Day -8: The climate change election?

During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney mocked the idea of stopping sea-level rise.

“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans — [bites lip and pauses for audience laughter(!)] — and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

For the Republicans, who had to cancel a day of their convention due to Hurricane Isaac, climate change is a punch line for a very unfunny joke.

Flooding from Hurricane Sandy in Long Island, NY
Flooding from Hurricane Sandy in Long Island NY

As I write this, the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States is bracing for the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which has been dubbed a “Frankenstorm” due to combination of weather. Really, we are witnessing the steroid effect of climate change, which makes freaky, extreme weather even stronger, more unpredictable and damaging.

Here’s why Hurricane Sandy is such a big deal:

It’s not so much that Sandy is an incredibly strong storm, with winds at about 85 mph. NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division put the destructive power of Sandy’s winds at a modest 2.6 on a scale of 0 to 6. The real danger comes from the potentially huge storm surges the hurricane could cause along coastal areas. NOAA put the storm surge threat from Sandy at 5.7 on that 6 point scale—greater than any hurricane observed between 1969 and 2005, including Category 5 storms like Katrina and Andrew. NOAA’s National Hurricane Center says that “life-threatening storm surge flooding” is expected along the mid-Atlantic coast.

The 2012 election has seen relatively little focus on climate change. Although Obama has made it clear that he does not believe climate change is a hoax (a line from his own acceptance speech in North Carolina and in several presidential debates), and supports increased investment in clean energy (as part of his “all of the above” approach to energy policy), there is no dedicated climate policy.

For Mitt Romney, the case is even clearer. While Romney himself may not be a climate denier, the Republican party is filled to the gills with climate denalists and Romney’s energy advisors are made up exclusively by lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry and Big Oil is donating millions to Republicans. Romney would actually cut climate change and clean energy investments and ramp up dangerous fossil fuels.

Why is this so? It’s not clear, as The Atlantic magazine explains, climate change is back on the agenda for many Americans.

Recent polling data make clear, however, that extreme weather is leaving Americans increasingly worried about climate change. A mid July survey from the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, found that 70 percent of the public thought climate change was happening, an increase from 65 percent in March. What’s more, a series of public opinion reports and analyses — some based on data collected prior to the record heat waves of the summer, which suggests the public is even more alarmed now than when those surveys reached them — have indicated that global warming is a potential political winner, rather than an electoral albatross.The conventional wisdom that activists like Taylor want to upset emerged following the 2008 economic collapse–when many climate advocates were painted as wannabe energy taxers, and a sharp contrast was drawn between helping the economy and helping the climate. Then came “Climategate,” apseudo-scandal which has since been debunked, but which planted the idea that climate scientists had made up results to scare the public, and weakened Americans’ concern about global warming Upshot: In the 2010 congressional elections, a number of Democrats who’d voted for cap-and-trade were picked off by Republican challengers. The most prominent victim: Virginia’s Rick Boucher, a 14-term Congressional vet who lost to a Tea Party opponent who’dpilloried his pro-cap-and-trade vote. Moderate Republicans known for taking climate change seriously, like former South Carolina Rep. Bob Ingliss, were also sent packing.

In the media, there is a significant level of silence connecting the dots between the extreme nature of Hurricane Sandy and climate change. This election cycle, mentions in the media of climate change has been largely absent.

As extreme weather becomes the “new normal”, it’s time to end the silence on the dangers of global warming.

It remains to be seen what kind of impact the Sandy superstorm will have on the 2012 election. I do know that both Romney and Obama campaigns are suspending or reducing their campaigning in affected states. Nate Silver for example is on the fence over the impact. The biggest impact really is to depress the early voting in Eastern Seaboard swing states like North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.

With Obama winning the early vote by around two to one, the storm could be good for Romney.

On the other hand, Romeny did call for the privatisation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — which could be very unpopular in the aftermath of the hurricane.

UPDATE: How the Hurricane impacts GOTV

Campaigns & Elections reports:

Both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have altered their campaign schedules as a result of the storm. Obama cancelled a Tuesday campaign rally in Wisconsin, while Romney cancelled a Monday event, as well as all of the campaign’s planned stops on Tuesday. Sandy is certain to impact a numberof presidential battleground states—even Ohio is expected to feel the effects.

For campaigns, the storm will alter critical last minute planning tasks, including GOTV operations, which have ground to a halt in many parts of the Mid Atlantic. The biggest worry for both presidential campaigns, says Republican strategist Phillip Stutts, is that efforts to turn out unreliable voters in states like Virginia, North Carolina and New Hampshire have now stalled.

“Since these are unreliable voters and early voting locations are shut down, it might push that voter to not vote,” warns Stutts. He thinks campaigns are likely to shift non-target states to make GOTV calls into battlegrounds affected by the storm, but messaging will have to be adjusted.

“Phone and email scripts will need to be sensitive to the devastation that a particular voter may be going through,” Stutts says. “So the message is more important than the messenger.”

From my perspective, the risk of power-outages may have the biggest impact on GOTV — which will damage the mainly online coordination and may reduce the likelihood of people voting.

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