Changing Planet

Climate Change Wins Big in 2012 Elections

Post-Tropical Sandy rolling inland on Tuesday, October 30 (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)

Clint Eastwood was on the right track when he talked to an empty chair at the end of August. There was an empty seat all through the fall, as the candidates for U.S. president went back and forth on most of the critical issues that Americans face.

The one crisis that neither candidate mentioned during their debates, though—for the first time since 1984!—was climate change. Unlike the economy, healthcare, or schools, there is just no obvious reminder that our planet’s weather is changing. Unless, of course, you live in one of the many states experiencing severe drought or worse this year.

In other words, it should not have taken Hurricane Sandy, a super colossal storm flooding New York, the nation’s largest city, to refocus our attention. Climate change is here, it’s been here, but we’re still burying our heads in the sand. And that chair that Eastwood was talking to? In Long Beach, NY, they had to burn the dining room chairs to keep warm after the floods ripped through the town.

Yet the candidates for president and vice president completely dodged the question of climate change.  Actually, they didn’t dodge the question because the debate moderators for all four debates never felt the need to ask the question. The closest the candidates came to discussing climate change was a digression at times on whether Obama hated coal, which was rebutted without mentioning why it may be helpful to at least limit coal in the nation’s energy portfolio.

Climate change itself was never really brought up until New York City Mayor Bloomberg surprisingly endorsed President Obama mostly because of his work to mitigate climate change.  Bloomberg’s sensitivity to the climate issue was heightened, perhaps, by what Sandy did to his city.

In the end, however, climate change had the last laugh at our political process.  The climate-change impact that had not been discussed by scientists is the effect of global warming on the actual elections.

Election Day in the U.S. takes place on the first Tuesday of November, towards the end of the Atlantic hurricane season.  One would think that for all the chatter and research about increasingly severe and unpredictable weather during this season, the potential for large electoral disruptions because of a hurricane would have been explored in depth.

But the failure in many quarters to take global warming seriously has prevented such foresight.  Even in New York City, where Bloomberg has pushed an immense agenda to reduce the city’s emissions footprint, getting the election process climate-ready has not been a priority. As a result, New York and New Jersey residents in particular had a tough time casting their vote yesterday.

The bottom line? Climate change needs to be part of both the political and electoral dialogue.  It cannot be avoided anymore, and it was the overwhelming victor in the U.S. elections this year.


Dan Klotz is a veteran writer and advocate on conservation efforts and the health and sustainability of our food systems. Dan's career has spanned a wide range of policy issues, including protecting sharks around the world, securing the land rights of indigenous communities, addressing the sustainability and research needs of agriculture both domestically and internationally, advocating for smoke-free workplaces, cleaning up toxic waste sites, and preserving wild areas on land and in the ocean.
  • Alex Coletti

    Preparation to severe weather and climatic changes requires short term and long term plan. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a necessary condition but is not a sufficient one. Consideration must be given also to building resilient communities, changing construction standards, integrating communities with ecosystem services, improving climate prediction and forecast, and developing smarter utilization of natural resources in both industry and agriculture.

  • Jack Bower

    no one is buying this man made global warming crap anymore . get a new idea to put your hand in the pockets of the people that still have a job .

  • John Englander

    Could not agree more. Let’s hope that Sandy puts some reality to this issue and that Obama rises to the severity of the situation. Few people grasp the big picture of what is really at risk with sea level rise. It will rise for centuries, permanently eliminating nearly all coastal communities worldwide. Explained in new book, “High Tide on Main Street.”

  • serviceman

    ..and in other news, the Dow Jones plunges 300 points. Just in case you missed the back page of today’s newspaper.

  • Carol

    We do need to address the carbon emissions and climate change problems with a number of simultaneous initiatives: an energy policy that allows firms and consumers to make smarter choices and long-term investments, plans to maintain and upgrade our infrastructure and make it compatible with renewable energy sources, education and training to give people the skills needed for more sustainable energy production, distribution and storage, smarter management of resources and ecosystem services. Society’s list of needs and chores is endless. Job creation should come automatically once we are ready to tackle our most difficult and most pressing problems.

  • Ima Ryma

    Climate change – now the p.c. way
    To call Mom Nature’s weather woes.
    Global warming – so yesterday.
    Mouths spew warnings, nobody knows.
    Most of politicians’ hot air
    On the climate is to cash in.
    Al Gore is now a zillionaire
    For selling all his hype and spin.
    Sandy cane hit a time and place.
    The voters there were weather warned,
    And status quo still won the race.
    Mom Nature, not one to be scorned.

    Mom Nature’s wrath ever will be.
    Talk is a waste of energy.

  • jack

    The deniers should be put in the clown car with the Holocaust/Moon Landing/Evolution Deniers and not be provided any more credibility by the mainstream media any longer.

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