Hurricane Sandy's wake-up call
Climate chaos rears its head even as pols look away
Published: November 7, 2012
Leading up to the just-completed presidential election, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney engaged in three prime-time debates that lasted about 90 minutes each.
In addition, VP Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan squared off in their own confrontation, bringing the total to about six hours' worth of debate between the men who want to lead this country for the next four years.
In all that give-and-take over what are supposed to be the most important issues facing this country, how much time was spent discussing the issue of climate change and what, if anything, America should be doing to address it?
We didn't have a stopwatch going, but a fairly good estimate is: Absolutely zero.
There was time for Mitt to talk about the need to cut off Big Bird's government funding, but not a second to spare for discussion of a subject that could end up becoming the defining issue of our lifetime.
The president, likewise, has largely remained AWOL on this vital issue during the long campaign.
Absolutely pitiful. And unconscionable.
In terms of presidential politics, we are actually going backward as the problem grows, becoming both more intense and more undeniable.
Obama, at least, has been consistent in saying that global warming is not a "hoax" and that measures must be taken to address it. However, having failed to make any significant progress during his first term (thanks in large part to resistance from congressional Republicans) he's been largely mum about the threat of global warming and plans to deal with it during the just-completed campaign.
For his part, Romney has been true to form and come down on different sides of the issue. According to Pro Publica, he said in October 2011, "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."
His tune changed this past September, when he wrote that he believed "the world is getting warmer," and "human activity contributes to that warming" but that there was no clear scientific consensus regarding the extent of the problem. He did, however, stay with the claim that trying to reduce carbon emissions is too costly and would stifle economic growth.
Now, following the devastation of what's been dubbed Superstorm Sandy, we are seeing firsthand the costs — in terms of lives lost, property destroyed, and crippled commerce — and just how important this issue is to all of us.
Can it be said with certainty that Hurricane Sandy is the result of global warming?
Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, used a baseball analogy to answer that question.
"We can't say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds," Pooley wrote, "but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids."
But just as Major League Baseball's honchos long turned a blind eye toward the steroid use that threatened to completely undermine the integrity of the game, this presidential campaign season brought us candidates who were unwilling to put front and center a problem that is only going to become more severe if nothing serious is done to address it.
In one sense, this presidential contest represented a major step backward when it comes to discussion of climate change and the steps needed to seriously address it.
As Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, notes in a Huffington Post blog, "... this year was the first time since 1984 that climate change was not even mentioned in the presidential debates. And while climate silence reigns, the planet warms. Year after year, extreme weather slams communities and wildlife habitats across the globe. Since 1980, the number of extreme weather events in the United States has steadily increased. Our economy, strained by the recession, must also shoulder the burden of rescue, repair and insurance costs, not to mention lost revenue from extended business closures."
Adds Clark, in a piece headlined "Hurricane Sandy and the Cost of Climate Silence":
"Opponents of climate change action often cite the cost of breaking our addiction to fossil fuels. But if left unaddressed, climate change only promises to be a bigger budget-buster down the road. It's not like Hurricane Sandy was the first weather disaster this year. The 2012 drought that had the U.S. in a stranglehold this summer has increased the price of corn and beef, and pork, poultry and milk prices are expected to rise as well. Already the drought has cost the U.S. economy $12 billion.
"The western United States also suffered through an onslaught of wildfires this summer: Over 3.6 million acres were burned in August alone. In Colorado, the wildfires this summer have caused an estimated $450 million in personal property damage so far. Our national forests and refuges suffered damage as well: The Little Sand Fire burned nearly 25,000 acres of land in the San Juan National Forest in southern Colorado."
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