Politics Straight, No Chaser
Climate Change, Ohio, and the Impending “Frankenstorm”
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 19:04
By the time this column is published, the unprecedented and bizarre “perfect storm” that is Hurricane Sandy will have reached the eastern shores. Sandy has already taken at least 40 lives in the Caribbean and is expected to inflict billions of dollars of damage over the nation’s most heavily populated corridor reaching from North Carolina all the way up to Massachusetts. Hopefully the damage will be minimal, but residents across the coast are nonetheless taking precautions and our very own university cancelled all events for the weekend as well as Monday and Tuesday classes.
Although this “Frankenstorm,” as it has been nicknamed, is on pace to be a storm of historic proportions, it may be just another case of the unusual and extreme weather patterns that have become increasingly prevalent in the past few years. Record heat waves and droughts have spanned from Texas to Moscow, while areas like Arizona and Scotland have recorded their coldest seasons and highest levels of precipitation. And just this year, the mid-Atlantic region faced unprecedented high-velocity winds while wildfires burned uncontrollably in Colorado and other western states. Scientists have increasingly attributed these relatively recent but consistent shifts in global weather patterns and climate to the phenomenon of global warming.
But is global warming responsible for Hurricane Sandy? It’s actually quite possible. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal agency focused on environmental conditions, have shied away from blaming human activities and climate change for global warming when talking about the more active and violent hurricanes of recent years. However, they note that human activities that have increased greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions may have already caused environmental changes that have not yet been detected.
Either way, NOAA research has concluded that anthropogenic warming, meaning pollution originating from human activity, will increase hurricanes’ intensity and potential for destruction around the globe in the future. Yet, for the first time since 1988, environmental issues were not addressed in the presidential debates. Therefore, the question must be posed regarding why such an impending threat to the American public that only promises to get worse has been essentially ignored by both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during this campaign season.
A fundamental part of the answer: Ohio. Obama and Romney understand the crucial importance of winning the Buckeye state, as its residents have voted for the winning presidential candidate in 27 of the past 29 elections. What's more, no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. And what does nearly one fifth of Ohio’s counties produce and depend on for jobs? Coal.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), a nonpartisan independent nonprofit organization, coal is “inherently higher-polluting and more carbon intensive than other energy alternatives” and currently accounts for 20 percent of the world’s GHG emissions, which cause global warming. In addition, C2ES reported that the U.S. produces nearly two billion tons of carbon dioxide per year from coal-burning plants. Such emissions are projected to grow by a third in the next 12 years.
Despite such evidence of coal’s significant role in our nation’s climate crisis, addressing the issue would mean potentially threatening coal industry jobs in a critical battleground state in the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades. Hence, the topic is what one would call “politically toxic” even though the failure to address it is equally toxic to the environment. Seemingly abstract or futuristic threats, however, often take the backseat to issues that are perceived as more relevant or pressing, especially when they involve jobs and the economy. As a result, the presidential race has generated what the left-leaning blog, Think Progress, has described as “the kind of bizarre reversal that only an election can cultivate,” where both candidates have begun to attack each other for their past attempts to actually address the issue of coal and the environment.
In what would seem surprising to most, Obama’s support for and investment in alternative, sustainable energy has drawn criticism from Romney. Such investment has been interpreted by the Romney team as lack of concern for American coal jobs and has been deemed as Obama’s “War on Coal.” Obama has disputed this supposed war by reminding voters that in 2003 Romney shut down a coal mine in Massachusetts, proclaiming that he “will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people” until the coal company in question improved safety in the mines and invested in cleaning technology.
Unfortunately, the politics of this election has turned the only discussion of the environment into one where the candidates battle to reveal who supports pollution the most. Such imprudent priorities are disconcerting for obvious reasons. With Hurricane Sandy barreling our way, hopefully it will not take a national catastrophe to finally prioritize environmental issues.