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Hurricane Sandy's wake-up call

Climate change is becoming harder to ignore

Photo: Oblique aerial photographs of Seaside Height Pier, NJ. View looking west along the New Jersey shore., License: N/A

Oblique aerial photographs of Seaside Height Pier, NJ. View looking west along the New Jersey shore.

Leading up to the just-completed presidential election, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney engaged in three prime-time debates that lasted about 90 minutes each.

In addition, VP Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan squared off in their own confrontation, bringing the total to about six hours' worth of debate between the men who want to lead this country for the next four years.

In all that give-and-take over what are supposed to be the most important issues facing this country, how much time was spent discussing the issue of climate change and what, if anything, America should be doing to address it?

We didn't have a stopwatch going, but a fairly good estimate is: Absolutely zero.

There was time for Mitt to talk about the need to cut off Big Bird's government funding, but not a second to spare for discussion of a subject that could end up becoming the defining issue of our lifetime.

The president, likewise, has largely remained AWOL on this vital issue during the long campaign.

Absolutely pitiful. And unconscionable.

In terms of presidential politics, we are actually going backward as the problem grows, becoming both more intense and more undeniable.

Obama, at least, has been consistent in saying that global warming is not a "hoax" and that measures must be taken to address it. However, having failed to make any significant progress during his first term, he's been largely mum about the threat of global warming and plans to deal with it during the just-completed campaign.

For his part, Romney has been true to form and come down on different sides of the issue. According to Pro Publica, he said in October 2011, "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."

His tune changed this past September, when he wrote that he believed "the world is getting warmer," and "human activity contributes to that warming" but that there was no clear scientific consensus regarding the extent of the problem. He did, however, stay with the claim that trying to reduce carbon emissions is too costly and would stifle economic growth.

Now, following the devastation of what's been dubbed Superstorm Sandy, we are seeing firsthand the costs — in terms of lives lost, property destroyed, and crippled commerce — and just how important this issue is to all of us.

Can it be said with certainty that Hurricane Sandy is the result of global warming?

Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, used a baseball analogy to answer that question.

"We can't say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds," Pooley wrote, "but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids."

But just as Major League Baseball's honchos long turned a blind eye toward the steroid use that threatened to completely undermine the integrity of the game, this presidential campaign season brought us candidates who were unwilling to put front and center a problem that is only going to become more severe if nothing serious is done to address it.