From Superstorm Sandy To Climate Action

by Daphne Wysham

Sandy is like a horror film we can’t stop watching: And this “Frankenstorm,” coming right on Halloween, is giving us the best of the worst of storms.

We are glued to the set, knowing exactly what comes next: The weathercasters wade into thigh-deep water; they stand at the ocean’s edge, buffeted by high winds; they shout into the microphone…. It is as if the whole thing is choreographed, like some archetypal play being enacted before our eyes for the one-thousandth time.

We have come to expect the endless parade of men (and they are largely men): mayors, governors, presidents, military leaders, all looking manly, in control, surrounded by more men, looking on, somberly, from behind. What they say is less important (we already know the advice, but, like children, must be told again and again: “Things are bad;” “Don’t take any risks;” “Stay off the roads”) than how they say it, and what the optics are: Does he look presidential? Is he a man in charge? How calm does he sound in the face of catastrophe? We need that “father figure,” it seems, when times are tough. And our media and our politicians willingly oblige.

We are so good at this, in America, so good at responding to the crisis. We cheer on our National Guard, our Coast Guard, our everyday heroes, and then, when the danger has passed, when the tide recedes, we congratulate ourselves and them by digging deep into our pockets and sending money to the Red Cross and the homeless shelters, saluting our men and women in uniform, as though this, and this alone, were the price of admission.

And yet…we are fooling ourselves, again and again, just as our children do every Halloween. This Frankenstorm, can we stop fooling ourselves? Our planet desperately needs us to act like adults and get beyond [just] responding to one storm after another, as though each one were a unique shock, and not related to an overall climate crisis of enormous proportions.

We need our political leaders and weather-casters to end the silence on climate change, to tell us the truth: That these storms will only grow more intense as our oceans warm and the Arctic melts. And we need to start to think long-term, to start claiming responsibility and not blame Mother Nature for our plight. Climate change is upon us, folks, and if this is what a 1 Degree Celsius rise looks like, imagine what a 2, 3, or 4 degree rise looks like.

For leadership, we may have to look beyond our borders, to the Danes or the Germans: They have taken their blinders off, looked around, taken stock of who owns most of the oil and gas in the world, carefully reviewed what Japan is suffering in the wake of Fukushima’s multiple nuclear meltdowns, and both countries have made a firm commitment to going both fossil-fuel-free and nuclear-free. These countries are committed to true energy independence–not the short-lived kind that results from trading one poisonous addiction for another. It is a long slog. Their path does not involve instant gratification nor feel-good heroics. It involves tinkering with different policies–such as Germany’s feed-in tariff and Denmark’s multi-decadal experimentation with wind. It involves committing hundreds of billions of dollars to solving a problem that will ultimately save these countries and their people hundreds of billions of dollars, while saving millions of lives around the world.

There are few heroes in these national dramas. There are plenty of ordinary people, including women, thinking of their children, their grandchildren, and of children on the other side of the planet, understanding that the energy commitments we make today affect the “Frankenstorms” our children will suffer tomorrow.

Can we grow up and out of scaring ourselves to death? Can we move into a long-term push toward the kind of energy future that will not bring real terror to millions around the world? Or will we just put on the costume of Superman and pretend we have saved [Metropolis] yet again while Frankenstorm 2.0 waits around the corner?

Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and is the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. This piece was originally published at IPS and was excerpted with permission.

9 Responses to From Superstorm Sandy To Climate Action

  1. NJP1 says:

    As the effort to bring everything back to ‘normal’ gets under way, we might be deluding ourselves once again as to the extent of what we are taking on here.
    To put things right, we will pump out water, fight fires, shift debris, feed people, tend the injured—all necessary stuff, but to do that we will have to burn fuel. And this time we will overcome disaster, because we have sufficient fuel to fight the forces of chaos. Things will get back to normal, and the mating calls of the hoax-merchants will be heard once more across the land as the rain stops and the skies clear.
    But we all know the winds will be back.
    And we will have to burn more fuel to resist the forces of chaos again.
    And again.
    And again.
    This time the damage is put at $20bn, how much next time?
    We have created the chaos of our environment by burning fuel, now we have no choice but to burn more fuel to combat it. The cities battered by hurricane Sandy were built with hydrocarbon energy, and we have to burn more of it to prevent them being pounded out of existence.
    If you think that concept is too extreme, this time it’s going to take up to two weeks to get the power back on. We only have so much resource available to fix things, and our energy supplies are in decline; whereas Nature’s power is literally unlimited. When we reach the point where we no longer have the means to ‘fix things’, whatever nature knocks down will stay down.
    This is the struggle we face, it’s more than fixing a few power lines so the lights in Wall Street can come back on.
    Any bets on the ultimate winner in all this?

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    What has not changed, and will not be changed by Hurricane Sandy or any other weather of mass destruction, is the obstruction of the fossil fuel corporations and their bought-and-paid-for political stooges.

    The entrenched wealth and power of the fossil fuel corporations is the ONLY REAL OBSTACLE to doing what needs to be done, what we KNOW needs to be done, what we HAVE KNOWN FOR 30 YEARS needs to be done.

  3. dick smith says:

    Well said. Your tone is weary and skeptical. Your questions honest.

  4. SqueakyRat says:

    We’re checkmated. Nothing will be done, and we won’t wake up until it’s far too late. And as the prospect of life in the ruins grows more vivid, the forces favoring denial grow stronger.

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    Who are the CEOs and board members making those decisions? What are their names?

  6. Dan Galpern says:

    Good piece. But it will also take men, thinking of their children . . . .

  7. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    Nature of course, she has all the time in the world, humans however may prove to be a failed experiment.

  8. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    Being a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother I have many children to think about and no one here has stopped fighting but nature is way ahead and we fall father behind every year. I could fill buckets with tears shead for the future of our children, but it seems the future is now and mother nature is tired of waiting for us to wake up.

  9. Tom says:

    Greatgrandma Kat and all: It’s becoming ever more obvious that there will be no “future” to speak of in the coming generation. Estimates are that climate change will wreak havoc on food growing capability, species extinction, aquifir depletion, ocean acidification, increase pest borne and rodent diseases of humans and on and on. We are on our way out as a species because we failed to conquer our inner demons of greed, lust, malice, etc. (that’s why they’re called the seven DEADLY sins – not being religious at all here). We’ve overshot the carrying capacity of the planet and forgot to be good stewards along the way. Nature is demonstrating the folly of our ways. No geo-engineering is going to get us out of the predicament we’ve created for ourselves, so just enjoy your remaing (maybe) twenty years.