Flooding in Hoboken, N.J., this week.
For all we’ve learned in the years since then, about rising, warming waters and melting arctic ice, we never really have gotten on with it. Somehow, other issues are always pronounced more pressing. In 2000, even the man who’s since made a crusade of saving the planet barely mentioned it. At the time, Al Gore’s advisers patiently explained to me that the environment ranked a pitiful 13th among concerns expressed by voters, and thus was a poor use of the candidate’s platform.
Post-Sandy, though, some politicians are stating the obvious. “There’s been a series of extreme weather incidents,” said New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). “That’s not a political statement; that’s a factual statement. . . . I would like to say this is probably the last occurrence we’ll have, [but] I don’t believe that. I said to the president kiddingly the other day, we have a 100-year flood every two years now.”
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) went even further on Thursday when he put his lips together and finally pulled climate change into the presidential race: “In just 14 months,’’ he wrote in his surprise endorsement of President Obama, “two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable.” The climate is changing, Bloomberg observed, and while one candidate “sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet, one does not.”
Cuomo discussing preparations for Hurricane Sandy last Sunday.
Of course, seeing and doing something about it are two different things. But on this issue, there’s no comparing the two men: Obama set higher fuel-efficiency standards and tightened mercury emissions, and Mitt Romney, well, he used to think emissions from coal plants were killing us, but doesn’t any more. During the second debate, he accused the president of not exactly being, “Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal,” which is I guess how Romney does hope to be known. I’m afraid that my friends who expect Obama to devote himself to saving the environment and addressing the root causes of poverty in a second term are dreaming. I haven’t heard him promise anything of the kind. But the fossil-fuel-hating Romney of ’03 isn’t coming back, either — and when he says deregulation would be a cornerstone of a Romney presidency, I tend to believe him.