Congress About to Get Hit in the Head With the Price of Climate Change

| Thu Nov. 29, 2012 4:21 PM EST

A few weeks ago I linked to a piece Chris Mooney did for us about the effect of climate change on Hurricane Sandy. Chris made the point that although you can argue about whether climate change is responsible for any particular hurricane, there's no question that climate change is responsible for a rise in sea level, which makes the damage from hurricanes much worse than it otherwise would be. And that includes Hurricane Sandy. "There is 100 percent certainty that sea level rise made this worse," sea level expert Ben Strauss said. "Period."

Well, it turns out the news is even worse than that. A new study using satellite data suggests that, if anything, forecasts of sea level rise in the most recent IPCC reports have been too low. Global warming is about where the predictions say it should be, but the amount of warming we're getting is increasing sea level a lot faster than we thought it would. The chart below shows the difference between reality and the two most recent IPCC forecasts.

This unexpected rise isn't due to medium-term variability, and it's not due to a temporary release from Greenland's ice sheets. The most likely explanation is simply that sea level rise is more sensitive to global warming than we thought. Congress—along with all the skeptics who argue that it's cheaper to pay the price of climate change than it is to stop it—should think about this when they're considering the $100 billion in disaster funds that northeastern states are requesting to clean up after Sandy.