Like rich folks through the ages, those on the Hill can look down on the poor, flooded, folks with impunity – except when they forget why rich folk always live on the hill and move into new high-cost waterfront developments. Still, some events can force even the elite, insulated by-and-large from the consequences of their own elitism, to face facts. Hurricane Sandy is one of those events.
Today, Business Week leads with an eye-catching cover and the words “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” headlining an article by assistant managing editor Paul M. Barrett which says Sandy was a clear sign of climate change, of “weather on steroids” . Good for them, I mean that.
But prior to Sandy, neither Business Week nor any other mainstream media outlet has exactly been clamoring for the two presidential candidates to set out a position on the issue. Instead, there was only some self-satisfied chuckling that climate change didn’t make it onto the agenda in the presidential debates, after the media drove down the issue by refusing to cover it. In 2011, there were only 580 climate-related editorials in U.S. newspapers – down from a high of 1,229. In 2012, before Sandy, there had only been fourteen. It’s not as if they had nothing to write about.
Scientists and government agencies have documented the devastating extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that there were a record-high 14 weather events in 2011 that caused at least $1 billion each in damages. By our estimates there were at least seven additional events with more than $1 billion each in damages in 2012, with total combined damages from the two years topping $67 billion. In addition to these events, economists predict that the 2012 drought will cause between $28 billion and $77 billion in damages, potentially bringing the two-year damage total to $95 billion to $144 billion. During this time, all but five of the lower 48 states were affected by one or more of these events.
Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurance firm, found that North America is experiencing a tremendous rise in extreme weather disasters—a nearly fivefold increase over the past three decades. It reported that, “There has been a 35 percent increase in the size of storms in the Gulf of Mexico since 1995.” It also concluded that this is due to climate change, and that this trend will continue in the future.
Discussing which came first – media apathy or political ignorance – is like debating chicken vs. egg. The Guardian points to spring of 2009 as the point at which Team Obama decided talking about the threat of climate change was not a winning message, instead casting the entire debate in terms of green jobs and clean energy – economic arguments that left the field open for Republican denialists to debate the issue on economic terms instead of looking weak in the face of a clear and present threat. Pro-Publica notes that, while Romney has been all over the place on whether he believes in global warming, his arguments have been the denialist’s economic ones and his stated policies are denialist economics too. Obama, by contrast, has nothing:
in an unusually candid interview with The Des Moines Register last month that the administration initially insisted remain off the record, Obama sketched out his agenda for a second term, including tackling the deficit and immigration reform. He didn’t mention climate change.
Both the media’s opinion leaders and policymakers on a bipartisan basis deserve a “heckuvva job”, don’t they?