Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and larger in scale. As Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York said, “We’re getting a 100 year storm every 2 years.” It used to be that a hurricane just hit a state. Then along came Katrina that hit 2 or 3 states. The latest Category 1 hurricane was a massive weather system that hit 10 states, a whole region.
The scale of these large storms is getting larger and larger. 60% of the entire population of the United States was involved. There were massive power outages: over 8 million people without power. The death count is approaching 100. There is an estimated $20 billion in property damage and $30 billion in lost business. Bridges, tunnels and subway systems were taken out in New York City. Power substations and transformers blew up. Seventeen sub stations and transformer stations blew up in Rockland County alone. Gas fires broke out, and a whole neighborhood, Breezy Point, was wiped out by fire. Frustration is rising over the lack of gasoline.
And yet until this storm occurred, climate change or global warming has been rarely mentioned in the Presidential campaigns. Frontline did a special recently that explained why. The Koch brothers and other polluting billionaires have run a massive campaign to cast doubt on the fact of global warming. They have given major amounts of money to think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute for the express purpose of getting scientists to write papers suggesting that there is no such thing as global warming. This has been disseminated through their right wing group, Americans for Prosperity, and to the media.
Even though 98% of all scientists agree that global warming is not only occurring but is accelerating, the fossil fuel interests such as Big Oil want to go on making huge profits by selling products which produce massive amounts of carbon dioxide which is being dumped into the atmosphere. Their profits are based on convincing enough people that global warming is a figment of a few extremists’ imagination. They are creating a Climate of Doubt.
“This is the third time … in one year we’ve been through this”
By all accounts the government response to the current disaster has been exemplary. Current Administrator of FEMA, Craig Fugate, is a dedicated professional unlike Bush’s director, Michael “Heckuvajob, Brownie” Brown whose response to Hurricane Katrina was pathetic. He was a patronage appointment who had no previous experience with disaster planning. Before he was Administrator of FEMA he was Commissioner of an Arabian Horse Association. That was great experience for disaster planning! He was largely responsible for the Republican mantra that government is inept and ineffective and the private sector gets the job done.
Well this time there is an Obama appointee in the job and the job is getting done. In fact the main problem with the response to Sandy is the fact that gasoline is in short supply. But gasoline delivery is the responsibility of the private sector not government. So can we say that government is getting the job done and the private sector is screwing up? You bet we can.
There are no longer any Tea Partyers in the states affected by Super Storm Sandy, those that would eliminate FEMA or privatize it like Romney has called for. Former Tea Partyers, those that formerly vilified government, are crying to government to bail them out. It just goes to show that it depends on what government we’re talking about before we can talk about whether or not that government is inept.
The Bush government was inept; the Obama government is getting the job done very efficiently, and the former Tea Partyers are begging government to do something about the gasoline situation. How ironic! Instead of whining they should let the private sector, in particular the oil companies, respond in the way they see fit which is to say in the way that profits them most. And let the private sector pick up the tab for this disaster. See how far they get. And I think that global Warming may have acquired a few more believers especially in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
In an interview on the Rachel Maddow Show, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said, “This is the third time … in one year we’ve been through this. We got banged up very badly a year ago with Irene, much worse than other states. Six weeks later we had a winter storm that wiped us out. We actually had 1.1 million people in our little state without power. Tonight we have over 600,00 people without power. Some of our towns were affected by all three of those events and some of those towns had 97% of people without power each and every time in the last year.”
Rachel said in response,”In terms of the frequency of extreme weather, we’ve seen Governor Cuomo talking about that in terms of maybe this needing to be planned for as the new normal.”
Whether or not climate change is being caused by massive infusions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it behooves us to make some changes in our infrastructure to prevent downed power lines from causing massive power outages after every storm. We have called before for the undergrounding of power lines the way they’ve done in Germany. Germany hardly ever has power outages after severe storms due to downed power lines.
And yet, like the labors of Sisyphus in the US we continue to put the power lines back up on poles only to come down again after the next major storm. And increasingly each storm is becoming a major storm. Transformers and substations need to be hardened whatever that takes so they can’t be flooded out. New York City needs to have pumping stations in place in all tunnels so that pumping can begin immediately.
Governor Cuomo has stated that New York City has 15 to 20 stories of infrastructure underground because that was the model of a city that was built for the 20th century. Now that model is going to need massive retrofitting since electricity can’t be turned on until all of those 20 stories have been pumped out, and subways cannot run until electricity is turned back on.
Massive infrastructure rebuilding needs to happen if the US is not to be wiped out by the massive destructive weather events that are being caused by climate change. We cannot go on pretending that each hurricane, each tornado, each tsunami is just some fluke never to be repeated for another 100 years. We’re still rebuilding from Katrina for chrissake, how long will it take to rebuild from Sandy? The fact is that some areas will never recover just as some areas have never recovered from Katrina. We are setting the conditions for our own demise and putting our heads in the sand to deny that it is even happening.
As the scale of storms continues to increase we are in for weather events that take out whole regions, then progressively whole countries and then eventually whole continents. It used to be that a hurricane affected only a few cities or at most one state. Super Storm Sandy affected the whole of the eastern US plus some of the mid-west plus part of Canada.
Frequency of disastrous weather events is also increasing. We are seeing more than one billion dollar event per month. If we do nothing about global warming, we will soon be seeing a billion dollar weather event every week, and, finally, somewhere in the world there will eventually be one per day. Super Storm Sandy was only a Category 1 hurricane. It wasn’t the category of the hurricane that mattered. It was the massiveness that caused the destruction even at Category 1 wind speeds.
Governor Christie of New Jersey praised President Obama’s quick response efforts to the storm as well he should have. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg even endorsed Obama for President because he realizes that, if Romney is elected, the climate change deniers such as Senator Inhofe will have full sway in the government, a government dedicated to privatizing FEMA and going about the business started by Reagan and continued by Bush of proving that government is ineffective. Reagan famously said that the nine worst words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Well, a lot of people are wanting and needing help right now and they are beseeching government to help them. In a war there are no atheists in foxholes, and in a disaster like Super Storm Sandy there are no Tea Partyers in gas lines and in water soaked houses without power.