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Hurricane Sandy Pushing Obama, Romney to Break Climate Silence

"The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them"

Common Dreams staff

Will Hurricane Sandy force climate change to be the decisive issue in the presidential election?

The aftermath from historic storm Sandy continues to unfold and has brought presidential campaigning by the contenders to a halt.

Both President Obama and Republican contender Romney took Monday and Tuesday off from the campaign trail, and Obama has planned to stay off the trail Wednesday as well. 

While the candidates haven't spoken to climate change directly since Sandy has made landfall, the storm itself may have already injected itself into the national dialogue--breaking the so-called "climate silence"--whether the campaigns like it or not.

"The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them," writes Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

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Sandy Roars in Face of Climate Silence

Dr. Tom Mitchell, head of climate change program at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in the UK, writes:

Hurricane Sandy has put climate change on the election agenda even if the candidates didn’t want it. The important thing now is what happens next. Tackling climate change must become a focus of the next administration, just as healthcare was for Obama’s first term. Continuing a fossil fuel focus and ducking international leadership on climate change is effectively a slow motion robbery of the future.  [...]

The evidence suggests the U.S. public has already woken up to the need for a change—70 percent now believe the climate is changing and a greater percentage than before want a switch to clean energy. Ignoring numbers like that may be rather more difficult now for both campaigns. 

Scientists recently concluded that the drought was made 20 times more likely by climate change and it seems the U.S. public agree. So the message for the politicians is as clear as it can be—more oil and gas equals more extreme weather and other climate change impacts, all of which equal greater economic losses.

Daphne Wysham,  a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, argues:

Our planet desperately needs us to get beyond the adrenaline rush of responding to one storm after another, as though each one were a unique shock, and not related to an overall climate crisis of enormous proportions. We need our political leaders and weather-casters to end the silence on climate change. And we need to start to think long-term, to start claiming responsibility for the growing intensity of our storms. Climate change is upon us, folks, and if this is what a 1-degree Celsius rise looks like, imagine what a 2, 3, or 4-degree rise looks like.

For leadership, we may have to look beyond our borders, to the Danes or the Germans: They have taken their blinders off. They have looked around, taken stock of who owns most of the oil and gas in the world, carefully reviewed what Japan is suffering in the wake of Fukushima’s multiple nuclear meltdowns, and both countries have said: We are committed to going both fossil-fuel-free and nuclear-free. These countries are committed to true energy independence — not the short-lived kind that results from trading one poisonous addiction for another. It is a long slog. It does not involve instant gratification the way storm heroics do. It involves tinkering with different policies — such as Germany’s feed-in tariff and Denmark’s multi-decadal experimentation with wind. It involves committing hundreds of billions of dollars to solving a problem that will ultimately save these countries hundreds of billions of dollars, along with millions of lives. There are few heroes in these national dramas. There are plenty of ordinary people, including women, thinking intergenerationally, thinking of their children, their grandchildren, and of children on the other side of the planet, understanding that the energy commitments we make today affect the Frankenstorms our children will suffer tomorrow.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says:

The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them. And what is a thousand-mile-wide storm pushing eleven feet of water toward our country’s biggest population center saying just days before the election? It is this: we are all from New Orleans now. Climate change—through the measurable rise of sea levels and a documented increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms—has made 100 million Americans virtually as vulnerable to catastrophe as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were seven years ago.

Jamie Henn, communications director and co-founder of, which is currently planning a post-election national tour to force elected officials and the fossil fuel industry that fund their campaigns to change their ways, sent this message to his group's members:

The fossil fuel industry has spent over $150 million to influence this year’s election. Last week, Chevron made the single biggest corporate political donation since the Citizens United decision. This industry warps our democracy just as it pollutes our atmosphere. And we’ve had enough.

Sandy is what happens when the temperature goes up a degree. The scientists who predicted this kind of megastorm have issued another stark warning: if we stay on our current path, our children will live on a super-heated planet that's four or five degrees warmer than it is right now. We can't let that happen.

Al Gore writing on his website:

"Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful...Sandy's storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse."

"Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather."

Bill Clinton speaking at a campaign rally in Minnesota Tuesday:

"[Romney] ridiculed the president — ridiculed the president for his efforts to fight global warming in economically beneficial ways. [Romney] said ‘Oh, you’re going to turn back the seas,’" Clinton said. "In my part of America, we would have liked it if someone could’ve done that yesterday."

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