Yes, yes, it's unsophisticated to say that any given storm is caused by climate change — many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. And climate deniers exploit that scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.
Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it:
Is it possible that this kind of storm could have happened without climate change? Yes, fueled by many factors.
Was this storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.
Is it possible that Barry Bonds could hit a home run without steroids? Yes, based on many factors. We can't say that any one home run was caused by steroids. But...
Do steroids help Barry Bonds hit more home runs and hit them farther? Yes.
"Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth's atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us." - Mark Fischetti of Scientific American
Globally, the rate of extreme weather events is rising, and "nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America." From 1980 through 2011, weather disasters caused losses totaling $1.06 trillion. Munich Re found "a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades," in a prescient report titled Severe Weather in North America.
By contrast, there was "an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe, and 1.5 in South America." Human-caused climate change "is believed to contribute to this trend," the report said, "though it influences various perils in different ways."
If Hurricane Sandy does nothing else, it should suggest that we need to commit more to disaster preparation and response. With once-in-a-century floods now occurring every few years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the country's biggest city will need to consider building surge protectors and somehow waterproofing its enormous subway system. "It's not prudent to sit here and say it's not going to happen again," Cuomo said. "I believe it is going to happen again."
The U.S. can't afford regular Sandy-size disruptions in economic activity. To limit the costs of climate-related disasters, both politicians and the public need to accept how much they're helping to cause them.