The winds of Sandy won’t change the North American discourse on climate change

climate-change1-300x280Last week, Superstorm Sandy devastated the east coast with high winds, record storm surges and rain. The storm left millions without power, thousands homeless and over a hundred dead, if there was anything positive to come out of this calamity it was that climate change was finally front page news again.

Unfortunately the only time climate change is mentioned by the powers that be or the media is in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. We saw it after Hurricane Katrina and after the Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and the Coast of Japan, but talk of climate change didn’t last a month after these events. With the general election in the US this Tuesday, I suspect talk of climate change this time will barely last a week.

Even when politicians and the media report on climate change, it has little to do with ways to solve it, instead the conversation is concentrated on the debate of its existence. People won’t start to grasp the truth so long as we keep referring to the “debate” about climate change… there is no debate.

Almost 98% of scientists (with credentials) say climate change is real and man-made. That is a huge percentage to be betting against, but roughly 30-40% of Americans do just that. In a year that has seen massive wildfires, long nationwide droughts, a record hot summer and an autumn super storm, too many people continue to live in denial.

North America contains two of the world’s most industrialized countries. During World War II, The United States and Canada were at the forefront against Nazi tyranny, but now with global warming being man’s most dangerous threat to its existence, they’re scarcely in the background.

It is so taboo of a subject that during the four American presidential debates climate change wasn’t discussed even once for the first time in twenty four years. In Canada, our conservative government not only avoids debate and action, but it has spent its first year of majority rule scaling back environmental protections and research. At the same time, the government has done what it can to speed up contract approval for the extraction of fossil fuels and creation of oil pipelines.

The reason for the lack of a real strategy on both sides of the border is largely due to conservative ideology; Corporate influence, free market principals even religious theories all have a part to play.

Big oil in Canada and the United States plays a big part in the propaganda and misinformation being distributed to the people on television and through our (mainly conservative) politicians. With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on advertising, lobbying and political support every year, it’s virtually impossible to counter. Even in Canada, I can’t go a day without seeing a pro-tar sands commercial claiming it’s clean, safe and good for the economy. Seeing them on Canadian news networks angers me greatly.


I don’t call the GOP the “Grand Oil Party” for nothing, but lobbyists aren’t the only driving force behind the right wing denials about climate change. The combination of god and economic opportunity also plays a part.

As far as religious conservatives are concerned, the increased occurrence of natural disasters and droughts are often chalked up to God’s will and therefore can’t be avoided, so why not profit from it? Conservative principle is that of free enterprise at its extreme. To many, their dreams won’t be realized until everything from our roads to our water is in the hands of for-profit corporations and unfortunately there are no lines being drawn when it comes to profiting from disasters and human suffering.

Disaster capitalism is well documented (see The Shock Doctrine). Governments and corporations have long been exploiting natural, economic and political disasters for either financial gain or as an excuse to privatize industries.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is one such capitalist who spoke about FEMA last year during a primary debate; “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Anybody familiar with Romney’s business history knows he’s not above profiting from those who end up suffering as a consequence.

It just goes to show the mindset of those who keep doubts about climate change alive. The right in the United States has done an extraordinary job of disseminating their mendacity to the public, convincing moderates and those who don’t know better to stand at their side. It is the only way to explain why nearly half the country denies that our climate is changing.

Canadians are supposedly not so easily fooled. A poll conducted last august suggests that only 2% of Canadians deny that climate change is real, even in the conservative stronghold of Alberta the denial rate is only 21%. But while we all believe in climate change we went and elected a government that doesn’t. Perhaps Canadians aren’t as foolish so much as they are stupid.

A conservative used to refer to someone who conserves, that includes the planet. In my opinion, the real battle to counter the effects of climate change won’t be able to start until more people start speaking out and present day conservatism is put to rest. So long as there are people who persist on denying its existence or continuing the farcical debate, no amount of tsunamis, hurricanes or super-storms will help to bring about action.

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