Superstorms For Our Children

BY ON October 31, 2012
Superstorm Sandy evacuations show devastation of climate change

3 yr old being evacuated in Staten Island, New York ~ Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

The New York Times
and other media are calling the events around Superstorm Sandy “once-in a generation.” But whose generation are they talking about?

Perhaps, if you are in your 60s or 70s or 80s, Sandy’s destructive forces are a once in your lifetime event. But younger generations—those of us in our fifties, and our children—will likely be looking at flooded coastal cities, devastated infrastructure, blownout power, and storm surges for the rest of our lives.

We’ve got to stop this “angels dancing on the head of a pin” argument about the connections between individual storms and climate change. Scientists can—and should—try to parse out each and every contributor to a storm. That’s their job. But policy makers cannot afford to do so—or to wait for definitive answers. The overall picture is dire enough. Our climate is changing, for the worse. Reliability and predictability of climate patterns? That, too, belongs to an older generation. We need only look at the role of warmer North Atlantic ocean temperatures in Sandy’s growth to see this.

Just last year, once-in-a-generation Irene arrived—becoming the fifth-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, causing 49 deaths and 19 billion in damage. But Irene was a breeze by comparison to Sandy. And while we’ve been changing our climate, we’ve also been pushing ourselves closer to the edge of urban viability. Here we are digging a new subway—underground—in New York. Are we learning nothing about what makes a coastal city vulnerable? For more than a year now, Amtrak riders between Boston and New York have been looking out the window and watching as concrete slabs were hoisted into position—in what will surely be a vain effort to protect rail beds. A main transportation artery is literally inches from the ocean.

We must stop this “once in a generation” thinking. It is dangerous, misleading, and irresponsible. Those who still believe that the powerful new floods, fires, droughts and storms are once in a generation events are blocking the way to doing something about climate chaos. Perhaps Sandy will finally blow that kind of rhetoric away.


TOPICS: Heat and Extreme Weather, Politics

  • G.Carroll

    Nice, Dominique. You are right. We comfort ourselves with this idea that Sandy-type storms will continue to be anomalies. And it is a comfort we cannot afford. This reminds me of my days living 1200 feet from the San Andreas fault in California. You need to tell your self that that next big catastrophe is not going to happen today…but then you need to plan and prepare for the reality that it’s coming. The same is true with our weather. I keep saying about climate change– denial is a dangerous place to reside!

  • Linda Harris

    I love what you’re pointing out, and wonder if you have endorsed the labeling of GMO’s on the California ballot? I may have missed it, but its not too late! It is a true grass roots David and Goliath issue. A “Mom’s for Clean Air” endorsement will help folks to connect the dots between labeling and cleaner air, slowing climate change, reducing and reversing pollution. GMO labeling will promote a national conversation about this largely unknown technology (genetic engineering), which is a poster child of industrial agriculture, a huge contributor to air and water pollution.