Why should Obama care?

by Terence Jeyaretnam

Two words – Hurricane Sandy. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost thirty-three billion to his State alone. Whether Sandy had a bearing on President Barrack Obama’s re-election outcome is hard to say. Obama was seen as both empathetic and the better candidate to deal with global warming, post the hurricane. But, there are four factors to consider here – link between global warming and hurricane activity, the link between global warming and power dissipation of storms, population and wealth.

Was Hurricane Sandy a product of global warming? Was the scale of damage due to climate change? Science to date indicates a "weak" evidence of an increase in hurricane intensity over the last 50 years; but has also found a "near doubling" in the "power dissipation" of storms. Furthermore, population and wealth increase will continue to magnify the potential damage – by anywhere from 20 to 60 times in 2050 the costs today.

So where does the US stand on the issue? “In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.” (Remnick, D. New Yorker, Nov, 2012)

Mayor Bloomberg of New York, an independent, voiced his support for Obama near the final days of the election. Bloomberg said he believed Obama was the better candidate to tackle the global climate change that he said might have contributed to the violent storm.

Obama, on his first press conference since winning reelection, said "You can expect that you'll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward.” "What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago," Obama stated. "We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe."

History books won’t mention the fiscal cliff, nor the vehicle fuel standards. They will mention the Obama victory being one of the most emphatic and, depending on outcomes, action (or indeed inaction) on climate change. I agree with David Reminck of the New Yorker “The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day”.

Source: No More Magical Thinking, The New Yorker, David Remnick, 19th Nov 2012

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com), 
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.