Gales of November Have Come Early

How Sandy Has Crystalized the Presidential Race

Ken Silverstein | Nov 02, 2012


The collision of Hurricane Sandy and the national presidential election is literally the perfect storm, reminiscent of the Gordon Lightfoot classic called the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and when the “Gales of November came early.”

The infamous shipwreck may metaphorically link one of the meanest battles for the Oval Office with one of the most fiery storms to make landfall in the Northeastern United States: The hurricane is encapsulating the candidates’ management styles and their energy-related philosophies. Indeed, Mother Nature is defining the 2012 presidential contest just as Gordon Lightfoot adeptly characterized “The Wreck” in 1976.

Neither candidate is trying to politicize the hurricane. But the event may produce long-lasting policy implications -- from climate change to insurance underwriting to direct federal payouts. And while those discussions are occurring now and will continue forward, the storm is giving the public a view of how President Obama is managing a major crisis compared with how Mitt Romney would do so.

There’s no right or wrong here: A calm, collected and compassionate Obama is seen assuring those who have lost property that the Federal Energy Management Agency is coming. That is in direct contrast to what the GOP-hopeful is on record saying, which is that such crises are best left to the states or ideally, to the private sector.

“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,” Romney said in 2011, noting that decreasing the size of the federal debt is the most important thing here. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

The question then becomes whether such a response is adequate in the case of a major hurricane or earthquake -- or whatever Mother Nature is tossing our way. Romney’s campaign has since clarified his comments, noting that he would not abolish the federal assistance program but would insist that the states become the first-responders.

Weather Intensity

Obama’s position, conversely, is that the states that have been hardest hit are currently starry-eyed and that they now need national help. Either way, though, it’s an exercise in how each candidate would pull government’s levers and how they would weigh the human factor against the budgetary boundaries.

Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught is also drawing a clear distinction between the two challengers over climate change. Severe weather disturbances are more frequent and they are causing greater damages. Most scientists are saying that this is a function of increased heat-trapping pollutants caused by power plants and other industrial businesses. A smaller number say that such weather is part of a cyclical pattern and that it is not a man-made problem.

Here again, Obama’s course of action has been to allocate federal dollars to new technologies that have the potential to cut pollutants. It has also been to give his Environmental Protection Agency the leeway to set rules for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. By contrast, Romney would reduce such “speculative” funding while rolling back environmental regulations to give free markets more reign.

“Mainstream anti-climate change activists are proposing nothing less than the establishment of global weather control through energy rationing, regulations, and taxes, all managed by a global bureaucracy ...” writes Ken Green, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

But as this journalist has previously written, any prudent business person must consider “what if” and construct models using a variety of scenarios. While the environmentalists are criticized for wanting to bet the farm, it would be just as imprudent to ignore completely any “worst case”possibilities. Just ask those jurisdictions that have skimped on water protections and building standards.

In 2011,14 major weather events occurred costing at least $1 billion each, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sandy alone is expected to run $20 billion. Droughts, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, thunderstorms and wildfires have affected just about every state. 

Munich Re, which assumes risks from primary insurers so as to minimize their potential losses, says that North America has experienced a nearly five-fold increase in extreme weather patterns over 30 years. Some have said that this is the face of climate change while others are adamant that it is all part of a natural pattern.

“We must choose where to invest our risk reduction resources, and we must do so wisely, or we will inevitably find ourselves living in a riskier world than we might otherwise,” says Peter Roder, member of the Munich Re Board of Management responsible for North American business, in a recent company publication.

The insurer says that climate change is a culprit that cannot be ignored, affecting the formation and intensity of heat waves, droughts and thunderstorms: In the Gulf of Mexico alone, there’s been a 35 percent increase in the size of storms since 1995. It adds that when “global warming combines with natural weather cycles,” it exacerbates the perils and the insured losses.

As the various chapters to the 2012 presidential race are written, it will be said that Hurricane Sandy served to crystalize the candidates’ positions. It is distinguishing how they would manage crises and how they would exercise government’s controls. One event, in essence, has spoken louder than a thousand speeches.

For all practical purposes, the “Gales of November” have come early, giving Americans a better picture of how Obama and Romney would govern as president of the United States. 

EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been honored as one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People in Media.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

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Who pays?

It is really puzzling why the people of Peoria should be paying for the losses of rich beachfront homeowners on the east coast. The homeowners should either pay for private insurance, sell the property to someone who can pay the insurance, or abandon the property and turn it into beautiful beachfront parkland.

The wreck-video

Haunting 6 minute video of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The lyrics:

Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

Music and lyrics ©1976 by Gordon Lightfoot


The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee." The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy. With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty, that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the "Gales of November" came early. The ship was the pride of the American side coming back from some mill in Wisconsin. As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most with a crew and good captain well seasoned, concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms when they left fully loaded for Cleveland. And later that night when the ship's bell rang, could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'? The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound and a wave broke over the railing. And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too 'twas the witch of November come stealin'. The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait when the Gales of November came slashin'. When afternoon came it was freezin' rain in the face of a hurricane west wind. When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin'.

"Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya." At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,

(*2010 lyric change: At 7 p.m., it grew dark, it was then he said,)

"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!" The captain wired in he had water comin' in and the good ship and crew was in peril. And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours? The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er. They might have split up or they might have capsized; they may have broke deep and took water. And all that remains is the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters. Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings in the rooms of her ice-water mansion. Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams; the islands and bays are for sportsmen. And farther below Lake Ontario takes in what Lake Erie can send her, And the iron boats go as the mariners all know with the Gales of November remembered. In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed, in the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral." The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald. The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee." "Superior," they said, "never gives up her dead when the gales of November come early!"

Splitting the difference isn't an option here....

While some people have a hard time compromising their positions, I think that most people tend to find compromise a natural way of greasing the skids of human interaction.  Say for example, I want Pizza and you want Chinese food, very few times are we going to come to blows over the issue.  Maybe we'll get Chinese this time with the agreement that we'll get pizza later or maybe we'll go to the food court at the local mall and get both.  One way or the other, we tend to work things out.

This article illustrated this tendency when it pointed out, "A smaller number say that such weather is part of a cyclical pattern and that it is not a man-made problem.".  While "technically" true, this tendency to play nice might leave the reader not fully understanding the magnitude of how much smaller that number of scientists that believe that this increase in destructive weather patterns is not a man-made problem.

For example, 97% of scientists polled supported the position that the global climate change that we are currently experiencing is man made.  But that leads to further questions, such as, "who did the polling?"  Were they biased in any way? Ect. 

Well, that 97% figure came from the National Academy of Sciences, which from all outward appearances seems to be a pretty objective group, but MAYBE...just maybe, they have a secret adgenda and are really pulling our legs?  You never know, right?

Well, how about if we look at ALL of the peer reviewed scientific papers published between 1993 and 2003?  How many of these papers disputed the premise that we are currently experiencing "MAN MADE" climate change?  The answer.....Nada, zip, none,  not one even argued the point!

Okay, yeah....but they're scientists and I simply don't trust those ivory tower liberals!

Okay, that's where the article's point about the insurance industry having done the math.  It's not just the scientists anymore!  The people who are going to pick up the tabs from these storms have spoken!

The end result is that Climate Change is real.  Just as if you went to see 100 heat doctors and 97 of them said that you needed surgery in order to survive, you'd probably envision the other 3 as quacking like the Penguin on an old Batman rerun!

The fact that this presidential election is so close is testament to the power of a conservative media and people's natural desire to play nice.  In this case, I hope that there are enough people who look at the situation objectively and realize that this issue is way too important to hedge their bets on!


Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell





A bit of perspective missing in this article

There are some issues that must be considered that have not in the article.

1)  When one is considering severe weather events, discussing an increase over a 30 year span is a bit short.

2)  The Gulf of Mexico has been relatively quiet compared to previous years (knock on wood) whereas the east coast has picked up--a phenomenon that moves back and forth.

3)  The population on the coasts of the US has increased at 4 times the rate of inland areas according to various federal bureaus.  Would than not increase the costs and human tragedy implications of hurricanes all by itself?

4)  How does the "Dust Bowl" days drought compare to the recent drought?  We were not burning nearly as much carbon then.

5)  What about the very real impact of solar activity--sunspot activity that is presently at a high level?

I have no doubt that mankind's burning of fossil fuels is impacting the global climate but to elevate it to the primary cause of hurricane and drought events is a bit of a stretch and to lead that into an article basically endorsing President Obama and his policies is a bit of journalistic license that is--well--not right.