Long long ago, in the before time, 12 years ago to be exact, before the Gulf was despoiled by the Deepwater Horizon Well, before our purple mountains majesty were shorn of their mighty peaks, before the island of Tuvalu disappeared under the sea, before Ohio had fracking earthquakes and before our tap water could be ignited by a kitchen match, there was a prophet named Al Gore who tried to warn us…
This week Hurricane Sandy washed away a sizeable chunk of New Jersey and turned New York City dark for days. If you are unfortunate enough to be one of the millions affected, you might want to send a thank you note to the Supreme Court who ordered Florida to stop the vote count to resolve Bush V Gore. In 2000, more people voted for the man whose passion was climate science; the leader the Right derided as a “tree-hugger,” who would have led the charge to reduce carbon emissions all over the globe: Al Gore. But instead of Vice President Gore and his dedication to a greener planet that we the people voted for, the Supreme Court gave us the oilman, George W. Bush. In light of this week’s disaster, it’s hard not to wonder, if only the two justices appointed by W’s father had possessed the integrity to recuse themselves, would a President Gore have been able to change our trajectory enough that Hurricane Sandy would not have been quite so destructive?
But we cannot change the mistakes of the past. Bush happened, and Cap and Trade became a laugh line. “Drill baby drill” turned into burn baby burn, which put more carbon into the atmosphere. The ice caps melted before our eyes. The summers grew hotter. The Heartland suffered from longer droughts, and the West from larger wildfires. The hurricanes on the East Coast seemed to grow ever more brutal, until this week, when Sandy raged so wildly she blew a jolt of reality inland that has sent a ripple of fear across the country.
Americans are suddenly wondering if we made the wrong decision building our houses of straw with a smoking chimney to huddle around, while laughing at the people building houses of brick with solar panels to keep it toasty. After twelve long years of allowing the climate change deniers to set our national policy, we now have a moment in time when global warming might once again come on the agenda. But where is Al Gore? Without him, who will lead us?
This week, the Governor of New York once again put on his Batman suit. Andrew Cuomo, who is often mentioned as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, is already a hero to the gay community. If you don’t know the story of how he played midwife to marriage equality in New York, you owe it to yourself to read how he marginalized the bishops, wooed wavering Republicans, found three gay-friendly Wall Street donors and convinced them to write checks to replace the campaign donations that state representatives risked losing if they voted yes. I think it’s fair to say, without Governor Cuomo, there would be no same-sex marriages in New York today.
Now, once again, Governor Cuomo has dared go where even President Obama has not. The governor called the bluff of the climate change deniers with this unambiguous statement: “Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think, is denying reality.” And Governor Cuomo already has a wingman, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has turned on the Bat Signal, calling for other officials across the country who are climate change believers to make themselves known. In his endorsement of President Obama, the mayor said this week, the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy “should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
We have our moment. We have our leaders. Now it’s up to us, the green energy voters. We have a stark choice to make Tuesday, between two very different candidates. As Mayor Bloomberg pointed out in his op-ed, “One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not.”
President Obama has a plan for energy-security that will wean us off of fossil fuels and into a future of energy independence. Even with a hostile congress, he has taken whatever measures he could to cut carbon emissions. He has put tighter controls on mercury emissions for coal-burning electric plants, and when he negotiated the auto rescue, he made sure the car companies agreed to more stringent fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles. He’s promoted wind power, and solar power, high-speed rail and electric vehicles. He is trying to establish an infrastructure-bank that would update our aging mass transit systems.
Mitt Romney has an energy plan that depends on mining, drilling, piping, and burning more fossil fuels. There is no mention of a plan for keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, or for transitioning to clean energy in the future. In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Governor Romney mocked President Obama’s efforts to slow down the effects of global climate change, saying “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” The crowd greeted his observation with raucous laughter. I wonder how many of those laughing conventioneers lived through Hurricane Sandy? I doubt they are laughing now.
Hurricane Sandy has given us an unexpected opportunity to resume traversing the path we voted to take in 2000, when the Supreme Court banished Al Gore and his prescient warnings, and appointed King George. I doubt such an opportunity will come again. Elect Barack Obama and we can continue the discussion about reducing our carbon footprint and strengthening our infrastructure to better deal with Mother Nature’s new mood. Elect Mitt Romney and we put ourselves at the mercy of deregulated industry.
In our hands is nothing less than the future of our planet. Tuesday we decide….