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.