Sandy, which claimed the lives of more than 250 people and upturned life for millions more, was the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history — topped only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the past year, $65 billion was spent to restore flooded, battered and moldy buildings; fix torn up roads, railways and bridges; restore downed power lines; and repair untold disruptions to our physical infrastructure. For at least 26,000 citizens of New Jersey and New York who were unable to return to their homes, recovery from Sandy is still underway.
As harrowing as the memory of Hurricane Sandy is to those who endured it, there’s an even more dire reality ahead. There will be even more intense Sandy-like storms in the future — and likely more frequent storms in our children’s lifetime — because of climate change.
The Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in last month, declared with a 100 percent certainty that climate change is happening now. With a 95 percent certainty, it is primarily caused by carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.
Scientists have been telling us for years that the earth is getting warmer. Now, the evidence is overwhelming. The last decade has been the hottest in modern records. The sea level is rising. Arctic sea ice is melting. And the deep ocean is warming.
The mid-Atlantic coastal region where Sandy struck, home to more than 60 million people and some of America’s largest cities, is increasingly vulnerable. As sea level rises, the hurricane-driven storm surge becomes more dangerous. During Superstorm Sandy, nearly 14 feet of storm surge flooded coastlines around most of New York City, inundating many miles of the Manhattan subway system. The New Jersey shore suffered devastating impacts from the storm surge.
If carbon emissions continue to increase, regional temperatures could be up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher by the 2080s — a dramatic change likely to bring about serious and harmful health consequences. That means more emergency room visits and casualties due to heat stroke, asthma-related illness and more cases of insect-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus.
Given the seriousness of these threats and the clarity of the warning calls, one would think our policy makers would do everything in their power to prepare us for future impacts of climate change. Yet, too many of our elected officials continue to question the science, deny the reality of climate change and fail to connect the dots between devastating storms like Sandy and other extreme weather events. This prevents our nation from protecting itself from irreversible climate impacts, while condemning future generations to a bleak and inhospitable world. This is no longer acceptable.
As Americans, it is our practical and moral responsibility to develop science-based plans to address climate change, build resilience and transition to a clean, stable energy future.
We can no longer allow climate deniers in positions of power to stand in our way. Whether they are elected officials beholden to the energy industry, regulators who do their bidding or policy makers unwilling to challenge the status quo, we need to call these deniers out and hold them accountable for their failure to take action on climate change.
If we listen to the scientists and innovators like Professor Mark Jacobson who is leading groundbreaking research at Stanford University, a safe, prosperous world run by clean, renewable energy is well within our reach. According to Jacobson, the U.S. economy can be almost entirely powered by wind, water and sunlight by 2030. The East Coast, he says, represents the largest untapped reserve of wind energy in the world, and he likens the Great Plains to the “Saudi Arabia of Wind.” Jacobson calls for policies favoring wind and solar over the fossil fuel industry and those that put a true price on carbon emissions. Such forward-thinking policies will create jobs and boost the economy while protecting the environment. That’s good news for all of us — even better for future generations.
With the tragic images of Superstorm Sandy refreshed in our mind, let’s continue to hold all the climate deniers accountable for their refusal to accept the science of climate change. It’s time for our leaders at all levels, from our local officials to state and federal representatives, to face reality and take action to address the serious threats posed by climate change.
Climate deniers are wrong, and their insistence on refusing the science must be ignored if we want to preserve a future for our children and grandchildren.
Joint Commentary by: Ed Potosnak is the executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and
Rosemary Dreger Carey is a co-organizer for 350NJ, and a founder and chair at Pascack Sustainability Group. Lori Charkey and Mark Becker are co-directors at Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network. Clare Donohue is a founding member at Sane Energy Project.
Sally Gellert is a member of Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey Environmental Task Force and Occupy Bergen County. Rev. Craig Hirshberg is the executive director at Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.
Anu Hansen is a member of Climate Change Lead and OFA Passaic, Bergen and Hudson Counties and Organizing for Action. Lyna Hinkel is a coordinator for 350NYC. Glenn Klotz is a coordinator for South Jersey 350. Isaac Lederman is a member of Divest Princeton. Duncan Magidson is a member of Fossil Free Fordham. Angela Monti Fox is a founder of the Mother’s Project. Amanda Nesheiwat is the director New Jersey of Sustainable Collegiate Partners. Rhoda Schermer is the president of North Jersey Public Policy Network. Harriet Shugarman is the executive director of ClimateMama LLC. Susan VanDolsen is a co-organizer of Westchester for Change. Jim Walsh is the eastern region director for Food and Water Watch. Diane Wexler is a member of the North Jersey Pipeline Walkers.