Hurricane Sandy brought climate change issues to stark light in the American Presidential elections held this November. Perhaps the most high-profile example was when Michael Bloomberg, three-term mayor of New York and perhaps America’s most prominent high-information swing voter, pointedly endorsed President Obama on November 1st. Bloomberg wrote in an op-ed piece on Bloomberg View, “The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.” Bloomberg went on to write, “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
He stated that currently local governments are taking action where national governments are not, highlighting the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and PlaNYC as two such examples of local government action. However, he stated, “we can’t do it alone. We need leadership from the White House — and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.”
Bloomberg, who has previously been critical of Obama, broke down his choice to vote for the president in the following way: “When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.”
Hendrick Hertzberg from the New Yorker magazine beautifully outlined these two different visions of America “on education, on marriage equality, on the direction of the Supreme Court, and, above all, on the warming of the earth and the rising of the seas, that virtually all scientists agree, are the work not of Providence but of people, and were factors in Sandy’s severity and in the likelihood of many more such catastrophes to come.”
Wrote Bloomberg, “One [candidate] sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not … I want our president to be on the right side of history … I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics …. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both found success while their parties were out of power in Congress — and President Obama can, too. If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours. And that’s why I will be voting for him.”
Bloomberg’s endorsement wasn’t only a push for Obama, it also helped create a deluge of media chatter on the issue of climate change, especially during a presidential race that had until then hardly touched upon the topic. Indeed, in an analysis done by the Huffington Post, it was found that silence on the issue of climate change was most acute in this election than in an entire generation of elections.
Bloomberg’s endorsement put an end to the silence, causing a flurry of media attention. In the UK, The Guardian wrote, “Bloomberg brings climate change out of the closet in stunning snub to Romney.” India’s The Hindu wrote, “In a major political boost to Barack Obama, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an otherwise fierce critic of the President, has endorsed his bid for re-election, citing his efforts in dealing with climate change as the city recovers from the destruction caused by superstorm Sandy.” A New York Times headline from November 1st read: “Bloomberg Backs Obama, Citing Fallout From Storm.” The article went on to state, “He said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the better candidate to tackle the global climate change that he believes might have contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage … Mr. Bloomberg’s endorsement is another indication that Hurricane Sandy has influenced the presidential campaign. The storm and the destruction it left in its wake have dominated news coverage, transfixing the nation and prompting the candidates to halt their campaigning briefly.”
But the question is: will all this media chatter create tangible action in 2013? What is the mood in the climate change community right now? Stay tuned to the Baird’s CMC blog for an in-depth four-part conversation with Aditya Bahadur, a Baird’s CMC consultant, climate change scholar and all-round expert on environmental issues, to get an insightful take on these questions and more. You can also read Bahadur’s thoughts on an interesting climate change concept called ‘resilience’ here.