By: Hal Beresford We saw some extreme weather during the middle months of 2012. Strong heat waves affected millions of Americans, and the Midwest endured their most severe drought in recent memory. In addition, a larger-than-usual number of huge wildfires scorched the western United States. In June, one such fire – Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire – prompted officials in Colorado Springs to evacuate 32,000 residents and ended up destroying 346 homes.
Meanwhile, more and more long-term scientific evidence is accumulating that our greenhouse gas emissions are warming earth’s climate. The instrumental temperature record has been on a general upward trajectory since 1980 and before, and measurements indicate that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been rising since the 19th century. Just earlier this month, NOAA reported that September 2012 was the warmest September on record (tied with 2005) in records going back to 1880.
U.S. government agencies have noticed the large and growing scientific evidence in support of climate change, and they forecast that climate change will likely cause us big problems down the road. The EPA’s Climate Change page lists today in one of its headlines that, “hurricanes in the Atlantic are likely to become more intense.” In another headline, it notes that average sea levels are projected to rise up to two feet by the end of this century, eliminating 10,000 square miles of land in the United States. (10,000 square miles is slightly less than the area of Massachusetts.)
Despite such risks, climate change has not emerged as a big issue in this year’s presidential race. Barack Obama has only occasionally voiced support for new policies to slow climate change, and Mitt Romney has been mostly absent on the issue. After three heavily-watched presidential debates, the candidates have remained mostly silent on climate change.
Granted, we as a nation have extremely pressing short-term issues to deal with. Too many Americans can’t find work, our government finances are a mess, and we are still at war in Afghanistan. These are all serious issues that most Americans currently care more about than environmental concerns, so it makes sense that Obama and Romney would focus more on them.
It also likely that Obama and Romney might not want to wade into the climate change debate because of political reasons. Al Gore’s 2006 movie The Inconvenient Truth sparked a passionate public discussion about climate change that is still ongoing. If Obama spoke out strongly on acting to slow climate change, the main effect might only be to motivate more right-leaning voters to go to the polls on Election Day to vote Romney. If Romney did so, he would alienate influential climate change deniers within his party.
No matter the candidates’ reasons, climate change is the only issue that is projected to eliminate 10,000 square miles of U.S. territory and generate higher-intensity hurricanes unless we act on it. We can’t wait forever to act because the only way to stop a strong hurricane or an increase in ocean level is to prevent it. I hope that our presidential candidates will acknowledge that and discuss climate change as an important issue.