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Opinion: The Global Warming Experience

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Congratulations! If you are reading this, then you’ve survived what was by all accounts the biggest storm that this part of the country has experienced in decades. Not only that, but if you’re reading this, you must still have internet and electricity. Good for you. In any case, it might interest you to know the politics that were indirectly involved in the “Frankenstorm” you’ve just experienced. Of course, you may be more concerned with finding uncontaminated water and blaming FEMA for whatever FEMA inevitably did wrong, but this is important.

A week ago, America was just becoming acquainted with Hurricane Sandy, the storm which had already killed dozens in the Caribbean and which forecasters predicted would meld with a winter storm over the Eastern U.S. to create a “Frankenstorm” of historic proportions. On Oct. 26, environmental activist Bill McKibben wrote an article for The Daily Beast warning that storms like Sandy are the expected outcome of continuous and uninterrupted pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses. McKibben and others say that because weather systems that depend on the temperature of the oceans are being altered by global climate change, the world and its weather are becoming “steadily more unpredictable.”

Despite such warnings, environmental issues and global climate change in particular have been mostly absent in the discourse of the 2012 presidential election. Three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate passed us by without one mention of global warming; the first time this has happened since 1988. At the Hofstra debate on Oct. 16, President Barack Obama, who campaigned as an environmental reformer in 2008, was conspicuously fervent in defending his record not of expanding clean energy and reducing greenhouse emissions, but of producing more coal, more natural gas, and drilling more oil on public lands than his predecessor, “and the previous president who was an oilman.” In discussing these developments with Caitlyn McDaniel, the president of Ohio University’s Sierra Student Coalition, McDaniel could only describe it as depressing.

“The way that they address [the environment] is like putting a Band-Aid on a bigger issue,” said McDaniel of the two candidates. Though the Sierra Club, the illustrious national organization of which Sierra Student Coalition is an offshoot, has officially endorsed Obama, McDaniel says that she feels a sense of betrayal by the president for what seemed like an endorsement of fossil fuels at the Hofstra debate.

McDaniel also points out that neither Obama nor his challenger Mitt Romney is completely to blame for the lack of environmental debate in 2012. In McDaniel’s view, voters and citizens have “shirked their responsibilities” by not pushing the candidates to discuss things like global climate change. According to McDaniel, people don’t want to “do the little things” like recycle and use less energy, things which may be slightly inconvenient but could also improve the environment. Americans are also just less interested in environmental issues during this time of recession and economic hardship. “It’s not just a political issue,” said McDaniel. “It’s a societal issue.”

As for super storm Sandy, McDaniel hopes that a silver lining to the disaster may come in the form of increased national discussion of climate change and the very real and dangerous effects it can have. Maybe, said McDaniel, this storm will finally show people “something is going on beyond our control — or something we’ve been controlling for a little too long.”

You too might want to think about the possibility that this rare October hurricane might herald a frightening environmental shift; one that continued even after we all finished watching “An Inconvenient Truth” and stopped rocking out at Live Earth. Climate change won’t wait for the recession to be over, and neither will the hurricanes, the wildfires and the mosquito-borne diseases that have begun to plague this country at an alarming rate. It’s too early to measure the exact cost of this storm, but for those of us who have been lucky enough to survive it with only minor inconveniences it might be time to push our candidates and elected officials a little harder to address issues like climate change. We’ve all just experienced global warming firsthand, and it isn’t pretty.



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