This time they were real. And next time the storm could be worse.
But despite all the dramatic headlines declaring Hurricane Sandy the worst storm to hit the East Coast in human memory, there has been barely a whisper of climate change in any of the top weather-related news stories.
I was hoping that Sandy would prove to be a big wake-up call for the privileged denizens of the East Coast, many of whom hold influential positions in business, finance and government.
But instead of people acknowledging the climate elephant in the room and starting to talk about proactive steps we can take to avoid such scenarios in the future, they are just following the usual reactionary script: marshalling disaster relief, urging the citizenry to donate to the American Red Cross, assessing the cost of the clean-up and how long it will take to put Humpty back together again.
A storm like Sandy—or Irene, or Katrina—should prompt reflections on the awesome power of natural forces, and the puniness of human structures.
Take our power away and we are suddenly rocketed back into the early 19th century. Take our food supplies away, and we become an angry mob in no time. Do it on a scale that impacts millions of people all living crowded together, and you have a recipe for unprecedented horror.
This is not a pitch for the next action thriller film, and it’s not idle chatter. These are the kinds of scenarios our governors and national leaders were worrying about yesterday when they authorized the shutting down of mass transit, schools and businesses.
We were lucky this time. Sandy weakened as she came ashore and the damage, while serious, is manageable.
What we know is that with each passing month and year of inaction on global heating, the storms will become more frequent and more intense. In the years to come, we will look back on Sandy as child’s play, just a warning of what is yet to come.
What should we be doing now, as individuals, as a nation, and as a global human community?
- We should be starting a massive shift to renewable, clean energy sources. And I’m not talking about “clean coal.” Wind, solar, geothermal, tidal—these are the sources that can safely feed our energy addiction, without driving our climate into ruin.
- We should be shifting away from cars and highways to trains and mass transit. Bicycles, too. And we should embrace the shift to online commerce and education, to avoid the need for a great portion of the horrendous morning commute.
- We should start a concerted effort, especially in densely populated areas like the northeast corridor, to bury the power lines. Tangled mats of downed overhead wires should become a thing of the past, and quickly. We need to become much more resilient at surviving big storms, and our electric grid is a 19th century anachronism in need of immediate upgrade to the 21st century.
- We need to start a serious citizens’ movement to resist the tripartite junta of the fossil fuel industry, Big Agriculture and Big Chemical. These three industries must be held accountable for the tremendous destruction they are wreaking on our environment, and on us as individuals. I’d like to see Big Insurance take our side in this battle; I am sure they’re getting tired of always being stuck holding the bill when the next disaster strikes….
These storms are not random events. They are getting bigger and closer together and less predictable. The hotter the climate, the more the ice melts at the poles, the more freakish our weather will become—except that freakish is going to be our new normal.
It’s time to stop the denial, stop allowing ourselves to be distracted from the very serious questions that face us now.
It boils down to this: are we going to leave a livable Earth to our children and grandchildren? Or are we going to go down in history (if there are any left to carry history forward) as the most criminal generation of all time?