For climate book author, superstorm was no surprise

NEW YORK — Mark Hertsgaard was less surprised than many New Yorkers when Hurricane Sandy blacked out lower Manhattan, flooding subway stations and tunnels.

The author foresaw that specific Gotham nightmare in “Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth,” a 2011 book examining how governments and communities worldwide are attempting to reduce global warming and adapt to the rising sea levels and extreme weather that scientists say it causes.

“I take absolutely no joy in the fact that I, like others, was reporting well in advance that this was a scenario that climate change was likely to bring about,” said Hertsgaard, a fellow with the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute, and environment correspondent for the Nation, a left-leaning 147-year-old magazine.

“Hot” is a hopeful if grim call to action. Hertsgaard concludes that even if the world stopped burning fossil fuels today, because of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere the planet will face decades of intensifying summer heat, rising sea levels, storms and droughts.

“What do we do now given that we’re already locked into 50 years of rising temperatures?” asked Hertsgaard, co-founder of the nonprofit activist organization Climate Parents. “It’s not enough to put in bike lanes and solar panels, because we didn’t do that 25 years ago.”

New York City is better positioned than most to adapt because its political leaders recognize the need and residents are more amenable to government-organized solutions than in many other parts of the country, he said.

“And New York has lots of money,” said Hertsgaard, 55, speaking by phone from his home in San Francisco. “Bangladesh knows what to do, but it doesn’t have the money to do it.”

Building sea walls may not be an ideal solution for New York, as they’d cost tens of billions of dollars and leave parts of the city unprotected, he reports in the book. But the nation is long past the point of choosing among ideal solutions, he said.

“Yes it will cost a lot of money with New York,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any question that you can justify that expense, because you’re talking about some of the most expensive and economically productive real estate on Earth.”

Hertsgaard blames the coal and oil industries for funding a disinformation campaign about global warming.

Just last week, the $48,000 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award was given to “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” by Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation.

“For all the people critical of Obama for not doing more: Grow up,” said Hertsgaard, co-founder of the nonprofit activist organization Climate Parents. “No American president can take on the richest industry in human history without strong, sustained popular pressure behind him.”

Piecemeal progress to slow global warming isn’t enough, he said. “We have to radically ramp up efforts or it’s not going to matter very much.” Still, the storm has put the issue back on the national agenda before Tuesday’s presidential vote.

“Who would’ve thought the October surprise in this election would be climate change?” Hertsgaard said. “And it’s getting resonance because this storm hit the media capital of the United States.”

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