Climate change has suddenly and abrputly shot to the forefront of election 2012.
With five days left until the election, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed President Barack Obama, citing climate change concerns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as his biggest compliment for the president.
Bloomberg, writing an op-ed published on his website and Bloomberg View, explained that one candidate “sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”
Suddenly, this policy issue is big talk in this election. But it has taken months for this conversation to start.
In the presidential debates this year, clean energy was mentioned several times and yet, the words “climate change” were not mentioned once. Many environmentalists are left puzzled, wondering how the next administration can address energy efficiency without mentioning the actual issue that brings such topic to attention. Nonetheless, the most recent massive weather event, Hurricane Sandy, has proved that our current government is reactive rather than proactive. The issue lies in the architecture of addressing the climate change policies and the waves of attention that come from public opinion. Under Kingdon’s theory of multiple streams, windows of opportunity for policy implementation lie in the intersections between politics, problems, and policies.
In order to gain the public’s attention, there has to be a focusing event with a scope big enough to address the majority, visible for all to witness, and rare enough for all to care. Hurricane Sandy is an example of a problem that the public is aware of and could present itself as the issue to guide climate change policies and conversations. However, the media frames Hurricane Sandy in a lop-sided way. Instead of addressing preventative measures — such as dealing with climate change and presenting Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath as the poster child for what is happening due of rising sea levels — much of the media attention is directed to community recovery and cooperation. It is important to feature the government’s involvement in the aftermath, but it is also important to divert some attention to future prevention. The interpretation from the media of the Hurricane Sandy is short-term rather than long-term. There is little to no effort from the media in addressing climate change; such opinions are presented in editorials rather than factual news.
Since Hurricane Sandy was reported as simply a tropical storm that swept the northeast region off its feet, solutions and policies are centered on community building and the urgency for businesses to résumé. There is little discussion about the fact that tropical storms should not make landfall in regions that are not tropical. Nonetheless, policies are provided and tailored to the way a problem is being presented. The lack of coverage in preventative measures has left much of the climate change policies in the dark. The problem with climate change is that the longer the world waits, the more it will cost to mitigate damages. To bring climate change policies back to the agenda, there has be a shift in attention to link policies to lessening the possibility of events like Hurricane Sandy.
Likewise, the politics within climate change plays a big role in establishing policy change. The failure to pass a national cap and trade bill is evidence that climate change is still being contested by Congress. The lack of attention the candidates give to such topic also creates a barrier for climate change policies to be implemented. Clean energy is a nice buzz word, but the real solution to reduce energy consumption is to reduce the baseline demand for energy. Through looking at the multiple stream approach to policy implementation, little can be done or passed until the government and the public decide to connect the dots and realize climate change is not a prediction — it happened and is happening.