In the days following Hurricane Sandy, politicians, activists and civilians alike jumped into action on recovery efforts. Local governments brainstormed ways to fix failing infrastructure, while people across the nation discussed the need for an epistemological shift on a federal level.
Now, a mere two weeks after one of the most destructive U.S. storms ever hit the East Coast, that momentum is fading. In the above video from Democracy Now, Naomi Klein, the award-winning author of “The Shock Doctrine,” discusses how we should not, and cannot, let go of this opportunity. "Here we have a crisis that was supposed to be a wake up call about climate change. And it was, for a little while,” she explains. “Yet when we think about reconstruction, we are talking about how to hold back the next storm, not how to prevent the storms from continuing to escalate."
Klein cites increasing transit fare as proof that government is not really taking environmental issues seriously enough. "What should be happening in response to [Sandy]... is saying not only do you not want fare increases, but public transit in a moment like this should be free,” she insists. “We should be developing policy that encourages the maximum number of people not to use cars.”
Klein blames fizzling interest on allowing the privileged few to swoop in and save the victims, as opposed to allowing survivors to help heal themselves. "Often what you have are very elite-driven reconstruction processes. The affected people are treated as so traumatized and so victimized that they of course could not participate in the reconstruction process themselves. This is just simply not true."
“In fact,” she continues, “the best way to recover from a trauma is to overcome your helplessness by participating, by helping."
Klein uses Occupy Sandy as an example of “mutual aid,” where communities are empowered to rebuild together with volunteers, as opposed to being treated like “clients” by traditional relief organizations.
These people don’t just want short term relief, she says, but the ability to make a difference in the long term. After visiting victims in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Klein insists that climate change was a major focus in the disaster's aftermath.
“People were bringing up climate change unsolicited with me again and again and again. They were saying things like, 'we don’t just want the lights on. Wouldn't it be nice if we had solar power, so we didn’t have storms threatening us next year and the years after?’"
Although she sees a missed opportunity in Sandy recovery efforts, Klein thinks real progress can still be made. "The truth about climate change is that we are locked into a certain amount of climate change in the years to come. But we absolutely have a very small window to try to avoid catastrophic climate change. We've gotten a taste of what we're looking forward to [if we ignore it], and its pretty scary."