Amy Gehrt: Sandy makes the case for climate change
As the eastern third of the country struggles to recover from the damage Superstorm Sandy left in its wake, residents in the northeast are bracing for a second powerful storm — this one forecast to hit mid-week.
There's no denying Sandy was particularly destructive. Spanning 1,000 miles across at the height of the storm, Sandy claimed more than 100 lives in 10 states, forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate and left 8.5 million homes and businesses without power. And, with damage estimates at $50 billion, Sandy is now the second most expensive storm in U.S. history.
The impact of the superstorm has also been felt in the American political arena, re-igniting a debate about climate change and prompting the popular mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, to endorse President Barack Obama.
"Our climate is changing," Bloomberg writes. "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 went on to say, "We need leadership from the White House, and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption."
Bloomberg Businessweek took it a step farther, boldly proclaiming on its cover: "It's Global Warming, Stupid."
The in-depth piece has loads of statistics and scientific research to back up its statement, but as a big baseball fan I believe one analogy drives the point home particularly well.
"We can't say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther," explains Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. "Now we have weather on steroids."
New York climate scientist Scott Mandia, who coauthored a book on the rising sea level, also made the case for climate change, telling the Los Angeles Times, "After this crazy weather we've been having the last several years — Irene last year, Sandy this year, the drought, the fires, floods — it's getting more and more difficult for people to deny what everybody sees with their own eyes. I think people are starting to connect the dots."
Polls seem to reflect that growing acceptance. A HuffPost/YouGov poll taken Oct. 29-Oct. 30 finds that 61.3 percent of respondents agreed global warming is occurring, compared to 18.4 percent who said it's not and 20.3 percent who were unsure. Democrats, Republicans and independent voters were all polled, and in each group, the majority believed global warming is indeed happening.
A poll conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in September shows even stronger support for the climate change argument. According to its results, 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is real, and more than half think human activity causes it. Fifty-eight percent even reported being "somewhat" or "very worried" about it.
So why weren't we hearing more about climate change and candidates' positions ahead of Superstorm Sandy? The topic didn't come up in any of the presidential debates. In fact, despite the hurricane-related problems that plagued the Republican National Convention in Tampa this past summer, one of the only mentions of climate change I can recall is when Mitt Romney mockingly referred to Obama's pledge to help halt climate change, saying, "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
The only other mention came during the Democratic National Convention a week later.
"Yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is not a hoax," Obama said. "More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future."
That way of thinking is likely to resonate with more Americans now, after the steady stream of stories, photos and videos depicting the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and I hope it also leads to some lasting leadership on the very real problem of climate change.
Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.