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Hurricane Sandy: Is this our turning point moment?

Posted: November 4, 2012 - 1:10am

Up until Sandy pummeled the coast of New Jersey and New York, the issue of climate change has been right there with issues like gay rights and gun control, a complete non-issue in this presidential election. While scientists still shy away from linking a particular, short term weather event as directly due to climate change which is a long term shifting of weather patterns, they’ve been more outspoken about the link between extreme weather and climate. Furthermore scientists agree that rising sea levels caused primarily by global warming worsen the effects of storms such as Hurricane Sandy.

As a result of $50 billion of devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, more people are now asking the question, “Is Hurricane Sandy Linked to Climate Change?” and in their search to this question, they will learn that this July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated for the first time that “recent extreme weather events are likely connected to man-made climate change.” In a briefing about the storm recovery effort New York Governor Andrew Cuomo clearly raised the connection between climate change and the devastation in his state. He explained, “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.”

Hopefully now armed with this insight some voters in the storm’s path might consider climate change in this year’s presidential election and here the differences could not be starker. At the Republican National Convention in Miami, Governor Romney criticized President Obama for focusing too much on global warming. He followed his criticism with this mocking line:“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family.” The response Romney received at the convention was laughter. The implication is that rising sea levels and a warming planet aren’t serious enough problems compared with a recovering economy and a soaring federal deficit.

Although President Obama has been relatively silent on the issue of climate change this election season, he has at least been consistently concerned. In a MTV interview before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama said, “I believe the scientists, who say that we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and it’s heating the planet and it’s going to have severe effects.” President Obama then went on to highlight his climate related accomplishments in the last four years, including clean energy production and requiring increased fuel efficiency in cars.

One candidate turns climate change into a punch line the other candidate quietly proceeds to do what he can administratively. However, it is New York City Mayor Bloomberg that has delivered the real political punch of Hurricane Sandy. As a former Republican, now registered independent, Mayor Bloomberg had intended to stay away from making a presidential endorsement. Hurricane Sandy changed that. “The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast – in lost lives, lost homes and lost business – brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief”, three-term Mayor Bloomberg wrote. “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.” He further lauded President Obama for taking “major steps to reduce our carbon consumption.”

Although the President has made some strides in clean energy and fuel efficiency, Congressional action is still urgently needed. The costs of rising sea levels, more extreme storms, and more-frequent droughts linked to climate change are only going to grow if Congress doesn’t act.

It is unlikely that climate change will be a game changer this presidential election put perhaps Hurricane Sandy will serve as that turning point moment, when the climate deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry will start to take a back seat to the hundreds of communities across America that have been devastated by extreme weather events. This is the punch of Hurricane Sandy that really matters. This is the punch we must address post election regardless of the outcome.

• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.

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