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Patrick Maillet: What better time than now?

By Patrick Maillet, Opinion Columnist
Published November 25, 2012

They say you don’t really understand a catastrophe until it strikes you personally. They say that watching the wreckage of a natural disaster on a television screen just isn’t the same as knowing the people, the places or the things that were destroyed by a storm. I never thought that I would have to learn what this advice actually meant, thinking that somehow my home in New Jersey would always be exempt from this rule of thumb. I was wrong.

Luckily, my family and our home avoided the path of Hurricane Sandy. Aside from heavy rain and extended power outages, my family was extremely lucky. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for many of my friends, their homes or the majority of New Jersey and New York.

In the span of a few days, places that I’ve known my entire life were wiped away. From Jenkinson’s Boardwalk to friends’ beach houses, places that I’ve gone to my entire life vanished into the sea. One of my best friends, Grace, had a small two-bedroom beach house on Long Beach Island. My friends and I always would go there in the summer, where her family would host us. Some of my most cherished moments from high school occurred at Grace’s beach house.

When I called Grace right after Sandy hit, she told me that her parents had to take a boat to where their house used to be, and when they arrived at the house, three of the four walls had collapsed, and the house was filled with mud and broken glass. They were considered one of the lucky ones. Her neighbor wasn’t so fortunate — a pontoon boat that escaped from a nearby dock ended up on top of what used to be his house. Almost every house on her block will have to be demolished before they can even begin to think about rebuilding.

I always thought storms like these were for the South and that something like a hurricane, much less a superstorm, could never hit the Northeast. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to get used to it.

After Sandy ravaged New York City, reports began to come out that New York's Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo were discussing the possible construction of a levee system around Manhattan. This system would be similar to the one surrounding New Orleans. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but feel astounded that the Northeast would now have to get used to hurricanes and other natural disasters. How could this happen? How have our weather patterns changed like this? As Governor Cuomo put it, it seems like “we have a 100-year flood every two years now.”

Experts have long stated that no one storm can be directly due to climate change. However, carbon emissions can strongly affect the likelihood of storms and their relative strength. As water temperatures continue to rise, hurricanes may occur more often and with growing force.

Even if you disagree with climate change, you cannot possibly deny the fact that weather in recent years has become ever more extreme. As The New York Times reported, “three of the 10 worst floods in Lower Manhattan’s history since 1900 have happened in the last three years.” According to the National Climate Data Center, “of the 10 warmest summers in U.S. history, seven of them have been since 2000.”

Although the data is there, the scientific world stands behind it and the firsthand evidence is undeniable, countless people still deny that climate change is happening and that our planet is getting warmer. I love when conservatives rant about their duty to protect their children’s and grandchildren’s futures by focusing on slashing America’s debt. These same “future-defenders” are the ones who deny climate change, spit in the face of science and hamper any realistic options that America can take to reduce its carbon emissions.

Our debt is undeniably a massive threat to the future of this country but it must be dealt with gradually, through bipartisan efforts. However, if you’re going to grab the microphone and rant about how you and your political colleagues are fighting to defend future generations, then use that same principle when confronted with the future of our planet.

The damage done by Sandy has resulted in more than $100 billion in property damage, more than 100 casualties and immeasurable emotional damage. We have the ability and the obligation to work together as a country to counter climate change. We have to wake up from this disaster once and for all and fight to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We need to act now.

Patrick Maillet can be reached at maillet@umich.edu.


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