Steven Cohen on the Lessons of Superstorm of Sandy

Steven Cohen, Superstorm Sunday

“In the long run, the key lessons from Superstorm Sandy are that we must face the reality of climate change and adapt to it.”—Steven Cohen

In an essay for The Huffington Post , Steven Cohen, author of Sustainability Management: Lessons from and for New York City, America, and the Planet and executive director of The Earth Institute, examines what has been and what should be learned a year after Superstorm Sandy.

Cohen begins by recognizing the extraordinary efforts of both first responders and ordinary citizens in banding together to help those in need. The effort to bring relief to those affected by the storm even brought New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie and Barack Obama together in a rare example of bipartisanship. Cohen writes, “One key lesson learned: [America] is a place capable of enormous generosity and humanity.”

New York and New Jersey have also installed plans to help protect their shore communities in the case of another superstorm, which, according to Cohen is likely to happen due to global warming. Building codes have been changed and dunes, engineered barriers, and green infrastructure are being put into place which will absorb the energy from the next storm.

However, more needs to be done. Cohen argues we need to better prepared. Generators must be at the ready, underwater tunnels need to be closed, and power lines need to be shored up. Moreover, a kind of trust fund needs to be created to avoid having to pass legislation to provide emergency relief. Too many people, particularly those in the middle- or working-classes, have had to wait to have their houses rebuilt. Cohen argues:

It remains obvious that we need to develop a new national tax to create a trust fund exclusively devoted to community reconstruction after natural or human-made disasters. Funding must be provided to everyone meeting specific, predetermined, criteria. We need to end the degrading and disgusting spectacle of Congress struggling to pass a new funding bill after every disaster… With climate change, increased urbanization and increased population, we are going to see more frequent, intense, and destructive storms. This is a new situation that requires a new funding stream—a new tax—to handle it.

Climate change, Cohen warns, means more storms like Sandy necessitating that we must find ways of adapting. He concludes by writing:

Sandy was a transformative event that changed our view of how the world works. We now have a mental model of what can happen when our shoreline defenses are overwhelmed. The next time we are tracking a storm on the Weather Channel, we’ll know what we need to do if the eye of the storm is aimed at us. Moreover, we know that the reason this is happening is because our planet is getting warmer and the probability of more intense and frequent storms is growing. In the long run, the key lessons from Superstorm Sandy are that we must face the reality of climate change and adapt to it.

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