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.