It’s been five years since Superstorm Sandy devastated the Northeast. The monster storm — which killed more than 100 people, destroyed entire communities, and inflicted more than $70 billion in damages — should have completely changed the way we approach climate impacts, resilience, and global warming policy. But it didn’t.
Our preparation for super-hurricanes has barely improved. Indeed, it’s arguably gotten worse, if we go by the Trump administration’s ongoing failure to rebuild Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Our effort to avoid future Sandys is also worse than non-existent, thanks to President Donald Trump’s aggressive efforts to roll back both domestic and global climate action.
“If we continue with unabated burning of fossil fuels, we may condemn New York City to permanent Sandy-like conditions,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. That’s a key conclusion of Mann’s new study, “Impact of climate change on New York City’s coastal flood hazard.”
A NOAA-led study in 2013 came to a similar conclusion: On our current carbon dioxide emissions path, the Jersey shore from Atlantic City to Cape May could see Sandy-level storm surges yearly by mid-century.
“We will have to retreat from New York City and the major coastal cities of the world at almost unimaginable cost,” warns Mann, unless “we decrease carbon emissions immediately and dramatically.” Trump, by contrast, is trying to gut EPA climate regulations and boost U.S. carbon pollution from coal and other fossil fuels, while at the same time trying to undermine the global Paris climate agreement.
You might think that major media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post might use the fifth anniversary of Sandy to point out the folly of a president — and the entire national Republican Party — working as hard as possible to ensure we will have to abandon our coastal cities.
Yet the New York Times completely ignored climate change in its own coverage, never mentioning it or sea level rise or Trump even once in its major front-page story posing the question, “Five years after Sandy, are we better prepared?” The Washington Post’s anniversary stories were equally silent on global warming.
At least the Associated Press acknowledges in its coverage of the anniversary that “five years after Superstorm Sandy, the lessons haven’t sunk in,” and “protecting vulnerable infrastructure, people and property across the nation from the more extreme weather that climate change could bring is going to require investment on a staggering scale, easily costing hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions.”
Five years ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pointed out that Sandy slammed his state just two years after it was deluged by Hurricane Irene. “We have a one-hundred year flood every two years now,” Cuomo said at the time. Over the years, ThinkProgress has written extensively about how global warming worsened the impact of Superstorm Sandy.
In a now-famous cover story, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” Bloomberg Businessweek explained many of the links between Sandy’s unique level of devastation and global warming.
Our ever-strengthening understanding of human-caused global warming has confirmed these links. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University told ThinkProgress back in 2013 that “the case has strengthened” on the links between human-caused climate change and the superstorm. Francis is a leading expert on the connection between climate change and extreme weather. She has also written about the many ways global warming made Sandy so unusually destructive, including a piece in Oceanography.
Dr. Mann’s latest paper shows that while Sandy’s storm surge flood height would have been a once-in-500-year event during the pre-industrial era, now it’s a once-in-25-year event — 20 times more likely.
“Sandy was a wakeup call five years ago,” Mann told ThinkProgress. “It was the realization of something we’ve fully expected, i.e. that human-caused warming of the planet is leading to more devastating hurricanes and superstorms. The unprecedented destruction caused by the current hurricane season is an exclamation mark on all of this.”
Tragically, the media, GOP, and Trump keep hitting the snooze button.