For as long as I can recall, hurricanes were a thrilling nuisance. I grew up about 20 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and 20 minutes from the Long Island Sound -- smack dab in the middle of Long Island. I longed to live near my cousins' house because they could touch the ocean from their Long Beach home. Hurricanes were a rare visitor, but they happened. In fact, when hurricane winds blew, my father's brother and family would march into our house to brave out the storm. Sometimes the cousins would stay for hours... sometimes, days.
When those hurricanes thrust their mighty last blow, my dad and uncle would pile the kids into the station wagon to appraise the damages. I remember the anticipatory excitement of driving through sandy salt water to get to their house at the end of the block. Would we find the dock perched 10 feet up on the grass? Would windows be smashed? Would the outdoor furniture be dangling off the deck in a tangle of boat line? We found all these things, but what made the most impression was what lurked beyond personal property damage. It was what the hurricane left behind: dead seagulls, shore birds, fish that couldn't find their way back to the ocean, and relocated plants and flowers. As we sifted through the wreckage, the thrill quickly dissipated and gave way to sadness for our beautiful natural upended world. I remember in the aftermath, my dad would say we must always be wary of nature, but the one good thing about a hurricane is that once it's over, it's over -- we didn't have to worry about the next one for a long, long time.
Not the case anymore. The east coast has a new reality -- freaky Frankenstorms and Superstorms. Why? Because we have hotter than normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. This means heavier rainfall and stronger winds. This means higher sea levels and increased coastal flooding. This means increased storm surges. This means the warning signs of global warming have breached the planet's levee and they can't be ignored any longer.
Here's what Gov. Andrew Cuomo said while Hurricane Sandy hammered NYC a few days ago:
"I don't think anyone can sit back anymore and say, 'I'm shocked at that weather pattern'... There is no weather pattern that will shock me anymore... Climate change is a reality... Given the frequency of these extreme weather situations we have had -- and I believe it is an increased frequency -- for us to sit here today and say this is a once-in-a-generation, and it's not going to happen again, I think would be short-sighted. New York must anticipate more of these extreme weather type situations in the future... We have to start thinking about how do we redesign this system... This is a new orientation for us... Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality."
Wow, this is a big, big deal! Until recently, most politicians (including the two running for president) were careful to sidestep climate change. But even in their tip-toe avoidance of attributing any single weather event to climate change, where they stand are telling in these statements:
"I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet." -- Gov. Mitt Romney
"And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet -- because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it." -- Pres. Barack Obama
Sandy has come and gone. My cousins are still unable to make their way from Brooklyn back to their oceanfront house to see if the house succumbed to Sandy's roar. But in this hurricane's wake, a clear choice has blown through the broken windows, boardwalks, airports, subways, power lines and our presidential election. As Gov. Cuomo says, we need to redesign the system. And to those who say we can't afford renewable energy, I say, we clearly can't afford more Sandys:
Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted it will end up causing about $20 billion in damage and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15 billion -- big numbers probably offset by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to longer-term growth.
The energy commitments our next president makes will affect the Frankenstorms and Superstorms my children and their children will suffer. Our next president must take global warming seriously and do something about it. Politicians in climate denial are upending nothing less than our children's future and they will not get my vote. How about yours?