Early this month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made headlines when he ripped into his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives for allowing their political gamesmanship over spending and budgets to torpedo an aid package for Hurricane Sandy. Then last week, Governor Christie did the rounds on five different national television networks to discuss the GOP’s current dysfunction and the destruction the superstorm left throughout his state.
But despite the extensive coverage, there was one issue that was noteworthy for its complete and utter absence. After tracking the five interviews, Salon reporter David Sirota noted that Christie was not asked about climate change once:
Somehow, in interviews with every major national television news organization about an unprecedentedly severe weather event, Christie wasn’t asked about climate change. That’s right, he wasn’t asked about whether Hurricane Sandy changes his views on climate change or whether Hurricane Sandy means we should address climate change more urgently. He wasn’t asked whether homes should be rebuilt in New Jersey’s climate-change-threatened areas. He wasn’t even asked why he didn’t mention climate change in his first state of the state following the hurricane.
Indeed, he wasn’t challenged with a single question about the entire issue. Not one.
As Sirota notes, this latest punt on the issue of climate change is part of a larger media trend. A recent study by Media Matters found that coverage of the topic collapsed on both the Sunday shows and the nightly news after 2009. The nightly news reports have modestly improved since 2010, but remain severely depressed from their 2009 peak. Their more prominent Sunday competitors are still scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Christie himself is self-contradictory on the question of climate change. He’s bluntly stated that “it’s real,” that “human activity plays a role,” that it’s “impacting our state,” and that “it’s time to defer” to the 90 percent of scientists who agree with those assessments. But in May of 2011, Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state alliance along the northeast and the Atlantic seaboard to set up a regional cap-and-trade system. Like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Christie took the political risk of stating climate change is a problem and humans contribute to it, but then torpedoed actual policy to address those human contributions under pressure from his fellow conservatives and the rise of the Tea Party.
Human-driven global warming raises sea surface temperatures, which in turn drives up the energy of these storms as they form over the ocean. The higher temperatures increase water vapor in the air, leading to 5 to 10 percent more rainfall and an increased risk of flooding. Even the unusual high pressure system that drove Sandy into the northeastern coast rather than back out to sea has been linked to global warming.
In December 2012, 69 percent of New York State residents told a Siena Research Institiutue poll that they blamed climate change for Sandy. And in November of that year, 57 percent of Americans told the National Journal that they thought climate change will make storms like Sandy more likely.
All that, combined with Christie’s politically heterodox, outspoken, and pugnacious nature, his own mercurial record on climate change, his governorship of the state devastated by one of 2012’s most extreme weather events, it’s remarkable that the networks didn’t pose him a single question on the matter. As Sirota observed, “It seems there is now an unspoken rule in television news mandating that the topic of climate change is to be eschewed when at all possible.”
- Yes, Climate Change Contributed To Superstorm Sandy
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