The timing of Hurricane Sandy is thought provoking. One week before the election, nature gives the world -- and especially the U.S. -- a wake-up call of epic dimensions. While for the last couple of months being bombarded with information about the presidential debates -- we had given up on anything being able to break the 24/7 news coverage of the election. Until October 30th.
Some will consider Sandy's timing a coincidence -- but nonetheless this coincidence is very striking. The only issue, which succeeded to put a haul in the media's coverage of the election was the non-issue in the presidential debates; climate change -- exemplified by Hurricane Sandy.
While climate change was omitted from the election at large, Sandy placed itself in the middle of it and painted a clear picture of what's at stake. It's tempting to see a pattern in the climate warnings received in the months before the election: First, the severe drought in the spring and summer of 2012. Then, as another reminder to the politicians, the storm Isaac intervened with the Republican Convention in Florida. These events were not enough to put climate change on the public agenda and then a third, much stronger message was sent to the U.S. power centers on the East Coast in the form of Sandy.
Maybe it takes a very superstitious mind to see this pattern, but regardless of what we choose to accept and believe about climate change: We are entering the age of Sandys. There will be many more Sandys in our close future and they will get worse. In the words of New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo: "We have a 100-year flood every two years now."
However, an extreme catastrophe as Sandy is old news. Scientists have warned us for decades that climate disasters would increase, if we fail to adapt in time. Coastal cities, like New York, are especially vulnerable to this kind of climate change and should have flood prevention and flood control as core competence. Now the date 10/30 should be considered to be another proof of the fact that we've already passed important tipping points and that "100-year storms" and flooding will become part of our everyday lives. No reason for surprise.
New York received a few days warning about Sandy and fought furiously to minimize the damage -- but whatever we do, important tipping points were passed years ago and nobody can comprehend what kind of society, we'll have to deal with in the future. According to the latest scientific prognosis, we are now heading for at least four degrees rise in global temperature in this century -- and maybe even six degrees. The least we can do is accept that we are entering a new reality and doing our utmost to prevent its worst consequences. It is the ultimate test of human intelligence and our sense of responsibility. A test the world can't afford to fail.
That leaves us with several critical questions: Why do we deny a new climate reality, not only documented scientifically but demonstrated right outside our doorstep? How come the American public and politicians talk about catastrophic climate disasters as the new normal without putting it into perspective? How can we ever solve maybe the biggest challenge facing humanity, if we refuse calling it by its proper name?
For some strange reason we'd rather believe that extreme weather conditions are independent from each other -- even though they gain in strength and frequency. Of course it is more convenient to see the disasters as a natural phenomenon, we have no power over -- this perspective frees us from any sense of responsibility. But is this what we want? If we give up the responsibility, we also give up control.
CCDD: Climate Change Denial Disorder
Our common failure to connect the events and take responsibility can best be described as CCDD -- Climate Change Denial Disorder. While diseases like measles, tuberculosis, the small pox, who also killed a lot of people, are almost eradicated due to immunization, CCD Disorder has infected most of us and is very contagious.
Unfortunately, the leaders meant to further spread awareness about the disorder, President Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, display all the symptoms, which are:
• failure to acknowledge the inter-connectivety between climate change and other essential societal issues, such as the economy, the search for sustainable energy sources, foreign policy
• failure to ignite public awareness by placing climate change high on the political agenda.
• failure to speak up about climate change -- also known as climate silence.
That's one probable explanation as to why this election has broken the 24-year-old streak of discussing climate change at the presidential debates. Maybe also an answer to why this streak is broken by candidates, who want to become/stay president of a country that within the last year alone has experienced convincing effects of climate change.
So, is there a cure for Climate Change Denial Disorder? Yes, luckily there is. It's awareness. The more we know about climate change, the more we can demand that our politicians take a stand on it -- and put it right up there on their agenda along with the economy, foreign politics etc.
An aware public is immune to Climate Change Denial Disorder and decision makers, who suffer from it. But like with any other cure -- its effectiveness works better if injected early. Meaning -- we can't keep waiting.
What we should learn from Sandy
It's too early to determine what the aftermath of Sandy will be. The affected areas are entering a time of recovery -- it's hard to tell how much damage she's caused and how much it will cost to repair. The problem is not this period of recovery -- the real problem is that the tale of Sandy most probably will end at this stage. One could hope that the politicians will take it a step further and discuss the probability of Sandy being the new normal -- and start asking themselves some tough questions: How do we prepare for this "Age of Sandys"? How do we prevent it from accelerating even more? How do we engage the public in this transition to a new reality?
Maybe we need more proof that the drought, Isaac and Sandy are not just a normal part of nature. But ask yourselves one more question: Can we afford to be wrong?