Post-Sandy Reflections

It Took a Superstorm to Get Politicians to Admit that Climate Change Is a Serious Problem
Two weeks have passed since Hurricane Sandy savaged the east coast of the United States. New York City’s flooded subways eerily matched climate-change predictions. Sandy broke an absurd silence, an absence of the words “global warming” or “climate change,” that had hung over the entire election campaign. Finally, at least New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg have uttered the forbidden.

“Climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable,” said Cuomo, while Bloomberg endorsed Obama largely based on the steps he’s taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey’s combative, conservative warrior who’d been conducting a verbal onslaught against the President only a week before, seemed shaken to the core and suddenly vouched for Obama’s character in reacting to the devastation.

What a difference a hurricane made! It really should be the scientific consensus, rather than a single storm, that moves environmental policy. Yet terror concentrates the heart—and where the heart goes, the mind follows. Sandy seems to have altered our national conversation. At least for a week. Remember, though, how little difference Hurricane Katrina made once the initial furor subsided. And the BP oil spill has been quickly forgotten. Amnesia is rampant in our multimedia, sound-bite saturated society. We will see if Sandy’s impact lasts.

Another storm will come. Manhattan will again be threatened. It may be in two weeks. It may be in 30 years. But it will be here. Perhaps by the time it hits, New York City will have built floodgates, as some have suggested, but this intervention would be, at best, a partial palliative. Of course, the only true cure is prevention. However, it’s too late to avoid some brutal effects of climate change. We will need to expend our treasure on mitigation, while the poorest countries suffer the most.

This post has been reprinted with permission from the Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy Blog.