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Editorials

"The Lessons of Hurricane Sandy"
by Joan Eyolfson Cadham

Joan Eyolfson Cadham Photo

"Within the week, the TV cameras will turn away. The newspapers will find other breathless headlines. The Twitter and Facebook crowds will find another topic that will require a steady stream of comment. However, there are lessons that will not go away.

Hurricane Sandy. The one-in-a-century storm. Or was that Issac, or maybe Irene, the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Ike in 2008. Irene came ashore in South Carolina then whirled around and took out parts of New York City. Sandy wasn't supposed to create such a problem – before it reached New Jersey, it had been downgraded to a Hurricane 1, or perhaps a tropical storm. However,Sandy became a 900-mile-wide monster that paralyzed cities, destroyed property and claimed lives.

This is exactly what the scientists predicted 20 years ago – global warming, bringing not cosy warm winters but storms that were more erratic, more violent, more difficult to forecast. "It's a foretaste of things to come," Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer said in an interview with CNN. Bigger storms and higher sea levels will pile on to create a growing threat in the coming decades. Maybe it's time to look at giving up a little of our creature comforts now to ensure that we will have a liveable world for our kids, our grandkids and ourselves in 40 years. Superstorm Sandy, the experts say, is just a hint of what is coming, when North Americans will struggle to survive the weather.

Sea levels are rising. That's because the glaciers are melting. The result – more dangerous shorelines. New Jersy understands – the water came over the seawall and dumped thousands of tonnes of sand. There are no trees or grass or flowers left around the houses. There is nothing but sand. But it isn't just the esthetics that are at risk. The bigger concern is salt water getting into drinking water sources.

The New York subway system, which most commuters use, in place of cars, to get around the city, is 108 years old. It flooded. The city doesn't know when it will have it fully operational again. Power, sewer, roads – all took a beating. Maybe we should stop considering regular maintenance, repairs and rebuilding of infrastructure an asset, not a liability. Maybe we should quit talking about the cost of rebuilding roads and water plants and power plants and start talking about the cost to all of us, personally and as a society, if they don't function as they should, especially in times of stress.

Ever since the scientists began to talk, 20 years ago, about global warming, politicians, pseudo-scientists, economists, perpetual nay-sayers all debunked the idea or insisted that a fix would be too expensive and that there was nothing we could do.

Consider the cost of rebuilding subways, roads, houses, entire communities, businesses, consider the cost of ruined lives, consider the cost of loss of life each time there is a disaster storm. Would it make sense to do something positive now, to mitigate damage, rather than to try to find the money to rebuild – though lost lives are beyond replacing – each time there's a disaster?

The lessons of Hurricane Sandy are plain. It's up to us to decide what to do with them.