Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sandy Reflections

The Sandy recovery & reflection period started one month ago. Four weeks ago today our power came back on, and like the flip of a switch, we changed from spooked, cagey, flinty survivors to 'what's on Bravo?'

The big take-away for me is how the storm is viewed in the context of global climate change, or as some prefer Global Weirding. It is shocking to me that climate change has been so frequently connected to discussions about this storm, when it wasn't so long ago when to do so was taboo and politically dangerous. So many New York Times stories have been written about basically proclaiming New York City doesn't have a chance in a the coming warmer world. Last week's Sunday Review literally prepared New Yorkers for the day when they will have to move their city to Rochester. Bloomberg's surprise endorsement of Obama the week of the storm was directly linked to climate change. And his rebuffing of plans to protect the city with sea walls stems from his long held view that we need to stop the climate from changing by changing our behaviors (he needs to devote his time out of office to figuring out how we have to change our economy to facilitate that goal). Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo supports the idea of building protections. Both men attribute storms like Sandy to climate change.

Even Obama makes the connection. He prefaces his statement by saying that "no single weather event can be attributed to climate change", but he goes on to talk about the importance of increasing our efforts to reduce human impact on climate change. This would have been impossible for a politician to say a few years ago.

[In a 4th season 2002 episode of The West Wing, there was a story line about a flash flood in Alaska that killed some people. The liberal writers had one of the liberal characters claim this was "the first death attributed to global warming." And in the episode this caused a backlash and mini-scandal. As usual it was the writer's way of representing politicians as they should be, not as they are.]

I remember the feeling the climate change acceptance shift as it was happening, between the 2004 and 2008 elections. We rapidly switched from the Dick Cheny "the American way of life is not negotiable" attitude to where we couldn't talk about these things except in the most left of liberal circles, to the broad understanding of the public that the American way of life is going to change whether we negotiate or not. It was a shocking, palpable shift in the public perception, and one that was already underway well before Obama and the democratic senate passed their cap and trade bill. Whether it will ever become law may depend on a few more years of droughts, fires and storms, and how much the American people really want to change their economy.
In eight years living here (and all the previous years of my life) I never had to prepare for a hurricane--until Irene last year and Sandy this year. There is an emotional acceptance among people that this may well happen every year from now on. And if it does happen in September or October of 2013, the modifier "new" will be lopped off of the oft-quoted expression, and we will just have "normal."

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