On Hurricane Sandy: The Climate Change Elephant in the Room

6 November 2012

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By Christine Batten, CFJC Policy and Outreach Intern

This year I had a truly fear-invoking Halloween, but not in the name of holiday spirit. Rather, I’ve been helplessly following a “natural” disaster that threatened my loved ones on the opposite coast.

Days ago my family braced themselves for a real-life “perfect storm”—a category 2 storm from the West with an Arctic air from the North joining forces. In their rural New Jersey neighborhood flooding loomed, and the threat of uprooted pine trees was imminent. Fortunately for my family, the eye of the storm shielded them from the more severe flooding and damage that erupted in surrounding cities in the tri-state area. After the brief sense of relief for their safety, the horror at large settles in—friends, neighbors, and our extended community still suffer.

Hurricane Sandy is one of the worst storms the East Coast has faced. For New Jersey, it is the worst storm on record. My brother and his wife as well as over 65% of the state wait for power to return to their home. And that was not projected until the 5th of November. That’s about a week without power or heat. Grocery stores as well lacked power, creating issues of food access. Not that anyone most in need of emergency food will be able to store perishables or cook meals without power anyway. And, without refrigeration for that length of time, medications may degrade (e.g. the insulin that type 1 diabetics rely on). Many others have lost more than just electricity—they’ve lost their homes to flood or fire.

Disasters such as these are not man-made. However, people and our institutions can escalate and catalyze the process. Weather knows no borders. It has no bounds. Yet, our presidential candidates have yet to address climate change.  Human ignorance (thoughtless burning of fossil fuels) coupled with political negligence (refusal to work toward mitigating the effects of climate change) spell disaster. A changing climate is no longer a looming, distant threat. Severe weather—hurricanes, drought, intense heat—are steadily becoming the new normal. There’s no more wiggle room for apathy. If the effects of severe weather are palpable, then why are our politicians not addressing it? Are they truly ignorant or just irresponsible?

The U.S. is the second greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama and Governor Romney should own some accountability and address needed solutions. Maybe their lack of concern comes from the fossil fuel industry’s tight grip on politics, since they’re helping pay for the election. Big Money seems more important than Real Issues. Not only are candidates avoiding honest conversation about relevant public issues, Mitt Romney has mentioned wanting to gut or privatize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency for disaster response and recovery. That’s rather unnerving, considering current science predicts more frequent severe weather and, in-turn, more disasters.

As we recover from Sandy’s devastation, let’s hold our representatives accountable. Let’s push them to seek solutions and to actually make the necessary changes to mitigate the effects of climate-change-induced disasters in the future.

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