There is plenty of debate about how, if and in which way Hurricane Irene is related at all to climtae change. This plays directly into my Master’s Thesis, where I make the distinction between physical climate change and the idea of climate change.
Let me use the example of Hurricane Irene, which landed on the East Coast of the USA in August 2011, to illustrate the difference between physical climate change and the idea of climate change. In the aftermath of the hurricane’s devastation several sources such as news outlets, nature writer Bill McKibben and Governor of Vermont Pete Shumlin made claims that climate change had caused the hurricane and that there was a relationship between the two. Bill McKibben said “Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming” while Governor Shumlin claimed there is a “relationship between climate change, fossil fuels, our continuing irrational exuberance about burning fossil fuels, in light of these storm patterns that we’ve been experiencing… We didn’t used to get weather patterns like this in Vermont. We didn’t get tropical storms.” In response to these claims two environmental bloggers, Andy Revkin and Roger Pieke Jr.  commented that these claims were premature and painted a different picture of the events. What we see in McKibben’s and Shumlin’s comment are descriptions of physical climate change (in the case of Shumlin not even that, he merely describes weather, not climate, while McKibben does use data from a meteorologist) interspersed with a heavy ideological narrative of how climate change is connected to these weather phenomena. The responses of the bloggers both attempt to deal specifically with physical climate change using climate data and academic studies and avoid meddling in an ideological narrative, though they probably do have their own ideas about climate change. These studies present in fact a downward trend in hurricane landfall in the U.S. due to wind shear and a long history of hurricane landfall in Vermont, such as “Hurricanes Edna and Hazel in 1954. Hazel tracked from the Carolinas all the way to the city of Toronto in Ontario, with wind gusts of over 70 mph and considerable tree losses in the Burlington area” (Dupigny-Giroux 2002).