No doubt you and your loved ones have been inconvenienced (or worse) by this week’s Hurricane Sandy—the Frankenstorm. Its unprecedented ferocity wreaked bloody havoc on our lives. Probably a lot more when we get a chance to evaluate everything. Yet remarkably this “once in a century” storm (closely following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, another “once in a century” storm) has been stomping steadily towards us for a long time, just as predicted by Climate Change theory. Our present trajectory-- business as usual—ensures more of them.
Mainstream media anticipated this storm’s potential for damage and helped keep many from harm’s way, but there was little connecting the dots on this extreme weather event and Climate Change.
As ‘Frankenstorm’ Barrels Towards East Coast, Newspaper Coverage Ignores Connection To Climate Change Media have dubbed the hurricane barreling toward the mid-Atlantic and northeast a “Frankenstorm.” But despite the hysteria surrounding Hurricane Sandy, not one major newspaper has reported the scientifically established link that carbon pollution fuels more extreme weather. In the last week, Sandy has been mentioned in at least 94 stories in major newspapers. Yet a Nexis search found that zero of these stories mentioned “climate change,” “global warming,” or even “extreme weather.” (October 26, 2012) Think Progress Climate Progress [more on Climate Change in our area]
But you can’t keep a big storm down. Hurricane Sandy has left many of our politicians stunned—not just by the damage to their constituency’s lives, property and infrastructure, but to their own political prospects. And that makes news!
Romney is reeling as he has to endure the backlash from his absurd position on privatizing disasters.
ROMNEY: “We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.” Mitt Romney: Federal Disaster Relief For Tornado And Flood Victims Is ‘Immoral,’ ‘Makes No Sense At All’ (June 14, 2011) ThinkProgress.
As The New Yorker notes Romney Has a Christie Problem and a FEMA Problem. The Romney statement about FEMA highlights the absurdity of Climate Change denial. At the end of a disaster, it will be your government who rescues you, keeps you safe, and makes sure your city gets put back together again. With Climate Change the buck does stops at the government and no amount of rhetorical gymnastics is going make the privatization of disasters recovery a rational prospect. Rent-a-cop doesn’t just have the same clout as the National Guard.
Governor Cuomo, allegedly running for president in 2016, happened upon some artful doublespeak on Climate Change and the hurricane this week. According to this San Francisco Chronicle article ‘Climate change is a reality…we are vulnerable’, Cuomo said: “It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable”. However, in the same conversation, Cuomo also said: “People will debate whether or not there is climate change…,That’s a whole political debate that I don’t want to get into.” Cuomo: Helicopter Survey of Sandy Damage "Disturbing" (October 31, 2012) WXXI News. But sadly, Climate Change demands leadership not equivocation. The catastrophes caused by extreme weather due to Climate Change cannot be accomplished by a leader who doesn’t lead. (Maybe the reason why Cuomo even considers the idea of Fracking New York is because he doesn’t understand Climate Change. Hmmm…)
Not to be unsullied, Hurricane Sandy has thrown some pie in President Obama’s face also—making his Climate Silence position dodgy.
Revealed: the day Obama chose a strategy of silence on climate change Sandy has blown climate change back on the agenda – and many believe the White House was wrong when it decided in 2009 that climate change was not a winning political message The invitation to the White House in the spring of 2009 struck Barack Obama's allies in the environmental movement as a big moment: a clear sign that climate change was on his radar and that the president was eager to get to work. The event was indeed a turning point, but not the one campaigners expected. Instead, it marked a strategic decision by the White House to downplay climate change – avoiding the very word – a decision some campaigners on the guest list say produced the strange absence of climate change from the 2012 campaign, until hurricane Sandy blew it right back on the political agenda. (November 1, 2012) The Guardian
Climate Silence was a bad political strategy for both Mitt and Obama and it may not be so kind to Cuomo either—because nature (physics) cares not for politics. Yet, we might sympathize with their frustration at the public: It’s probably an American cultural anomaly that the burden of proof for Climate Change be placed on those claiming that increasing greenhouse gases results in planetary warming and an increase in extreme weather events. Wouldn’t it make more sense for those who continually deny Climate Change to prove that millions and millions of tons of fossil fuel emissions were going somewhere else than our atmosphere and our oceans and warming all that up?
Anyway, that’s what we do: blame the victims and the whistle blowers. Doubt in something as inconvenient as Climate Change persists. Granted, there is a lot of science missing from a problem we have been avoiding for a long time and disinclined to fund. To get a sense of the deep quagmire caused by this dearth of information and the moral problem of “wait until there’s proof” read the excellent article in Two Views of a Storm in Climate Context (October 30, 2012) in DotEarth that questions the link between Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change, and be sure to read all the exchanges with Dan Miller.
Climate Change is a problem that took a long time to develop and it will take a long time to address. Politicians must balance between the practical problem of getting votes and the need for strong leadership on this issue. This great human-caused warming presents a political quagmire of biblical proportions that will probably take a century or more to work itself out—but we don’t have that long. The reason that it is so important for the public to understand climate change is that while the argument between scientists goes on about the exact relationship between Climate Change and any particular storm or extreme event, the public will get impatient. Any politician promising not to increase their taxes and affording the public the lure of climate denial will always have an advantage over another politician who understands the threat and only promises more taxes to fortify the government’s role in adapting to and mitigating Climate Change. Should our leaders simply pander to the prevailing political wind, a wind that will ensure more Climate Change?
Not in the real world. While Climate Silence may work politically at times, it will not work when a Frankenstorm hits just before an election. A disaster is nature’s way of giving your political strategizing a reality check. But if the public continually throws out leaders trying to address the long, tedious, and expensive problem of Climate Change, we will not be prepared for those Frankenstorms coming at us even if those politicians win.