What are we, as a nation, to learn from superstorm Sandy? Are we simply going to put a bandaid over the symptoms, or are we going to cure the disease? That is the essential question. Some useful analogies come from everyday life:
- Are we simply bemoaning the hangover of an extreme storm? Or are we confronting our alcohol-addiction-like fossil-fueled lifestyle that actually is the underlying problem?
- Are we going to keep going to the dentist (FEMA) every time we have a toothache (disaster), or stop eating candy (coal, oil) before bedtime and start brushing our teeth (invest in cleantech)?
- Are we going to hand out lifevests (adapt!), or recognize that the gash in the side of the climate is nearing the point of sinking the ship? Are we recognizing that full speed ahead (business as usual) is a crash course?
For those millions impacted by the floods, storm damage and power outages, Sandy was literally in their face. There is little doubt we need to rebuild. There is growing consensus that we need to protect our coastal cities. What is not so clear is whether our thinking, as a nation, will be deeper than that.
We have a pretty strong consensus that extreme storms are happening more often and we need to protect the eastern coastline better, in surveys and as exemplified by Governor Cuomo:
"Anyone who says that there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality," Cuomo said. "I told the president the other day: `We have a 100-year flood every two years now.'"This recognition of bad things happening more often does not necessarily carry with it insight into the real cause: climate change. Mayor Bloomberg was not so clear on 10/30: l
"What is clear is that the storms we've experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before. Whether that's global warming or what, I don't know, but we'll have to address those issues.""What is clear is that the storms we've experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before. Whether that's global warming or what, I don't know, but we'll have to address those issues."That's one reaction to Sandy. The immediacy makes it a no-brainer. Essentially "Ow, I have a hangover. Hey, these are happening more often. I need a pain-killer."
Was it simply that extreme weather is happening more? Or that we need to be able to listen to science, say "Climate Crisis" and do something about it? Even the in-your-face cover op-ed in BusinessWeek "Its Global Warming, Stupid" by Paul Barrett wasn't clear:
If Hurricane Sandy does nothing else, it should suggest that we need to commit more to disaster preparation and response.Still, the cover page insertion of the issue into politics is now prominent:
The [Climate] issue was MIA during the presidential debates and, regardless of who wins on Nov. 6, is unlikely to appear on the near-term congressional calendar. After Sandy, that seems insane.And he makes the argument:
To limit the costs of climate-related disasters, both politicians and the public need to accept how much they’re helping to cause them.So this is the other, more mature lesson from Sandy: We need to address our contribution to the problem. This is the real question. Recognizing that the climate is on steroids and that's bad (which most Republicans are not yet admitting), are we going to confront the problem that our carbon-based energy systems are causing, or remain in denial of our addiction?
When this comes up on conversation, ask your denier if s/he brushes his teeth and why.