Opinion: Sandy rewrites the election
President Obama, a Democrat, and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, talk to residents sheltering in Brigantine, N.J. in Hurricane Sandy's wake. The storm has rewritten the presidential race. Photo courtesy Tim Larsen/N.J. governor's office.
Nov. 2, 2012
Hurricane Sandy's destruction has suddenly and vividly injected climate change into presidential politics. It's going to be part of the discussion for years to come.
by Glenn Scherer
Blue Ridge Press
New Orleans, Tuscaloosa, Joplin, Atlantic City, New York: How many U.S. cities must be devastated, lives lost, and dollars squandered before the presidential candidates, Congress, media, and the American people recognize that climate change is one of the most serious threats to national security our nation has ever faced?
Hurricane Sandy is simply the latest example. Though hardly a candidate has mentioned it this election cycle, the climate issue looms large – from the wildfire-ravaged towns of the West, to the parched crops and dying livestock of the Midwest and High Plains, to the drowned Northeast coast.
This spring alone more than 26,000 heat records were broken. By summer, two-thirds of the country was gripped by epic drought. Now Hurricane Sandy. All this came on the heels of an apocalyptic 2011, with Hurricane Irene, the record Texas drought, city-killer waves of tornadoes, and Biblical floods on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
You don't have to be a climate scientist to sense the catastrophic change in weather. Mere days before the election, even a few hardboiled conservatives are shifting their views. GOP New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, confronted by Hurricane Sandy, has abandoned "Small Government" to embrace his new best friend, President Barack Obama. And conservative New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has now endorsed the President over Mitt Romney.
More than a hurricane
Hurricane Sandy may, in fact, be more than a hurricane. It could be the game changer that tips the scales against Mitt Romney on election day. And it could, in coming election cycles, even doom long-time, fossil fuel-backed climate change denialists like the Republican Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe.
As so-called Red States see their crops destroyed, livestock tortured by thirst, and local economies ruined, voters may start to have a change of heart. The GOP could become the next endangered species.
In fact, the economics of climate change – the very reason Republicans and Democrats alike seem to have stayed silent on the issue for so long – are now becoming the dominant reason to act decisively. North America has suffered a staggering $1.06 trillion dollars in extreme weather damage since 1980, reported reinsurance company Munich Re, just days before Hurricane Sandy struck.
That's a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, the company found. Those losses have dramatically escalated since 2005, when the Arctic meltdown kicked into high gear. Global warming "particularly affects formation of heat waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and… probably also tropical cyclone intensity," concluded Munich Re.
To see the trend, look at the horrific economic damage in 2011 and 2012 to Republican-leaning states due to unprecedented extreme weather: the Mississippi River and Missouri River floods did $5 billion in damage to Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota.
Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes did an additional $33 billion in damage in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Five swing states, critical to Mitt Romney, number on this list – Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Drought, heat waves, extreme hail, windstorms and wildfires contributed another $42 billion in losses to Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming – again, almost all Republican strongholds.
If not today, then tomorrow GOP candidates, bankrolled by the fossil fuel industry, will likely wake up to find themselves blamed by climate-change embattled constituents who have seen their businesses, farms and ranches, communities and homes wrecked by hundred-year floods, heat waves and droughts happening every three to 10 years.
The writing is on the wall. The only question is when will Americans read it? Will it be this coming Tuesday, Nov. 6? Or on a Tuesday in November 2014 or 2016? For the climate change denialists of the GOP, and do-nothing Democrats, the heat is on.
© Blue Ridge Press 2012. All rights reserved.
Glenn Scherer is editor of Blue Ridge Press, a news service that has been providing environmental commentary and news to U.S. newspapers since 2007.
DailyClimate.org is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Views expressed are those of the author and not DailyClimate.org. Contact DailyClimate.org editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] dailyclimate.org
Photo of National Guard troops in Hoboken, N.J. courtesy Spc. Joseph Davis/U.S. Army.
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