Millions of victims of Superstorm Sandy remain without power, but they are not powerless to do something about climate change. The media consistently fail to make the link between extreme weather and global warming. Through this catastrophe, people are increasingly realizing that our climate has changed, and the consequences are dire.
One meteorologist who defies the norm is Dr. Jeff Masters, who founded the weather blog Weather Underground. As Sandy bore down on the East Coast, I asked Masters what impact climate change was having on hurricanes. He said: “Whenever you add more heat to the oceans, you’ve got more energy for destruction. Hurricanes … pull heat out of the ocean, convert it to the kinetic energy of their winds.”
Masters’ blog became so popular, it was purchased by The Weather Channel. As Sandy moved up the coast, Masters continued with our interview: “When you do heat the oceans up more, you extend the length of hurricane season. And there’s been ample evidence over the last decade or so that hurricane season is getting longer—starts earlier, ends later. You’re more likely to have this sort of situation where a late-October storm meets up with a regular winter low-pressure system and gives us this ridiculous combination of a nor’easter and a hurricane that comes ashore, bringing all kinds of destructive effects.”
Mitt Romney must rue that line in his Republican National Convention speech, days after Hurricane Isaac narrowly missed hitting Tampa, Fla., and the convention, when he quipped: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” Romney drew a big laugh from those gathered to nominate him. No one is laughing now. Sandy’s U.S. death toll has reached 50, with 8 million without power. Initial estimates put the cost of the damage at tens of billions of dollars.
Romney’s latest position on climate change is no surprise, since it conforms with his consistent pivot to the right, away from his previously held views. As recently as 2007, he told CNBC’s “Kudlow and Company,” “But no question about one thing—it’s getting warmer, and [there are] a lot of good reasons for us to use less energy, to use it more efficiently and to develop sources here in this country that could allow us to be more independent of foreign sources.”
We also should not let President Barack Obama off the hook. Recall the presidential debates, where he continually boasted of his fossil-fuel credentials. “Oil production is up, natural gas production is up,” he said at Hofstra, during the second debate. “I’m all for pipelines. I’m all for oil production.” In none of the three presidential debates was climate change mentioned, even once, not by the major-party presidential candidates and not by the moderators.
Masters partially attributes the lack of discussion to the power of the fossil-fuel lobby: “You’re talking about the oil and gas industry … about the entire basis of the industrialized economy. With these sorts of storms, people are going to wise up at some point and say: ‘Hey, what’s going on? Maybe we shouldn’t mess with the very forces that enable us to live on the planet Earth.’ … We’ve got to get self-preservation in our minds pretty soon, or this is just the start of things, Here we are in the year 2012; what’s going to be happening in 2030 if we’re already seeing storms like this?”
ThinkProgress did an analysis of the 94 stories in major newspapers in the week leading to the superstorm. Not once was climate change mentioned. In a 600-page report issued in November 2011, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority assessed in detail the likely effects of climate change on every aspect of the state. The summary provides a litany of disasters likely to visit The Empire State in coming years, from floods, droughts and rising sea levels displacing entire communities to the complete flooding of the New York City subway system. Sound familiar?
As power is restored to the millions without it, there is a power that cannot be taken from us. That is the power to decide, especially as we move into this election, that the issue of climate change, and what we can do about it, will never be excluded from the national debate again.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.