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Hurricane Sandy blows climate change back onto the presidential campaign

Climate scientists caution against any direct connection between a hybrid storm like Sandy and Earth’s warming trend. But that possibility has brought climate change back into the conversation.

By Staff writer / November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage is seen in Seaside, New Jersey.

Tim Larsen/New Jersey Governor's Office/REUTERS

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Until last week, climate change was pretty much a dormant issue in the presidential campaign.

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Except for environmental activists, hardly anybody was talking about it – certainly neither of the candidates in any sustained or substantial way.

Obama has been mostly climate-mum since 2009,” observed Scott Rosenberg, executive editor of Grist, the environmental news and commentary web site. “Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has walked back from his carbon-cutting Massachusetts policies and embraced the current GOP orthodoxy, which is to mock anyone – including the president – who suggests taking the issue of the planet's warming seriously.”

(In his nomination acceptance speech in Tampa, Fla., Romney played for laughs Obama’s 2008 line about how “generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that … this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”)

IN PICTURES: Sandy, an unrelenting storm

Then came the political gale force known as Sandy. The ocean did rise, and with it the rhetoric on climate change – not so much from Obama or Romney, but from others concerned that manmade carbon emissions had reached the point where severe climate events are occurring more frequently and with greater devastation.

“There’s been a series of extreme weather incidents,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “That’s not a political statement; that’s a factual statement … I said to the president kiddingly the other day, we have a 100-year flood every two years now.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – whose city saw much of the flooding and billions of dollars in damages that have left many thousands without power, some of them still stranded – took Sandy as a good reason to get off the political fence and endorse Obama for re-election.

“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

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