By Jim Stanford on November 2, 2012
In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, National Geographic ran a cover story about the increasing number and severity of hurricanes. I sent the magazine to a friend whose parents’ home was destroyed on the Mississippi coast.
At the time I was worried about the future of New Orleans — not New York.
The images coming out of Queens and New Jersey this week look a lot like Louisiana and Mississippi post-Katrina. My family was fortunate: Being far enough inland on Long Island, flooding was not a danger. But my mom said her house shook unlike anything she had experienced in her life, and a towering oak fell over in the front yard, luckily away from the house.
My family went without power for nearly four days. Cell service was wiped out for much of that time, but mom had her trusted, wall-mounted rotary phone that allowed her to stay in touch. An oil lamp brightened the nights.
Far from the hurricane-hardened French Quarter, the reality is sinking in that climate change affects us all. From the Joplin, Mo., tornadoes to this summer’s wildfires around the West and now Superstorm Sandy, we are experiencing more and more severe weather, just as scientists have predicted. And we are helping to inflict these miseries on ourselves.
Deniers claim there’s no proof, yet why would we even take a chance? Over and over, Republicans say taking steps to curb climate change will kill our economy. Yet the cost of the latest calamity is expected to be tens of billions of dollars, the second-highest price tag ever after Katrina.
As has been widely noted, after a presidential campaign in which there was no mention of climate change — the first such since 1984 — Mother Nature forcefully injected herself into the discussion in the final week.
Today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama, citing steps he has taken to curb carbon emissions. Bloomberg wrote:
Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
That’s leadership: getting people to confront an unpleasant truth. Meanwhile, climate change was a punchline in Mitt Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention last summer.
New Yorkers are resilient and will pump out their subways and tunnels, rebuild the infrastructure damaged by the storm and plant new trees to replace the many thousands uprooted. Given rising seas, the city already has begun to consider a system of storm surge barriers or levees.
Hopefully, in places like suburban Long Island, people will begin to think more, too, about the consequences of choices they make in their everyday lives, like walking instead of driving around the block to the bagel shop.
Trolls will rail here that climate change is a hoax. Wyoming’s congressional delegation, led by GOP Sen. John Barrasso, has been among the worst, trying to muddy the science at the behest of their benefactors in coal, oil and gas.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. As the photos of N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama comforting hurricane victims illustrated, we’re all in this together, as Americans.
In his News&Guide column this week, Todd Wilkinson recalled former President George H.W. Bush’s visit to the Teton Science School in Kelly in 1989. Bush gave a speech calling for sweeping environmental reforms, to strengthen the Clean Air Act. He was flanked by the likes of Al Simpson, Malcom Wallop, Craig Thomas and Cliff Hansen. He said:
Last summer I called 1988 the year the Earth spoke back. … And although, ultimately, medical waste on beaches or that wandering garbage barge may not present as grave a danger as the ozone holes that we cannot see, touch, or smell, they helped provide the jolt that we needed as a nation.
Maybe losing the presidential election on Tuesday will be the jolt the Republican Party needs to put the good of the nation ahead of the interests of industry. As the Big Apple can attest, every year now, it seems, the Earth is speaking back.