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In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, did not agree on much but they did agree on this:
Global Warming was real, the activities of human beings were the likely cause, and serious measures - most likely some form of cap-and-trade regime - were needed to deal with the problem.
After all, the science about Global Warming was settled, with 97% of all scientists in the field having concluded the same facts that the presidential candidates acknowledged, and cap-and-trade was a fundamentally conservative, market-based mechanism for regulating emissions which had already been proven successful in addressing the problem of Acid Rain.
Going into the 2008 election it seemed pretty clear: those of us who had been waiting for action on this issue were about to see political will get behind scientific reality. And not a moment too soon.
Once elected, President Obama and his Democratic allies in the Nancy Pelosi lead House of Representatives turned to making cap-and-trade the law of the land. The House passed the Waxman-Markey bill in June of 2009, but in the sausage factory that is the U.S. Congress, the bill became larded down with concessions that converted a simple concept into a 1,200 page leviathan that was (almost) as easily opposed from the Left as it was from the Right.
But not quite - the opposition on the Right was well-funded by fossil fuel industry groups that knew that ultimately a tax on carbon emissions, in whatever form, would ultimately lead to the demise of their industry. Attacks on the science - often headed by the same folks who brought us the denialist attacks from Big Tobacco - were systematic and coordinated at an AstroTurf level. So-called Climategate soon followed and suddenly Global Warming - or its more malleable cousin, Climate Change - had become an epithet, with prominent Republican Senator James Inhofe labeling it “The Greatest Hoax." The bill died in the Senate.
Fast forward to the present presidential campaign when it became a matter of faith for all of the contending Republican primary challengers to swear allegiance to the Denialist creed. We saw that reach its peak during the Republican Convention this summer in Tampa (ironically delayed by a day due to hurricane Isaac), when the newly chosen Republican Presidential Nominee, Mitt Romney, used the idea of sea-level rise from Global Warming as a punch line in his acceptance speech, to the delight of his partisan audience:
Today, no one is laughing.
Hurricane Sandy roared ashore amidst the most densely populated section of the U.S. coastline. Strengthened by ocean temperatures five degrees above normal and diverted by a high-pressure region believed to have been created over a relatively ice-free Arctic ocean, Sandy caused almost unimaginable destruction: at least 110 deaths over nine states, nearly 8 million people without power, massive flooding in New York (including subways and tunnels never before flooded in the history of the city), New Jersey and Connecticut, and total property damage expected to exceed $50 billion.
After mocking President Obama’s efforts to “reduce sea-level rise and heal the planet,” Sandy revealed Mr. Romney’s misguided taunt for what all denialist memes are - a colossal policy failure that threatens our ability to exist in coastal zones. Governors from New Jersey’s staunch Republican Chris Christie (a Romney surrogate and keynote speaker at the RNC) to New York’s Democratic Andrew Cuomo were confronted with the “new normal” of a world experiencing Global Warming, brought home by Sandy. And New York City’s Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg - who had vowed to stay neutral in this year’s Presidential contest - found himself compelled to endorse President Obama, citing it as a “Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change.”
Hurricane Sandy should finally, once and for all, bring an end to the debate over Global Warming. It is here, now, and it is going to get worse. We need to change what we can, and mitigate what we cannot. It is going to be incredibly expensive, but to continue denying the impacts of Global Warming will only make things far, far worse. Sandy was our wake-up call. Pity that it had to cost over a hundred lives, billions in damage and tremendous pain and suffering for millions. But we as a Nation are finally awake and the deniers will be tolerated no more. It is just too costly, too deadly, to follow their lead.
That is why Sandy matters. It will be remembered as the turning point in our effort to combat Global Warming. Now, finally, it is time to move Forward and tackle this problem with the intensity and focus that its consequences demand. Your vote on Tuesday should reflect that reality.