The devastation of Hurricane Sandy may become a fading news headline in unaffected parts of the country, but it remains prevalent in the New York and New Jersey area. From ravaged homes and lost cars, to images of Manhattan’s Chelsea galleries hanging art out to dry—this weather event has had repercussions that will not dissipate once the television cameras leave.
In my New York neighborhood, damage was light. However—the sight of people descending upon stores like locusts, grabbing up as much as they could, and waiting at the register for over thirty minutes…that was scary. It looked like a scene from a disaster movie.
In the immediate aftermath, those who were able to watch television heard New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo talk about the new reality that had to be taken seriously—the issue of climate change. Every time I heard him speak, it was another iteration of the same comment. He said, “We get a storm of the century every two years now.” He was pointing to the 2011 tropical storm, Hurricane Irene. I had left New York a day ahead of Irene’s rains for a week in Vermont—only to end up in a scenario of flooded roads and bridges.
Editorial reflect on whether Hurricane Sandy is the tipping point, the catastrophe that will put the environment back on the table—pointedly after a presidential election where there was no debate on climate change. Could this latest occurrence be a wake-up call? Would it move the needle? Cuomo contributed a November 15 editorial to the New York Daily News:
“Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions—it leads to gridlock. The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all. We need to act, not simply react.”
One of the prime arguments put forth during the election season was the red herring that addressing environmental issues was a death knell for jobs and the economy. A lot of that disinformation was sponsored by those with deep pockets, who have financial interests in keeping coal and oil companies as a permanent part of the energy equation.
Yet, because of “Superstorm” Sandy, a groundswell of support to have a conversation can no longer be suppressed. Women, both as mothers and in leadership roles from government to health and business, are placing themselves at the front of the line. The goal is to open and amplify the conversation, thereby driving action and change.
What do American citizens need to understand? Firstly, that the science is real. It may be a tough trek when there are members of the House and Senate Science Committees who recite erroneous facts that would make an elementary school teacher cringe. However, the severe droughts, flood, heat waves, and deadly weather must be used as a jumping off point for a learning moment.
Energy sources such as coal, oil, and gas pollute the air and warm the planet. This is not just an American problem. It’s a global problem. Stats on extreme weather have been evidenced in Brazil, Beijing, India, East Africa, and Britain. The phrase being used to reference this situation is “dirty weather.”
As those impacted by Hurricane Sandy discovered, the human tragedy and devastation go way beyond the projected $50 billion in destruction to property and business. It resides in the stories of the 24-year-old animal activist who was killed by a tree. It’s the two Staten Island toddlers who were yanked from their mother’s grasp by rushing water, as she tried to reach safety. It’s the people who lost their homes and belongings and are trying to summon the courage to pick up the pieces of their communities. These people have suffered the effects of extreme weather first hand.
Part of the future depends on galvanizing these voices, combined with others, to demand that climate change be addressed. It starts at a granular level with each individual educating themselves and passing the word on to those who do not yet understand the magnitude of the matter.
Currently, 20% of the world’s electrical supply is comprised of renewable energy. The agenda can be changed—if everyone sees the issue through the prism of personal citizen-responsibility and demands action.