen. Where trees flourish, humans flourish.

Countries at Climate Risk

And for humans to flourish end the wasting of invaluable reserves of oil, gas and coal by burning them. Fossil fuels are a one-time gift of the planet’s long history and made from plants and trees that flourished over 100 million years ago. Paints, plastics, fertilizers, asphalt, cosmetics, clothes, medicines, inks and thousands more products are made from fossil fuels. Potential and future uses stretch the imagination.

Goodbye and Kia orana. (May you live well)