Obama and Romney remain silent on climate change, the biggest issue of all

George Monbiot writes: Here’s a remarkable thing. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama – with the exception of one throwaway line each – have mentioned climate change in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

They are struck dumb. During a Romney rally in Virginia on Thursday, a protester held up a banner and shouted “What about climate? That’s what caused this monster storm”. The candidate stood grinning and nodding as the crowd drowned out the heckler by chanting “USA! USA!”. Romney paused, then resumed his speech as if nothing had happened. The poster the man held up? It said “End climate silence”.

While other Democrats expound the urgent need to act, the man they support will not take up the call. Barack Obama, responding to his endorsement by the mayor of New York, mentioned climate change last week as “a threat to our children’s future”. Otherwise, I have been able to find nothing; nor have the many people I have asked on Twitter. Something has gone horribly wrong.

There are several ways in which the impact of hurricane Sandy is likely to have been exacerbated by climate breakdown. Warmer oceans make hurricanes more likely and more severe. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, increasing the maximum rainfall. Higher sea levels aggravate storm surges. Sandy might not have hit the United States at all, had it not been for a blocking ridge of high pressure over Greenland, which diverted the storm westwards. The blocking high – rare there at this time of year – could be the result of the record ice melt in the Arctic this autumn.

This might sound like the wisdom of hindsight. But in February the journal Nature Climate Change published an article warning that global warming is likely to “increase the surge risk for New York City”. As storms intensify and the sea level rises, it predicted that storm surges previously described as 100-year events would become between five and 30 times as frequent.

Four years ago, Obama pledged that “my presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change”. He promised a federal cap and trade system and “strong annual targets” to reduce carbon pollution. But he ran into a ridge of high pressure. His cap and trade bill was killed in the Senate in 2010.

At a meeting in the White House in 2009, his strategists decided that climate change was a banned topic: it caused too much trouble. From then onwards, Obama would talk about clean energy and green jobs and improvements in fuel economy, but would seldom explain why these shifts were necessary. The problem with this approach is that you cannot engineer a sustained reduction of greenhouse gas emissions only by getting into clean energy: you also have to get out of dirty energy. And that requires statesmanship: active and persuasive engagement with the public. [Continue reading…]

As a second-term president there’s some chance that Obama could rise to that challenge. The chances of Romney taking up the issue are I would say precisely zero.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 thoughts on “Obama and Romney remain silent on climate change, the biggest issue of all

  1. Steve Zerger

    Climate change denial is exasperating, but climate activists practice their own form of denial. There is a sense in which the belligerent, cretan right-wingers are right. They grasp the fact that any truly meaningful response to the issue would mean the end of their way of life, whereas progressives like to pretend otherwise. Let’s see…we need to quickly phase out fossil fuels (why wait?, they are going away anyway). Pretty much every human artifact which we use, live in, etc., and every activity which we engage in contain enormous amounts of embodied fossil fuel energy (10 calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of food produced). Common sense would suggest that we will need to rapidly reduce the population of the planet by some astronomical percentage – 50% probably doesn’t even take care of our current degree of overshoot. Those remaining will need to go back to some form of pre-industrial mode of subsistence, and will have to stay put. Now…how do we package this into a palatable international political program? I’m sorry, I wish it were possible, but I’m afraid I’d have to say the chance of that happening is precisely zero, no matter who wins.

    But that is where we are going anyway. This is the solution to our problem in exactly the same sense that the middle ages were a solution to the problems of the Roman Empire:


    There are no structures to smoothly lead society to where it is going, especially in times of dramatic upheaval. There are only structures to fight against the change every step of the way.

  2. Steve Zerger

    The myth of progress is the fundamental religion of our times. We always believe that we will be saved by the next technological miracle. But there are no loopholes in the laws of thermodynamics. The depth of the coming betrayal will be too deep to sound. Many will think that this is unduly negative. But as with death, it is only negative to those who are unable to accept it. Life will go on, and there will be beauty in it… beauty which is sufficient unto itself regardless of the fate of any individual or society, or even humanity itself.

Comments are closed.