LISA MULLINS: Government officials in New York and New Jersey are asking for patience. But the patience of residents in the two states hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy appears to be getting thinner by the day.
The region is still mired in a transportation nightmare. Fights have broken out as people wait in long lines at gas stations. And the power is still not back in many affected areas.
This is the kind of scenario that those who study climate change say may be more frequent in the future.
The connections between Hurricane Sandy and climate change are murky, to be sure.
But with much of his still city flooded and paralyzed by the storm, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg found the links to climate change strong enough that he was compelled to come out and endorse President Obama’s bid for re-election yesterday.
The main reason, Bloomberg said, was the president’s stronger record on fighting climate change.
We’ve been covering the major candidates’ stands on climate change here on The World throughout the campaign, but in light of the events of this week we thought it would be helpful to revisit the issue on last time with The World’s environment editor Peter Thomson.
Peter, remind us what President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s positions are on climate change.
PETER THOMSON: Well, unless you’ve been paying extremely close attention you’d be hard pressed to identify that either candidate has a position on climate change. And that’s one of the ironies of Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of President Obama, because even after Sandy, even as the media are all over the storm’s possible links to climate change, the president still hasn’t mentioned it explicitly. You will find a lot about climate change on the Obama campaign’s website, but as far as I’ve heard right up to this afternoon, there’s been nothing about it in the president’s stump speeches.
You won’t hear anything about it in Mitt Romney’s speeches either, and I could only find one single reference to climate on his campaign website, and that’s actually a quote about from a journalist about how much attention Obama is likely to give the issue if he’s reelected, which of course implies that that’s a bad thing.
This is the same tone Romney took in the only mention of the issue that I know of in any of his major campaign speeches, and that was his acceptance speech at the republican convention. That’s when he took this somewhat mocking swipe at the president:
MITT ROMNEY: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
THOMSON: So you’ll hear there Romney was pretty much dismissing the concern about rising sea levels. But we actually know that one of the things that did contribute to Sandy’s destruction was rising sea levels off the east coast. So tackling that problem might actually help a lot of families in the future. But Mitt Romney has sort of backed himself into a corner on this issue and so far he doesn’t seem to be trying to talk himself out of that corner.
MULLINS: OK, so when Mitt Romney does talk seriously about climate change, what does he say he’s going to do?
THOMSON: Well like so much else with Romney, it’s shifted significantly over the years. When he was governor here in Massachusetts he said he accepted the mainstream science on climate change, that is that it is happening and humans are in large part responsible, and he even supported some local measures to start dealing with carbon emissions.
But he’s backpedalled since then. He still says he believes the world is warming but that he’s not sure how much humans have to do with that. He’s criticized the Obama’s effort to start cutting carbon emissions through that cap and trade program that failed so spectacularly in Congress. It’s certainly clear that he doesn’t think that this is a pressing issue.
MULLINS: So Peter, let’s turn to President Obama now. What does he say that he will do about climate change if he’s reelected?
THOMSON: Well like I said at the top, he has also said next to nothing about climate change in this campaign. And that’s a big change from his first campaign and his first couple of years in office. Clearly with the collapse of the cap and trade bill and the continued weakness of the economy he and his political advisors have made a calculated decision to downplay the issue.
But I should say that unlike Romney, he did make one positive reference to it in his convention speech:
OBAMA: “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it.”
THOMSON: And despite that cap and trade fiasco, Obama has fairly quietly started to do something about it. He cut a deal with car makers to roughly double fuel efficiency over the next 10 years or so. He’s also signaled that the EPA might start regulating carbon emissions, which would also be a big deal.
And finally, he’s famously put a lot of emphasis on developing new clean energy resources. In fact since “climate” started becoming more of a dirty word in American politics again, clean energy has basically become the proxy that the administration uses to talk about the issue.
MULLINS: So Peter, what is the bottom line, to the extent that we know it now, on how much Hurricane Sandy has changed the playing field in terms of political discussions on climate change?
THOMSON: Well of course that remains to be seen, but it is possible that Sandy really will end up changing the politics of this issue, sort of the way that Katrina did in 2005. And it is possible that Romney could do a sort of “Nixon to China” pivot on this issue, and with his strong free-market credentials sort of take a very strong position on climate change. I suspect that given his political trajectory and the rest of the politics if he does get elected, that is very unlikely.
Obama of course has a record of some accomplishment on the issue, and I think freed up from having to be reelected he will take a stronger position on this. And I imagine that if he is reelected, very soon after the election you will hear him start talking about Sandy, and climate change, and making it much more of a priority.
MULLINS: Thank you. The World’s environment editor Peter Thomson. Thanks again.
THOMSON: Thanks, Lisa.