We Heard You Sandy!

by Sue Taggart

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we are reminded just how fragile and precarious life can be on our beautiful blue planet. When Mother Nature sets out to give us a warning, we had better take notice. But like in many natural disasters that have gone before, once we are back on the road to recovery, we are quick to forget.

Sitting right in the middle of the 14-foot tidal swells in a high rise at Battery Park City, I won’t soon forget.  Now is the time our politicians stop playing politics and wake up to the reality of climate change. Election day is upon us and I for one want to have someone in the White House who will do more than pay lip service to this monumental problem that is staring us right in the face. President Obama and the Democratic Party have for the most part ignored climate change—except for higher fuel efficiency standards. The Republicans mock anyone who even utters the words. And we as Americans let it happen.

Of course the economy is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and since the Wall Street crash, it has been the top priority for lawmakers. But what is it going to take before this country and the people we elect make it more than just an issue? When are we going to face the fact that cheap fossil energy is costing us way more than the price of fuel at the gas tank? Climate change is here–it’s not just a theory–the terrible effects of global warming are happening right in front of our eyes, but we seem blind to them.

President Obama has looked very presidential and shown great leadership in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie has demonstrated bi-partisanship at it’s best in his candid praise for FEMA and appreciation for the president’s co-operation and support, for once the two sides are working together for the common good. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be, not just when there’s a catastrophic disaster!

Governor Romney, in a Republican primary debate last year was asked whether the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to be turned back to the states. His response was, “absolutely”.  Well, maybe he needs to experience flood waters rising around his home, that may change his mind. FEMA has learned a few things since Hurricane Katrina and most of us want to know that our government is there for us in times like this. Yes, of course we must have state level disaster preparation and rescue plans firmly in place, but there will always be a need for strong federal disaster capability. This country sends federal disaster relief all over the world, why would we want to deny it to our own citizens?

But, what’s going to happen once things get back to “normal”—I’d hazard a guess and say pretty much nothing. Oh, there will be some debate and lip service paid to the issue of climate change, but once the news media stops covering the events of the past week, something else will be “news” and that will be that. Hurricane Sandy will be another statistic to be used when the next one hits, the perfect storm that broke all records.

But those in the thick of it are actually starting to get it. The “once-in-a-century floods” are now turning into “once-a-year floods”. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are on the same page with what needs to be done in New York City, they agree that the country’s biggest city will need to consider building surge protectors and somehow waterproofing its enormous subway system. “It’s not prudent to sit here and say it’s not going to happen again,” Cuomo said. “I believe it is going to happen again.”

It’s really down to us. If we want change we have to let our leaders know that loud and clear. And, we have to be prepared to pay for that change. Alternative energy will not be cheap, but we can’t keep giving up on it when the going gets tough and expensive. Clean up efforts and economic losses following natural disasters are not cheap either. A Business Week article, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” November 1, by Paul Barrett, puts the effect of Hurricane Sandy in sharp perspective.

“Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.”

Underwater we were, dark it was, silent—no more.


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