As we sit at Bowdoin evaluating the aftermath of the Frankenstorm—just two weeks after the Great Maine Earthquake—our presidential candidates are scrambling in the face of the destruction, trying to salvage as much as they possibly can from their final week of campaigning.
Both men have had to cancel rallies, and President Obama has to grapple with the effects of the disastrous storm as both candidate and President.
As an article in the New York Times argued on Monday, national perception of his response to Sandy could seriously affect voter opinion.
Obama has gotten some positive feedback already; Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie called his reaction “outstanding” and others have pointed to the passage last September of a bill increasing the goverment’s funding of FEMA as an example of the President’s foresight.
But both candidates have cause for concern. The aftermath will likely present logistical concerns—early voting will probably decrease drastically on the East Coast, including critical battleground states like Virginia.
Most worrying for President Obama is that natural disasters can have significant effects on an incumbent’s re-election chances.
Although it may seem obvious that voters will either respond positively or negatively to President Obama based on their perceptions of his response to the hurricane, political science professors at Princeton argue that there are more even more nuanced factors in how the climate can influence the election.
Professors Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen co-authored a study in 2004 arguing that extreme weather conditions influence voters to punish incumbents and vote for the “out-group”—in this case, Mr. Romney and the Republican Party.
And, as we’ve forgotten as we switch our jorts and flip flops for raincoats and Bean Boots, by the end of September 37 percent of the contiguous US was listed as experiencing severe to extreme drought on the Palmer Drought Index, with as much as 52 percent of the country experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions. Now, at the end of October, Hurricane Sandy has wrecked New York City.
Someone told me in Thorne the other day that her uncle in New Jersey found a shark in his front yard.
Billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild. What’s a President to do about such bad weather?
Well, it’s certainly ironic that both Obama and Romney have yet to highlight the “c-word” in their campaigns. Climate change, that is. An article Mother Jones published earlier this month describes “a growing number of scientists, environmentalists, and science policy advocates whose jaws have dropped steadily lower over the past month, as the presidential debates have unfolded without any mention of the single leading science-based political and environmental issue.”
It’s shocking that neither candidate dared to even name the beast.
In the second debate, which clearly focused on energy policy, Obama outlined his commitment to public funding for clean energy technologies, but attributed his motivations for doing so solely to reduced dependence on foreign oil and a need to invest in “the energy of the future.”
Romney, a man who (at least since I last checked) has admitted to the existence of climate change, couldn’t seem to acknowledge any real need for large-scale energy reform beyond upping our domestic extraction of the big three: oil, coal, and natural gas.
The scientific consensus is that climate change is happening at a much faster rate than originally thought, and that the evidence overwhelmingly attributes this change to human activity.
Increasing global temperatures make severe weather events, like the drought this summer and our freakish hurricane, significantly more likley.
Scientists like to use the analogy of loaded dice to illustrate this third phenomenon; rising temperatures and CO2 levels weight the dice more and more towards larger numbers—the more you roll, the higher the likelihood you’ll roll a five or a six (fives and sixes being severe droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes).
If anything, this consensus should’ve been the most important thing discussed at the debates—climate change is real, it’s happening now and as we have just seen, it has implications for the safety of the American people.
Four years ago, we worried about what Obama and McCain would do to address global climate change. This year, however, we worry about whether or not the candidates will even address the issue by name.
If climate change has become so politically noxious that neither of our presidential candidates will even speak about it, despite the mounting evidence of its existence, where can we look to find compromise and bipartisanship?
After Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast and the candidates’ campaign plans, the time is more urgent than ever to free climate change from its political headlock—the same headlock the far Right uses to claim that the female body can stop a pregnancy after a rape and that “intelligent design” should be taught in our public schools—and put it back into the fields of objectivity and peer review.
If we trust the scientific method to develop the drugs we put in our body, construct the chips in our laptops and iPhones and grow human ears on mice to one day use as transplants, we should also trust science to correctly inform us on the nature of climate change.
Studies analyzing the ecological and environmental factors that contributed to the making of Hurricane Sandy will emerge in the coming months, examining such variables as how rising sea levels affected the storm surge that flooded parts of Manhattan and the above-average ocean temperatures over the summer.
We need to consider this research, and use this as the consensus to start really addressing this.
Debates can be had over whether strategies like a federal carbon tax or state-run cap and trade projects will do the trick, but establishing the objective scientific base for this debate is the first, logical, and politically feasible step toward change.
Sandy, in bringing the reality of natural catastrophe to our own shores, should be our wake up call.