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The Eye of the Storm That Sees Us All

William Rivers Pitt: We’re a funny lot, in that we must be led to the edge of the precipice and then kicked in the back before saying, ‘Wow, this is dangerous, we should do something about this.

It is Monday afternoon in the city of Boston as I write this, and Hurricane Sandy has begun to flex her considerable muscles even here. Atlantic City is awash in many places, Hoboken is flooding, the Esplanade at Battery Park in New York City is basically underwater, and the worst of the storm is still hours away. Farther south, the eastern seaboard is taking a fearsome beating where Sandy prepares to make direct landfall.

I am sitting here with my whiskey and my wife and my fat cat and my upstairs neighbor who almost hit a cop car when he backed out of the driveway to get smokes, we’re all listening to the wind shake the house, and contemplating the ruthless sense of humor of Fate.

Crazy weather – the one all-important topic that has been entirely ignored by both major presidential campaigns – is about to cause billions of dollars in damage along the East Coast, and may very well wind up playing merry hell with the upcoming election.

Funny like a kick in the head.

Remember this summer? All the insane weather everywhere that eventually caused even the most strident climate-change deniers to flee for cover and start hoarding canned goods? Remember when Greenland melted? Remember all the articles about the upside of the accelerating climate disaster happening all around us, vis a vis new shipping lanes and mining possibilities in all the places where there used to be ice?

Remember the drought?

Rivaling the Dust Bowl of the Depression era, the 2012 drought has impacted food production in America across the board, causing food prices to spike in a way that has been felt by everyone not rich enough to laugh off the price of a gallon of milk. More than anything else, it was the drought that brought home the reality of climate change to Americans this past summer.

And now? Poof, like it never happened.

We’ve heard quite a bit about the economy during the presidential campaign. Hell, almost half of the “foreign policy” debate wound up being about the economy because Bob Schieffer couldn’t keep the rudder in the water…but the drought has had as much of an effect on the economy this year as anything else, and yet neither campaign has found it worthy to spare a word on the matter.

Wait, that’s not right. Mr. Obama brought it up recently in an interview with MTV.

Mr. Romney brought it up in his acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet.” It was the biggest laugh-line of the night for him.

And that’s it.

So let’s think about this:

More than 100 million people will die and global economic growth will be cut by 3.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change, a report commissioned by 20 governments said on Wednesday.

As global average temperatures rise due to greenhouse gas emissions, the effects on the planet, such as melting ice caps, extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, will threaten populations and livelihoods, said the report conducted by humanitarian organization DARA.

It said the effects of climate change had lowered global output by 1.6 percent of world GDP, or by about $1.2 trillion a year, and losses could double to 3.2 percent of global GDP by 2030 if global temperatures are allowed to rise, surpassing 10 percent before 2100.

And this:

Last month, climate scientists announced that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to its smallest surface area since satellite observations began in 1979. An ice-free summer in the Arctic, once projected to be more than a century away, now looks possible just a few decades from now. Some scientists say it may happen within the next few years.

The loss is hugely significant because Arctic sea ice reflects most solar energy into space, helping to keep the Earth at a moderate temperature. But when the ice melts it reveals dark waters below, which absorb more than 90 percent of the solar energy that hits them, leading to faster warming both locally and globally.

And this:

“We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years,” Obama said in Tuesday’s debate. “Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”

Romney scoffed that Obama “has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal,” and promised that he, if elected, would be all three. “I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses,” he said, adding later that this means “bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia, where the people want it.”

If this is a contest to see who can pretend to be more ignorant of the environmental locomotive that’s barreling down the tracks toward us, Romney wins narrowly.

A presidential campaign offers an opportunity to educate and engage the American people in the decisions that climate change will force us to make. Unfortunately, Obama and Romney have chosen to see this more as an opportunity to pretend that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an approaching train.

Since last Tuesday, about 200 people have kept a round-the-clock vigil to protest the absence of climate change from the political conversation. Today, Hurricane Sandy forced an end to that vigil. Meanwhile, in all the wall-to-wall coverage of the storm on all the major “news” networks, there has been no mention I have seen of the elephant blowing through the room.

The climate is coming down around our ears, and neither big-dollar candidate has felt compelled to date to deign to bring it up, because this is America. We’re a funny lot, in that we must be led to the edge of the precipice and then kicked in the back before saying, “Wow, this is dangerous, we should do something about this!”

The lights just flickered, and the wind is picking up, so I have to submit this before everything shuts down.

A metaphor, that.

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