The Eastern Seaboard is (starting to) dry off a little bit from Sandy, but it seems clear from the devastation we’ve seen over the past few days that the lasting impacts of our Franeknstorm will be felt for a while. New Jersey and New York in particular have more than a few pieces to pick up before life as normal will begin again.
There are the obvious conversations to be had about whether or not this storm is caused by climate change. Over at The Huffington Post, George Lakoff outlines his views that the causal link between climate change and Sandy is an instance of systematic cause – the indirect result of minor causes built up over a period of time. Similarly, former Vice President Gore describes the link between the two of them even more directly, stating bluntly that dirty energy causes dirty weather. Personally, I don’t really care whether or not Sandy was caused by climate change, because it seems like a bit of a moot point to me.
The definition of a natural disaster is the intersection of human life with an extreme event (credit to Prof. Greg van der Vink over at Princeton for that one, which I remember to this day despite the fact that his class often started at 7 PM and didn’t end until close to midnight.) What follows from this is that regardless of how you view climate change, natural disasters are increasing from the simple fact that our population is increasing. The more people you have, the more people end up living in areas that are impacted by extreme weather events, and therefore, the more people are impacted. Period, the end.
Which is why I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his red-hatted running mate, Paul Ryan. Ryan’s budget slashes funding for FEMA, which is the federal agency dedicated to responding to natural disasters. Prior to Sandy, Romney comments regarding FEMA reflect his running mate’s sentiments, stating that any program you can defund in the federal government and give back to private industry, you should. Yes, he was talking about disaster relief. (Actually, his first comment was that it should go back to the states, and then he contined to say that it would be even better to privatize.)
As I vented to several friends of mine (hi, Kara!) – I’m willing to entertain that line of thinking when it comes to a number of areas, but not when it comes to disaster relief. The reason is simple: the poor are already the ones disproportionately impacted by natural disasters. Independent research has confirmed time and time again the role that socioeconomic factors play when it comes to the impact of natural disasters.
Any time you ‘privatize’ a particular role, or industry, you necessarily imply that the “best” will be going to those who can afford it – whether it’s a commodity good, a service, or a necessity. That’s fine when it comes to things like fashion, but when it comes to natural disasters relief, hell no. It’s bad enough that we have millions of Americans without health care and without the means to meet their basic needs. Only an immoral government would leave citizens who are victims of a natural disaster to fend for themselves, letting the rich buy their way out while disadvantaged communities are left dependent on the charity – or lack thereof- of others.
Regardless of your views on climate and energy, it’s almost certain that Sandy won’t be the last storm of this magnitude. In the aftermath of the storm, Romney is said to have avoided dozens of questions from reporters about whether or not he still holds the same views on FEMA and federal aid for natural disasters. His silence is telling: it’s time to seriously think about how our nation responds to natural disasters, and whether or not we want to let someone take the helm who would pass that buck off to private industry.