As the New Jersey Shore's "surreality" show continues to unfold on TV, one cannot help but note all the ads on CNN and Fox News from those that likely helped make such epic storms possible, or -- at the very least -- helped to make them worse. Commercials from the oil and coal industry pepper the coverage like so many reminders of what is not being discussed by the mainstream news media: the role our dependence on fossil fuels is playing in this unfolding mega disaster.
The numbers are staggering enough: some 60 million Americans directly impacted by Superstorm Sandy, at least 74 Americans dead, and, at last count up to 10 million people who lost power. When the electricity comes back on and the damage toll is tallied, the bill is likely to reach $20 billion or higher. And that does not include all the travel upheaval or the hit to the economy in general.
It seems the summer that brought us the worst drought in modern history, fires in dozens of states, and some 40,000 temperature records broken this year alone, is now being followed by an autumn that spawned Sandy, what some are already calling the Storm of the Century. Or, at least the latest one. With sand turning Atlantic City into a beach, the boardwalk into the broad wreck, homes broken in Hoboken, and more than 11 feet of floodwater on Wall Street with gale-force winds tossing cars around like matchsticks in Manhattan, you'd have to work for the coal and oil industry to miss the irony -- as well as the tragedy -- encompassed in the continued political silence on climate change...
While we know we can't pin any one (mega) storm on climate disruption, there is no question but that warmer coastal waters are adding more precipitation and energy to these systems. And while the Arctic storm which is dumping snow on several eastern states cannot be blamed on Sandy, the collision of both at the same time makes for one hell of a hybrid weather event. And it's not even winter yet.
Not all politicians are remaining silent on climate change. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made my day when he declared, "Anyone who says there hasn't been a dramatic change in weather patterns is in denial. We have a new reality and old infrastructures and old systems." Well put.
And Rep. Ed Markey, longtime climate change champion and top Democrat on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, noted:
"For this superstorm to occur so late in the storm season, reach such fury, and have the kinds of flooding impacts that we are seeing, is fully consistent with what scientists have told us we should expect due to global warming. It's time to admit the obvious fact that climate change is here. Warmer water in the Atlantic is fueling stronger storms, the seas are higher, and the dramatic changes in the Arctic are potentially altering the path of storms hundreds of miles away. Climate change is no longer some far off issue; it's at our doorstep. We must consider how to address the underlying factors that are fueling these extreme weather events."
Other than Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the presidential candidates are still mum and MIA on the connection between extreme weather and climate change. While Sandy has knocked both President Obama and Mitt Romney off the campaign trail, they are not getting on topic with the green elephant in the room: the likely arrival of climate change. While Sandy has impacted campaign schedules, she has not yet altered the agenda, let alone the day's talking points.
Granted, last week the president briefly commented on a question about climate from a MTV interviewer. In the clip, Obama commented that he was surprised climate had not come up as a topic in the presidential debates. Of course, he could have brought the subject up himself in all the back and forth about coal and oil exploration.
But most Americans never heard that clip. Instead, CNN's Anderson Cooper chose to play a softball question and answer excerpt about Malia and Sasha indicating the president's views on climate just don't seem to rank up there in importance with Obama's privacy concerns about his daughters' future use of Facebook.
Amidst all this comes ad after ad brought to you by your friends at AmericanPower.org, a coal industry association, and the American Petroleum Institute (API). One of AmericanPower's ads attacking EPA regulations is particularly poignant in light of the stormy backdrop. It says "enough is enough" in reference to the agency fighting to protect our environment -- and failing, in no small part, due to the fossil fuel industries spending more than $150 million to influence the outcome of this election alone. Enough is enough, indeed!
Here's what the API has on their website about those pesky hurricanes that rudely interrupt the drilling:
Hurricane and tropical storm activity can put a strain on U.S. oil and natural gas operations, particularly if the storm tracks through the production-heavy Gulf of Mexico or makes landfall along the Gulf Coast region, which houses many of the nation's refinery and natural gas processing centers. API has assembled this fact sheet to help consumers better understand the interconnected U.S. fuel supply system and what happens when a supply shock, such as a major hurricane, occurs.
I honestly don't know what's spookier -- our changing climate or the success of the disinformation campaign, but I do know that on this Halloween, once again, there were tricks being played on the American people.
As Columbia professor and economist Jeffrey Sachs recently noted, "If you're not scared you're not properly informed on this suicidal and reckless trajectory of our energy policy."
But here's one way to get out of fear and into anger -- and then action.
All you have to do is tune into Rush Limbaugh to hear him declare for the umpteenth time that "climate change is a hoax." But he didn't stop there, he went on to mention the long dead East Anglia "controversy," dubbed "ClimateGate" by the fossil-fuel funded denialist industry, and had the nerve to mock 200 climate change activists who have been camped out in Massachusetts to bring attention to "climate silence" on the part of politicians, media and even the American citizenry. He thought it was hilarious that the rain from Superstorm Sandy ended the vigil a day early this week. Ironic indeed.
The other person mocking climate change, of course, is candidate Romney, or at least he did at the Republican National Convention. Given his smug remark on President Obama's 2008 concerns about "the rising of the seas," Romney now has wet mud splattered all over his face, as those rising seas overtook huge portions of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut this week. If the Democrats were smart in this too-close race, they'd be running ads with Romney's snarky comment amidst the spectacle that is Sandy, devastation so surreal it reminds one of a couple of movies dismissed by many as hype: An Inconvenient Truth and The Day After Tomorrow.
With the election just a few days away -- and with scientists giving us less than five years to turn the tide on fossil fuel dependence to avoid climactic catastrophe -- one can only suspect that Mother Nature may be a Democrat. Regardless, the specter of climate change looms over us, as dangerous as the broken crane hanging over the Manhattan skyline -- a fitting symbol perhaps for our broken climate... hanging in the balance.