2016 Election

US election – analysis: Could Hurricane Matthew inject climate change into the presidential race?

NASA space picture captures when Hurricane Matthew is making inroads into Florida after leaving its deadly paths behind in Haiti. Photo credit: NASA / NOAA GOES project via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

After his first term of office, many environmentalists felt seriously let down by Obama for having not fulfilled his 2008 pledge to lead on climate change. In fact, not once during his first term in office did he mention climate change, and approaching the 2012 presidential election, it still did not really feature.
But then Hurricane Sandy happened, which devastated large swathes of the US east coast. Many publications did not hesitate to relate it to climate change, as did the then Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, and Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo. This was subsequently followed by Obama. He went on to start talking about climate change again, and he promised to make it a key issue in his second term. And he did not disappoint. Obama enacted the most ambitious climate change move ever by any US President. And it was during Obama’s second term in office, that the world for the first time agreed to a global climate treaty. It is widely believed that Hurricane Sandy was a catalyst to this happening. Obama famously said, that not one extreme weather event proved that Sandy was climate-change related, but that an increase in both the number of events and intensity does, and that is what is happening.
Here four years later we could be looking at a Groundhog Day scenario. In less than a month, we will know if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the Commander In Chief for the next four years. And as you’re reading this, the strongest hurricane to hit the US for nearly a decade will have passed, leaving in its trail devastation that could surpass those of Hurricane Sandy. Before reaching the US, Hurricane Matthew left destruction in Haiti and other Caribbean nations, with the full death toll at the time of writing not yet known but nearing the thousand mark.
On the climate impacts, last week climate scientist Astrid Caldas echoed much of Obama’s 2012 message. In a blog post to A greener life, a greener world she said: “More powerful hurricanes are not a surprise, given global warming and other factors, and recent research in this area suggests that hurricanes in the North Atlantic region have been intensifying over the past 40 years” .
So far three election debates have passed, two presidential debates between Trump and Clinton and one between the Vice President candidates. In none of the debates did the moderators see the need to ask about climate change, despite pressure from environmental groups and activists to do so. Though during the two presidential debates, Clinton brought the issue on herself and criticised Trump for his climate-change denying views. One presidential debate now remains.
The Clinton campaign has been keen to emphasise climate change in between campaigning events . This is especially important since the Paris Agreement is to come into force in less than a month, and could well coincide with the result of the election. Clinton’s campaign is eager to stress that the Obama Administration was a catalyst in achieving the deal. And on Tuesday in Miami, Clinton will host an event with former Vice President and climate hero Al Gore to discuss the urgent threat of climate change.

It remains unclear what impact, if any, Hurricane Matthew will have on the election. But in 2012, Sandy gave Obama a boost . And it could just have tipped the balance in Obama’s favour, though Obama’s win was more convincing than many media outlets had predicted. But Clinton and her team could do worse than bring Matthew into the picture and go all out on climate change. This could tip the balance in her favour, and it could fully expose Trump on an issue which he is far from confident on.

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