US 2012 climate dialogue runs aground

Why have the US presidential candidates been avoiding discussing climate change in the run up to the elections?

After Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, politicians say it is time to take steps to deal with increasingly extreme weather conditions. But why are they still unwilling to discuss climate change?

… The global warming denial machine has a predatory relationship with scientific uncertainty, because part of their strategy is to manufacture an enhanced sense of uncertainty because they have a political agenda to ward off strong climate policy …

– Rick Piltz, Climate Science Watch

The massive storm which began as Hurricane Sandy has dominated the headlines across the United States.

At least 16 states felt the impact of the weather system causing floods and power outages. While scientists say they cannot conclusively link this specific event to climate change, they do say the changing climate is likely increasing the threats associated with such a storm.

Recently, German reinsurance company Munich Re, released a study on the financial cost of severe weather in North America and found that, between 1980 and 2011, some 30,000 people lost their lives and related weather-related disasters cost the country $1,060bn.

The report goes on to say man-made climate change contributes to this trend – particularly when it comes to flooding and heat waves, which cause significant losses and also storms – which account for 76 per cent of overall costs.

What we have seen with Hurricane Sandy – it’s doing nothing on climate change that forces the government to intervene – it’s only government that can deal with extreme weather.

– Joe Romm, Center for American Progress

Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events like this year’s droughts and record temperatures have made the lack of discussion about climate change during the presidential election season, even more jarring.

In fact, when it came to the environment, Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, focused on who will drill more oil and extract more coal when they take to the White House.

Climate change was not mentioned once during the presidential debates – the first time this has happened since 1984.

So why have politicians become so afraid to approach the issue?

To discuss this on Inside Story US 2012, presenter Shihab Rattansi is joined by guests: Rick Piltz, the director and founder of Climate Science Watch; Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; and Michael Mann, a Nobel Prize-winning climate change scientist.



A new project by two UN agencies aims to show the effects of climate change by showing its impact on the factors that impact health – clean water, clean air and healthy food – particularly in developing countries with limited infrastructure.

They point out high temperatures raise the level of pollution in the air, which contributes to heart and lung disease.

Rising sea level will have a huge impact, since half the world’s population lives within 60km of an ocean and increased flooding contaminates fresh water supplies and increases the threat from waterborne diseases. 

The report also says, changing weather and rising temperatures are likely to affect food production in many of the world’s poorest regions.