Climate Changed

As with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to New York City is only beginning to come clear in the aftermath. My neighborhood – Jackson Heights, Queens – was spared almost completely by the storm.  We’re currently living in a weird state of normal, unable to travel out of the neighborhood because the city’s subway system is still totally inoperative.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing from friends who live in downtown Manhattan and New Jersey: they are without power, water, and cellphone service. So far things have been quiet, but who knows what is to come.

My home campus on Staten Island is shut down and without power for at least a week.  Friends who live on Staten Island are telling me that people are looking for folks who were washed out to sea.

What seems incomprehensible is the lack of official preparation for this storm. Okay, people were warned to leave their homes if they lived in evacuation zones. As with Katrina, many didn’t or couldn’t leave and are now coping with flooded houses, no power, and, in some cases, far worse.

But looming over these personal tragedies – and intensifying them immeasurably – is the destruction to the city. Who knows how long it will be before the city’s transportation infrastructure is back up and running. How long will it be before power is restored to some of the key parts of the city? And what kinds of toxins have been deposited in areas like the subway system, none too clean to start with, where we soon be asked to walk/sit/breathe? How is it possible that adequate preparations were not made for a storm such as Sandy?

Three years ago I went to see an exhibition at MOMA called Rising Currents that focused on a series of architectural project intended to deal with the impact of rising sea levels on parts of New York City. So these issues have been in the air. It’s not as if no one knew that climate change was happening. So there’s been a total failure of leadership and forethought. Perhaps this is because elected leaders are simply interested in short term servicing of capitalism’s short term need to make hyper-profits. But surely the system has been dealt a grievous economic blow by Hurricane Sandy.

In the coming days and weeks, it will be key to intervene in every possible way in the political spin put on this disaster. Now is the time to renew the basic messages of the Climate Justice Movement about the need for a just transition to sustainable green technologies and social justice.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Climate Changed

  1. Mia Sandmann

    Dear Prof. Dawson:

    I live downtown -East Village-. And all your friends have told you is fully true. It has been a really hard week and the aftermath of Sandy is not being easy, either. For five long days we have lived in very precarious conditions especially due to the lack of hot water, the impossibility to cook, being home in candle light, sleeping wearing two coats to “fight” against the low temperatures…
    On Monday evening, around 7 pm, a power plant on 14th street exploded. The authorities decided then to cut power to prevent fires, etc.
    No power, heating, cell service and even water for some people has been dramatic. Again, it was really scary to walk the neighborhoods after 5 pm when it started to get dark and there were police cars and ambulances everywhere! The water got to my street and flooded the basement, where the heating system is located!
    I have survived thanks to my bike -which let me go uptown for some essentials- and thanks tto the help and support of my great University.
    I have felt psychologically exhausted after Sandy… And a lot of repairing is needed now. Some of my friends in Wall Street cannot go back to their apartments…

    They knew the hurricane was coming… Ex ante and ex post measures should have been taken or implemented in a better way. It happened just before the election. That’s why criticism was avoided and facts hidden!

    I fully agree with the need for concern on climate change and social justice. I want accountability for those who neglected their obligation/ duties and left “homelessness” all those people still suffering!

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