Time to rethink rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy - government needs to rethink climate change policies

Part of Long Island were badly damaged by the Superstorm Sandy
The “Super Storm” which devastated so much of the east coast last week, is really just the latest in a series of great storms which have, in recent years, molested America’s shores.

Storms have always plagued coastal areas. However, the damage left in the wake of these storms is becoming more severe and ever more costly. Sandy, a hurricane/ tropical storm/ nor’easter hybrid, devastated my community on Long Island and left me stranded in a city far away, unable to return home due to a crippled transportation system.

As I write this article, I sit in Durham, North Carolina, virtually locked out of my home town, highly concerned about family and friends, with the knowledge that there has been extensive flooding and damage to my community. Houses have washed away, streets are impassable and electrical power is gone, perhaps for weeks.

Of course, in addition to Long Island, countless communities along the eat coast have been decimated by The Sandy Super Storm, especially in New Jersey and lower Manhattan.

Why have recent storms like Sandy been so severe?

We know the climate is changing. This in itself does not necessarily create storms, but it does affect the size, intensity and positioning of these events. And those effects are all for the worse. 

The polar ice is melting and the ocean temperatures are rising. There is no scientific debate about that; it is a fact. To the extent that such change is manmade may be more speculative, but irrelevant in terms of what is happening to our weather. Four out of the last five costliest storms in American history have occurred over the last seven years. Insurance companies are aware of this phenomenon which is why the nation’s largest insurers have refused to renew homeowner’s insurance policies to for any home on or near sea water.

Moving forward, government really needs to step up and create policies which adjust to this changing reality. What sense does it make to rebuild large, expensive homes along the shoreline when they are so vulnerable to destruction? Why do we reconstruct whole communities in areas that lie at or below sea level? Why do we use the same designs when we re-erect weather destroyed infrastructure in our towns and cities?

Smart countries who suffer devastating events, such as tsunamis, earthquakes, river flooding and the like do not simply rebuild – they access and redesign. They make adaptations and impose policies which leave their citizens less vulnerable to harm.

When I finally do get home, I will make the necessary repairs to my home, a home that will be without power for quite some time based on prior experience. At some point, I will observe an electric utility truck at or near my house. The technician will climb a utility pole, the same archetype pole first erected over 100 years ago. He will fiddle, fuss and fix for a bit, and …puff! My lights will come on. I’ll have heat again too. Halleluiah!

Halleluiah, at least for the time being…halleluiah, until the next inevitable storm.

As we witness our damaged buildings, flooded roads, closed railways, and broken telephone poles, as we fiddle, fuss and fix, as we tinker with our infrastructure, in our hearts we know that moving forward - America can and must do much better.

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