Could the government have prevented Sandy?

The key to dealing with climate change is somewhere on Capitol Hill. We better find it soon. 

Hurricane Sandy happened almost exactly a year ago and those who live in the Tri- state area can still clearly remember the floods, destruction and complete disruption of their daily lives that it caused. Lower Manhattan had no electric power, kids had to stay home for Halloween and thousands of people who spent months preparing for the annual New York City Marathon had to wait another year to race, while many lost their homes and family members. This was just one of the 11 weather-related natural disasters that occurred last year that together cost the country over $110b in estimated damages. As the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their fifth report linking weather events like this to greenhouse gases from human activities, I cannot help but ask myself whether our government has done enough to prevent events like Sandy?

After China, the United States is world’s second biggest contributor of CO2 emissions. Although there are almost twice as many people living in Europe, in 2005 total European emissions of greenhouse gases were 39% lower than in the US, while per capita emissions were almost 60% lower. In 2009 President Obama made a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 17% by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. But even if the country manages to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in line with the President’s goal, by 2020 it will still produce over two times the amount of greenhouse gases per capita relative to the EU and over six times the amount of countries with long-standing environmental traditions, like Sweden. But why is this so? Why is the President’s goal so modest and could we do more?

The recent governmental shutdown can provide a clue about why the US has sub-par environmental standards and mediocre regulations. In 2009 the President was actively supporting a bill that would put the US in the same lane with Europe — the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Structured as a highly effective cap-and-trade program, the bill would have channeled hundreds of billions of dollars into clean technologies and helped to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the Senate stalled it. The new, much more modest plan that the President put forward in June this year, sidestepped Congressional approval altogether as the president realized that even marginal action is more important than endlessly debating with those would who prefer to be “conservative” about preventing the next Katrina or Sandy. It appears that the White House and Capitol Hill just cannot agree on social issues like climate change (or recently — healthcare).

Polls confirm that most Americans wish that the government would do more about climate change. Even if most on Capitol don’t agree with the President and his views on climate change, perhaps they should still think about what those who voted for them wish for instead. I’m sure that their constituents would have rather had a dry Halloween and been able to run that marathon.



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Martin Ahe

Martin Ahe

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” —Henry David Thoreau