NEW YORK -– With the presidential candidates grounded and news networks intensely focused on Hurricane Sandy, some suggested Monday that climate change and global warming -- issues that were neglected during the presidential debates and that received scant coverage throughout the 2012 race -- could finally be pushed to the forefront.
Foreign Policy's David Rothkopf wrote that "Sandy will do more to draw attention to issues of climate change than all the candidates running for every office in the United States during this election cycle have done." And The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert wrote that "Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque."
Although Rothkopf and Kolbert each cautioned against attributing a single weather event –- even one as unusual as the oft-dubbed "Frankenstorm" –- directly to climate change, they and others have pointed out that warmer water temperatures and such extreme weather suggest a connection. "Some evidence that warming seas lead to worse hurricanes, so let's hope Sandy reminds us of risks of climate change," tweeted New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who later sent his 1.3 million followers a link to the site Hurricane Sandy Speaks.
But while Sandy on Monday made many consider the potential dangers of global climate change -- especially online and on Twitter -- such concerns didn't get similar attention on the cable networks that were covering the hurricane non-stop.
CNN began its rolling coverage of Hurricane Sandy at 4:30 a.m. and dispatched around 30 correspondents and anchors throughout the storm's path. While CNN staffers braved harsh winds and rain for live shots on the beach or flooded streets, the network's anchors and correspondents hadn't mentioned "climate change" or "global warming" once by 4:30 p.m., according to a search using television monitoring service TVEyes.
The situation wasn't much different on the other major cable news networks during the same 12-hour period, with no one on Fox News discussing "climate change" or "global warming," according to TVEyes.
Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute and a regular on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," talked Monday on the show about how both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have avoided the climate change issue during the election, despite having the "most extreme weather that we've ever had" and record temperatures. "What we do know is there is a lot of climate change, even if we don't know if this monster is one example of that," Sachs said of Sandy.
There were a couple passing references to climate change later on MSNBC's "Martin Bashir" show and "The Cycle," but no substantive discussion of the topic during that 12-hour period.
Understandably, 24-hour cable networks, and news organizations in general, would be expected to focus on the emergency situation as Sandy makes landfall, with viewers needing information about how to best protect themselves, their family and their property. But it's also striking that amid hours and hours of coverage Monday -- most of which took place before Sandy had fully hit the east coast -- climate change didn't warrant a mention.
Brad Johnson, campaign manager of Forecast the Facts, told The Huffington Post that he's not surprised by the lack of attention cable networks have paid to climate change, given that "our politicians and our national media have kind of demonstrated an impressive ability to be impervious to facts and evidence."
"This isn't a new situation," Johnson added. "The United States has been struck by billion-dollar disaster after billion-dollar disaster and we're seeing what was predicted decades ago by climate scientists. So the inability of our media, politicians, or anybody in leadership to connect the dots is, unfortunately, nothing new."
Johnson said that public discourse on climate change and extreme weather has been distorted for decades, leading to the current situation where a news anchor even suggesting a link between patterns of extreme weather and climate change might be seen as making a partisan, political statement.
"Just as we haven't taken the steps to eliminate poison in our atmosphere, we haven't taken the steps to eliminate poison in our media system," Johnson said. "So we're not prepared for these storms in a physical sense and we're not prepared for these storms in a communications sense."
Not every TV host shied away Monday from the climate change discussion. Amy Goodman, host of public radio and television program “Democracy Now!," said Monday morning that "while the news media have been covering Hurricane Sandy around the clock, little attention has been paid to the connection between the storm and climate change."
Bill McKibben, co-founder and director of 350.org and one of Goodman's guests, said of Sandy that "if there was ever a wake-up call, this is it."