by Brad Johnson
Will the Frankenstorm be the moment that galvanizes Americans to recognize climate change as an urgent threat to our economic and national security?
Only if the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties end their silence when climate disasters strike.
The silence of our leaders in both parties on global warming amid billion-dollar disasters is a key reason the American people are not better mobilized to address the threat. Even as communities across the nation work at the local level to build climate resilience, even as American voters connect the dots between the disasters they’ve faced and carbon pollution, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have missed repeated opportunities to provide leadership over the course of the presidential campaign.
Below are the candidates’ responses to four different billion-dollar climate disasters during the campaign season:
August 2011: Hurricane Irene. Obama delivers a statement on Hurricane Irene at the White House and addresses victims in Paterson, NJ, but does not mention that the storm’s impact was intensified by oceanic warming, sea level rise, greater atmospheric vapor, and increased extreme precipitation in the Northeast connected to global warming.
Romney cancels fundraisers in Martha’s Vineyard, South Hampton, and East Hampton, two days after telling voters, “I can’t tell you how much of the warming I think we’re experiencing is caused by human beings. It may be a lot. It may be a little.”
June 2012: Colorado Wildfires. Obama announces an “all-hands-on-deck” response in his weekly address to the nation from Colorado Springs, after visiting the devastating wildfires, but does not mention the role climate change had in fueling the fires, including higher temperatures, more intense drought, and bark beetle infestations.
A week later, Romney visits the wildfires, and recommends that Americans help the victims by vacationing in Colorado. He does not mention climate change.
August 2012: National Drought. Obama announces an “all-hands-on-deck” response in his weekly address to the nation. He notes that “the month of July was the warmest month on record — warmer than any other month since we began keeping track more than a century ago,” but does not connect that to climate change.
In October, Romney jokes about the Iowa drought: “It used to be that there was rainwater in Iowa, and people cared about it – we hope it’s coming back soon.”
September 2012: Hurricane Isaac. Mitt Romney tours damage in Louisiana with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), but does not mention climate change.
Obama tours the “enormous devastation” in Louisiana, but does not mention climate change.
Mitt Romney’s climate silence is carbon-fueled. His energy adviser is oil baron Harold Hamm, and his running mate is an anti-science conspiracy theorist, so there’s little chance Romney will connect the dots between this Frankenstorm and greenhouse pollution.
Furthermore, Romney believes that federal disaster relief efforts are “immoral” and should be privatized:
However, there’s a real chance President Obama will provide leadership on climate change with Hurricane Sandy. Just this month, Obama told Iowans that “carbon pollution” is connected to “the droughts we’ve seen.” In his interview with MTV on Friday, he said he was “surprised” climate change “didn’t come up in the debates,” calling it a “huge contrast” between himself and his opponent.
We know the candidates will express their sympathy with those affected about Hurricane Sandy. They will rightly applaud the first responders, the compassion of neighbors, and the strength and resolve of the American people.
But what their role as national leaders demands that they also do is explain why this Frankenstorm is happening. We have to stop poisoning our weather and start saving our future. The candidate who is honest with voters about the climate threat now will distinguish himself as equipped to lead this nation in the 21st century.
Brad Johnson is the campaign manager of Forecast the Facts and ClimateSilence.org