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5 Big Takeaways From Hurricane Sandy

The Frankenstorm shifted the national conversation on a number of pressing topics.

Photo Credit: AFP



This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

Sandy sent a loud message to America in the form of 100-mile per hour winds and 13-foot high flood tides. The devastating Frankenstorm has not only shifted the physical landscape in some communities, it has shifted the national conversation on a number of pressing topics.

1.  Climate Change

In late October, New Yorkers got a glimpse what the future holds if the country continues the ostrich approach to climate change.  So impossible to ignore was this vision that Mayor Michael Bloomberg surprised everyone by endorsing Obama for president as the candidate most likely to take on the climate threat:

“Our climate is changing…One [candidate] sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”

Suddenly, the veil of silence on the topic that had enveloped most of the election season lifted. Obama ended up calling for a robust response to global warming in his victory speech. Al Gore is now pressing the prez to include climate change in upcoming budget negotiations with the GOP. The carbon tax idea is back.

A post-Sandy Rasmussen poll shows that a whopping 68 percent of American voters said that global warming is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. That number is an all-time high.

While George Will blathers on like a deluded member of the Flat Earth Society, the rest of us are trying to figure out what to do now that it’s obvious that rising sea levels, intense heat waves, and more frequent destructive storms are here to stay.  Environmental advocates, think tanks, universities, and energy lobbyists are holding conferences and releasing research.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, put it simply: "If there was ever a wake-up call, this is it."  The question is: Will dysfunctional D.C. respond?

2. Infrastructure

Sandy cast the woeful state of our public infrastructure into sharp relief – and forced us to take an unpleasant look in the mirror.  The spectacle of inhabitants of the most densely populated city in America struggling without power, communication, or transportation shocked the rest of the world, and led Germany’s Spiegel online to conclude that the state of New York was an indication “that America is no longer the great, robust global power it once was.”

In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007-08, America could have been mobilized for a great, New Deal-style infrastructure effort that would bring the country in line with other wealthy, industrialized nations. But the pervasive, wrong-headed focus on short-sighted austerity over long-term investments nixed that opportunity. 

Obviously, Mother Nature is oblivious to our political games, and Sandy has highlighted the urgency of finally getting our act together.

We can’t prepare for catastrophic natural events unless we have roads and bridges that stand up to the stress caused by major storms. And we desperately need to build protective infrastructure like water surge barriers in coastal areas and to protect wetlands and sand dunes that serve as natural barriers.

State and city governments need Congress to appropriate resources that enable them to assess conditions and get to work on measures including burying power lines, protecting power plants and substations, storm-proofing critical facilities, and enhancing drainage systems.  The idea of an infrastructure bank to fund large-scale public works projects like grid modernization has long been stuck in political third gear, but interest has been thankfully reignited. A far-reaching plan to finance infrastructure projects would be transformative both to the economy and to America’s reputation as a world leader.