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Think Tank

Hurricane Sandy: Mother Nature's Revenge on the 2012 Election?

Just as there were many countries -- India, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, to name a few -- not mentioned in the "foreign policy" presidential debate last week, perhaps the greatest challenge facing the world -- climate change -- was another unmentionable topic, receiving lip service not once in all three presidential debates. Mother Nature might get the last laugh, however, via Hurricane Sandy.

One forecast model shows Sandy hitting the east coast as a tropical storm some time around Halloween, and could be a repeat of the famous "perfect storm" of 1991. While it is still too early to know the precise scenario, Politico suggested the storm could serve as a climate change wake-up call.  

Sandy could either wreak havoc on the East Coast or go out to sea.

Climate change has and will continue to affect the frequency, intensity, timing and distribution of hurricanes and tropical storms. We have known the ecological effects for a long time. The financial cost estimates are all over the place, ranging between $4 billion and $109 billion annually. Some argue the true cost could easily reach $300 billion by 2030. If that doesn't scare you enough, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) projected an annual $1.9 trillion price tag (in 2006 dollars) by 2100. 

So you might be wondering why, again, climate change wasn't addressed during any of the presidential debates. For one thing, both candidates were loathe to bring it up, choosing instead to outdo each other by blowing kisses to the coal industry. Indeed, it seems the electoral college was the best thing that ever happened to the coal industry, as coal-producing states like Ohio have an outsize influence on the outcome of the election. That is the same electoral logic that gave us three decades of corn ethanol subsidies.

Will the coal industry be able to hold out that long or will circumstances intervene? Multi-billion dollar weather disasters are the kind of intervention that might move minds on this issue, and we have been experiencing those in abundance. That is why 7 in 10 Americans are now convinced global warming is real and 35 percent say extreme weather has affected them personally. 

As Andrew Steer pointed out in The New York Times, by failing to address climate change the presidential candidates are "massively out of step with the rest of the world, but also with the citizens of this country."

So what will it mean if Sandy indeed turns into a "perfect storm"? A perfect storm is defined as the combination of a rare set of circumstances that result in a storm with an unusually high level of magnitude. If Sandy actually gets the candidates to talk about climate change, that would be a perfect storm indeed. 

In the video below, James Lawrence Powell, author of The Inquisition of Climate Science, argues it is the responsibility of scientists to bring the issue of climate change to the forefront for the sake of future generations.

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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