Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change: Three Things to Know

Hurricane Sandy has put climate change back into the national conversation, and as we have that conversation, there are at least three lessons worth keeping in mind. The hurricane and its devastating aftermath has reminded us that no matter how wealthy our society is and how developed we are, we are still vulnerable to dangerous extremes of weather, dangerous extremes from nature, and that has two big upshots. The first is that, we need to be reducing our vulnerability to dangerous events from nature regardless of whether they are man-made or otherwise. We need to be improving coastal defenses and in particular we need to be improving our resilience in the face of these events so that we can recover more quickly. At the same time, as time goes on, increased human emissions of green house gases are leading to more risk of dangerous weather extremes that would put even further stresses on our ability to respond and our ability to get back to normal.

That’s not only true in the United States

And the only prudent thing to do is to aim to reduce those risks by cutting U.S. emissions, by trying to drive global green house gas emissions down to a level where we can stabilize concentrations of green house gases in the atmosphere and limit the future damage from climate change. We can’t avoid all future climate change but we can limit the risks that we end up facing in the future. There is a third lesson that I take from this recent experience, and it comes from looking at how communities have gotten past traditional divides and particular partisan divides. You look at Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a key Mitt Romney surrogate, working together with President Obama, having them praise each other for their work, and you see that response to disasters can help transcend traditional lines that divide different parties. That’s not only true in the United States. It’s true internationally. So when countries are concerned that they are facing dangers from climate change and they come asking the United States for help, we should see that as a big opportunity, the United States should see it as a big opportunity to work and reduce others’ vulnerability, but also to build stronger relations internationally, and to improve the standing of the United States in the World.