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Sandy the Frankenstorm: "If There Was Ever a Wake-up Call, This Is It"

Bill McKibben says we've got to put the fossil fuel industry front and center if we're going to avert catastrophe


AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Medford, Oregon, broadcasting from Southern Oregon Public Television.

Much of the East Coast is shut down today as residents prepare for Hurricane Sandy, a massive storm that could impact up to 50 million people from the Carolinas to Boston. New York and other cities have shut down schools and transit systems. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been evacuated. Millions could lose power over the next day. The storm has already killed 66 people in the Caribbean, where it battered Haiti and Cuba.

Meteorologists say Sandy could be the largest ever to hit the U.S. mainland. While not as powerful as Hurricane Katrina, the storm stretches a record 520 miles from its eye. Earlier this morning, the National Hurricane Center said the hurricane’s wind speed increased to 85 miles per hour with additional strengthening possible. Describing it as a rare hybrid "superstorm," forecasters say Sandy was created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm. The storm could cause up to 12 inches of rain in some areas, as well as up to three feet of snowfall in the Appalachian Mountains. Flooding is also expected to be a major problem. The National Weather Service has warned of record-level flooding and "life-threatening storm surges" in coastal areas. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced it’s taking special precautions for the storm. There are at least 16 nuclear reactors located within the path of the storm. Six oil refineries are also in the storm’s path.

While the news media have been covering Hurricane Sandy around the clock, little attention has been paid to the possible connection between the storm and climate change. Scientists have long warned how global warming would make North Atlantic hurricanes more powerful. Just two weeks ago, the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a major study on the connection between warmer sea surface temperatures and increase in stronger Atlantic hurricanes. The report said, quote, "In particular, we estimate that Katrina-magnitude events have been twice as frequent in warm years compared with cold years."

We begin today’s show with two guests. With me here in Oregon, we’re joined by Greg Jones, climate scientist and professor of environmental studies at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. And joining us by  Democracy Now! video stream is Bill McKibben, co-founder and director of  350.org. He’s author of numerous books, including  Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. On November 7th, 350.org is launching a 20-city nationwide tour called "Do the Math" to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

We welcome you both to  Democracy Now! Let’s start with Bill McKibben. Bill, you’ve just made it back to Vermont, to your home. Can you talk about the significance of what the East Coast is facing right now?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I think, Amy, that the first thing is this is a storm of really historic proportion. It’s really like something we haven’t seen before. It’s half, again, the size of Texas. It’s coming across water that’s near record warmth as it makes its way up the East Coast. Apparently we’re seeing lower pressures north of Cape Hatteras than have been ever recorded before. The storm surge, which is going to be the very worst part of this storm, is being driven by that huge size and expanse of the storm, but of course it comes in on water that’s already somewhat higher than it would have been in the past because of sea level rise. It’s—it’s a monster. It’s—Frankenstorm, frankly, is not only a catchy name; in many ways, it’s the right name for it. This thing is stitched together from elements natural and unnatural, and it seems poised to cause real havoc. The governor of Connecticut said yesterday, "The last time we saw anything like this was never." And I think that’s about right.

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