After witnessing Sandy's destruction, a top US environmental campaigner offers this message on the urgency of tackling climate change - one a newly re-elected US president Obama shouldn't ignore.
Editor's Note: Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, one of the world's oldest and largest environmental organisations. His hometown in the US state of New Jersey was directly in the path of last month's superstorm. After witnessing Sandy's destruction, he offers this message on the urgency of tackling climate change.
I've been working on solutions to the climate crisis for a long time, but I never really expected that it would hit home for me quite the way it did this week. The small town in the US state of New Jersey where I grew up, Chadwick Beach, and where my parents still live, was one of the many in the direct path of the superstorm Sandy.
My parents moved down to the Jersey Shore in 1965. Together, my father and my uncle built the house I grew up in, then built another for my uncle's family on the other end of the street.
It was an idyllic place to grow up; my wife and I still take our kids back home each summer. It's where I fell in love with the ocean and, by extension, all of nature, from redwood forests to alpine meadows.
Fortunately, my parents weren't home when the storm slammed into New Jersey. The damage along the shoreline is so extensive they haven't been able to get back to their house to learn the full extent of the damage. But my uncle's house is flooded, the restaurant where I bussed tables has been destroyed, and neighbours' houses have been spotted floating in the bay. I've seen photos online that show the homes just a few blocks from ours completely inundated, and the damage reports from friends are numbing. No one has seen anything like it before.
I wish I could say we'll never see anything like it again in our lifetimes, but that's not how the wind is blowing.
Hurricane Sandy is only the latest and most devastating incident in a pattern of destructive weather that has become impossible to ignore. In 2011, the US suffered through a record-high 14 weather events that caused at least US$1 billion each in damages. So far this year, we've seen a drought that has devastated Midwestern farmers, historic wildfires that have laid waste to homes in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, Montana and beyond, and thousands of heat records broken across the nation. During the past 14 months, New York City has been forced to evacuate neighbourhoods because of hurricanes for the first two times in its history.
"If this is a trend," wrote New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his recent endorsement of Barack Obama, "it is unsustainable." He's right.
Bloomberg continued: "One [candidate] sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not." He was referring to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but you could say the same of many races around the country. Almost every Senate race in the country, for example, pitted one candidate who has pledged to help stop climate disruption against another candidate who denies the problem even exists.
Like the attack on Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 assault, Hurricane Sandy has rocked our nation into full awareness of a threat to everything we hold dear. We must meet that challenge. But fighting climate change isn't just an obligation, it's also an opportunity to rebuild the middle class and strengthen our economy.
Iowa now generates 25 percent of its power from wind, and has created a new wind manufacturing industry in-state.Ohio has some of the toughest new energy-efficiency standards in the nation, giving a boost to contractors throughout the state. Nationwide, our installed base of solar-energy has grown by a factor of five in less than four years. Wind energy has doubled. And US greenhouse gas emissions are down to their lowest levels in 20 years. The ongoing retirement of dirty coal plants, along with the stronger fuel-efficiency standards adopted by the Obama administration, will only build on this momentum.
The beach community where I grew up may never be the same, but I know it will come back, and come back stronger. By rebuilding my hometown and all of America with smart, clean energy, we will not only curb climate change but also create a safer, healthier, more prosperous, and more just society.
Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club. This article is adapted with permission from his blog Coming Clean.