Hurricane Sandy to Play Important Role in Presidential Election?

Written By Jessica Nichols

Hurricane Sandy has been declared the highest costing and the largest hurricane on record. Scientists cite global warming and its effects to the recent spike in ‘super storms,’ which then begs the question of how Sandy is going to effect the upcoming presidential election.

Whether one is a democrat, republican or a third party supporter, a natural disaster transcends party lines. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which experts are saying was so severe partially due to global warming, how the candidates respond to these very real issues may be a decisive point in the minds of voters.

After breaking ground in the United States on October 29, Sandy has become the second-most costly hurricane in US recorded history, racking up an estimated $50 billion in economic losses, and is second only to Hurricane Katrina. Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, recently tweeted this in regards to the strength and severity of Sandy, “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”

Global warming is not necessarily the most widely accepted notion, however, especially outside of the scientific community. There are still many political and religious figures that do not believe in climate change as well as our role in it, and responsibility that humans have on this planet.

President Obama supports Donna Vanzant, the owner of the North Point Marina, which was damaged in the hurricane, during a tour through Brigantine, NJ this October 31, 2012

But how can global warming alter weather patterns or the severity of storms? Scientists look to indicators like sea level to determine this. This past summer heralded a large loss on the level of sea ice. Climate Central had this to say, “The loss of sea ice opens large expanses of open water, which then absorbs more of the incoming solar radiation and adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere, thereby helping to alter weather patterns.”

Romney has been unclear on the subject at best, citing an unclear scientific stance as the source for his measured view on the topic. He told donors at the Consol Energy Center, “My view is that 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.”

Obama, on the other hand, may be taking a much more active role in the wake of Sandy. While Obama has never before had a problem mentioning global warming, he has of yet has not brought to the table the seriousness of the issue at hand, though he did say in a speech in Charlottesville, Va. last week, “Denying climate change doesn’t make it stop.”

As coverage of Sandy spreads and the clean-up effort is put into place, the pressure is on for this presidential election. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are on the ropes to ensure that they are sending their message to the public, assuring them that they, too, take this issue very seriously.

A Holiday Message from British Petroleum

oil coated bird after BP oil spill

Gulf Coast bird slicked in some of the more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled at the Macondo oil well

Written by: Holly Troupe

Nearly two years after an explosion on the British Petroleum (BP)-leased Deepwater Horizon platform killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is releasing an ad December 26th updating the nation on its efforts to restore the Gulf Coast to ecological working order. Like the previous ads which featured BP’s Head of External Relations Iris Cross, the tone is optimistic; the narrative focuses on the continuing cleanup efforts and economic recovery. But, with disparate assessments of the damage done to the ecosystem and fishing industries, are predictions that the Gulf will recover by 2012 valid?

Tourism seems to be back on track. All Gulf water fronts are now open to the public. Persistent advertising for holiday weekends and vacations, paid for in great part by BP funding, helped to drive rental occupancy rates up to nearly 100 percent during the months of June and July. As for the concentration of oil currently in the costal waters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that by August of 2010 a significant percentage had either dispersed or dissolved. Independent researchers from Texas A & M University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Santa Barbara concurred with these findings, adding that microbes had consumed much of the remaining methane and oil.

However, Dr. Samantha Joye, from the University of Georgia, found the oil the other scientists were missing: on the seafloor. The bacteria digesting the oil had to excrete it somewhere, and the heavier oil-saturated waste fell to the depths below. “In the places we sampled, it was devastating. Often you saw this oily mucus, blanketing everything,” Joye told the New York Times. “Typically, the seafloor is teeming with invertebrates sticking out — little animals with tubes, with shells, anything that filter-feeds. Well, the tubes were still there, but the animals were dead.”

There is evidence to suggest that even Gulf marine life that doesn’t dwell in highly contaminated areas is affected. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that killifish exposed to trace amounts of the oil pollutants exhibited signs of developmental problems that may adversely affect their ability to breed. Andrew Whitehead with Louisiana State University took tissue samples from killifish and found liver abnormalities that show evidence of reproductive impairment. Many Gulf organisms, including red-snapper, rely on killifish as a food supply. “Though the fish may be ‘safe to eat’ based on low chemical burdens in their tissues, that doesn’t mean that the fish are healthy or that the fish are capable of reproducing normally,” said Whitehead. “Early life-stages of many organisms are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of oil and because marsh contamination occurred during the spawning season of many important species.”

So, what about the fishing industries? Gulf coast shrimpers are reporting 80 percent lower yields than in previous years. According to Dean Blanchard, a New Orleans seafood processor, fishermen are pulling oil-slicked seafood out of the water regularly. Blanchard also told Fox8 News of a disquieting new phenomenon: shrimp with no eyes. “We’re seeing shrimp with no eyes that are still alive,” he said. Oyster crops diminished tremendously as well. In Mississippi, the BP spill reduced the crop to roughly 35 percent of its usual volume according to Mike Voisin, a New Orleans oyster processor. “This will be our lowest oyster year in a very long time, probably since the late ’80s,” he said. The lingering fear that Gulf seafood is a vessel of toxins has harmed the industry as well. In districts where crop volume is normal, sales have depreciated significantly. Avery Bates, vice president of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama wants to reassure the public that Alabama’s oyster harvest is healthy, but doubts linger. “I’ve never seen any storm hit us like BP did,” he said. “It got our reputation. People lost their clientele and closed. BP hurt our reputation so bad.”

Unlike a fire or an earthquake, where damages can be assessed largely according to logistic criteria, it is almost impossible to foresee the manifestation of ecological damages. Cleanup crews exposed to the crude and chemical dispersants are experiencing respiratory problems; marshlands that house local wildlife are dying; shrimp are swimming around with no eyes. The BP ad campaign, set to be released on television, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, will stress the $20 billion in funding BP has allotted for Gulf Coast economic and environmental redevelopment. Nevertheless, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser told a Colorado Springs homeland security symposium, “We are continuing to see a deterioration of the marsh from the oil spill of April 20, 2010, and I still can’t tell you who is in charge of the cleanup.” Even with vigorous cleanup efforts, Dr. Samantha Joye is dubious of a 2012 recovery.

“There has been a lot of energy and effort put towards beating the drum of everything is wonderful, everything is going to be fine by 2012,” Joye says. “ It’s not OK down there. The system is not fine.”