Climate Is Systemic Cause of Storm Intensity

Yes, Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy

Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy — and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world.  Let’s say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.Yellow cabs line a flooded street in Queens, New York in hurricane Sandy’s wake. (Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features)

Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer.  HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS.  Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents.  Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

There is a difference between systemic and direct causation.  Punching someone in the nose is direct causation. Throwing a rock through a window is direct causation. Picking up a glass of water and taking a drink is direct causation. Slicing bread is direct causation. Stealing your wallet is direct causation. Any application of force to something or someone that always produces an immediate change to that thing or person is direct causation.  When causation is direct, the word cause is unproblematic.

Systemic causation, because it is less obvious, is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require some special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism.  In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tends not to be direct, but is no less causal.  And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled.

Above all, it requires a name: systemic causation.

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