s New York residents begin to muck out their sodden apartments and pick up their dead, they might want to ask themselves a few questions.
The first of those, I would suggest is, why did this happen?
Scientists are pretty confident they know what’s going on. They’ve been warning for more than a decade about how human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are drastically altering the planet’s weather systems. Research suggests we don’t have much time to turn things around before feedback loops kick in and whatever we do becomes a sideshow.
The scientific community will likely call Hurricane Sandy an example of what we can expect as weather events become more extreme with climate change.
What the scientists say won’t matter though. Not really.
Which brings me to the second question New Yorkers might want to be asking themselves. Why was the issue of climate change not even brought up once during the three U.S. presidential debates?
Even though the whole country was hit by an enormous drought this summer, a drought that had counties across the entire nation declaring states of emergency, climate change has been a non-issue as far as Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are concerned.
That’s unfortunate, considering the possible impacts of runaway climate change. Estimates are this storm alone is going to cost at least $20 billion, possibly more. What about the next one, and the next? Our global civilization is a very fine-tuned and complex system that’s predicated on the availability of cheap energy and on the climate being relatively stable, warm and moist, as it has been since the end of the last Ice Age. That system has some flex, but it can only take so much. If the droughts and other extreme weather fluctuations push it too far, it will start to crack and fail. I would argue that cracks are already starting to show.
If global warming really runs away on us, it could even end up becoming an extinction event for the human experiment.
We can’t let that happen. As a society, as a nation and indeed as a species, we need to infuse the same sense of emergency and solidarity of purpose towards resolving climate change as we did in fighting the Second World War. It’s that important – or should be to anyone who has children. This, I would argue, leads to a third question for those New Yorkers.
If the threat of climate change must be resolved in order to save their American nation and the political system they use to govern themselves is too corrupt and dysfunctional to be of any practical use in doing so, what are they — the citizens — going to do about it?
The rest of the world is dying to know.
Neil Horner is assistant editor of The News.