After a disappointing series of Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates in which climate change was not mentioned once, apparently for the first time in 28 years going back to the 1984 Reagan-Mondale campaign, Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke the silence with his editorial in Bloomberg View on November 1st:
“Our climate is changing. 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.”
What stands out is the clarity, elegance and impact of Bloomberg’s statement. He successfully took a single event with huge impact and tied it directly to a single response – action on climate change. That was a bigger challenge than people may realize.
Supporters of action on climate change often tie themselves in knots when attempting to link events that happen with the reality of climate change. This is to their credit. Most want to be accurate, and this isn’t a question where you can’t fill a vial with water, add a few drops of a chemical, and watch the solution turn color – “red means climate change caused this event, blue means it didn’t”.
Making the connection therefore means a more in-depth discussion and analysis, which can produce strong evidence that an increased frequency of storms like Sandy and an increased level of devastation from those storms are both consistent with and likely results of climate change. That’s important and it’s true. But it takes way more attention and focus than the American people are capable of giving it, especially now. It simply won’t generate the kind of response that an event like Sandy is capable of commanding.
Michael Bloomberg understood that. But he clearly understood that making simplistic claims that aren’t supported by the evidence would also fail, though for different reasons. The idea he expressed – that the outcomes are so potentially devastating that the risk alone compels action – is not a new one. But it was the right idea, put succinctly and with great impact, for the situation.