Superstorm Sandy: Tasting Apocalypse Now

Lower Manhattan, lights out (except for that one building) watches Sandy approach and Braces for Impact. photo by Stefan Leijon/Flickr

Sandy has done us a great favor by giving us a preview of our new normal — a future in which storms assume the size of continents, “waterfront home” becomes an oxymoron and life — even the lives of the rich and famous — becomes much more tenuous.

Here’s what should happen now. First, there should be a national day of thanks for the climate scientists who braved our scorn and disbelief to insist we look at the reality and realize that superstorms like Sandy were going to be frequent from now on. Sandy has shown us in terms not up for argument, nor adjustable by one belief system or another, that those men and women of science were not Chicken-Little Climate Hawks,  they were American Eagles, harbingers of a bitter future we are bringing on ourselves. But wait there’s more.

There should be a separate but equal tribute for the meteorologists who applied science and technology so skillfully that they saw this storm coming — never mind that it was a storm the likes of which does not exist in the meteorological record — while it was just a gleam in the eye of an adolescent thunderstorm in the Caribbean Sea. They predicted it, and tracked it, and understood it so well that everyone in its path knew it was coming, and what it would do, days in advance. Thanks to them only a handful of people died in the worst storm in history. Kudos also to the lamestream media, who, for all the silliness of making reporters stand in rising water and punishing winds while telling people not to do such things, got the job done. Because they told us about the danger, we prepared for it and we survived it.

And that pretty much takes care of the honors awards for the people who, when caught in Sandy’s headlights, distinguished themselves. Now let’s tour the Hall of Shame. 

Here’s what else should happen now. If Mitt Romney were (in Tom Wolfe’s phrase) a man in full, he would call a news conference to announce his withdrawal from the presidential race. He would confess that Sandy has forced him to admit that only a climate unbalanced by pollution could have fostered such an ugly, mutant storm (along with the fierce drought and tornado swarms in the heartland, the raging fires in the West and the rising seas all around). He would say that he now knows what everyone else who has given serious thought to the question has known for 20 years: that climate change is real, is manmade, and is an existential threat to our country and our way of life.

Romney should cringe like a man caught philandering, his wife standing grimly at his side, and he would blubber into the microphone about the error of his ways, how he had dismissed and ridiculed the very thing that could destroy his country while seeking to be its president. Then he should go to whichever of his houses survived the storm and disappear from public life.

Here’s what should happen about an hour after Mitt’s resignation. Barack Obama should call a news conference and make an even more heartfelt apology to the country he has misled. We can perhaps forgive Romney to the extent that his genes for greed, venality and stupidity made him do it, but we know Obama knew better. He knew the threat was there and he knew its size, but he also knew that if he was honest about it he would not be given the money he needs to be elected. So he made his deal.  And he has governed for four years, and campaigned for president twice, without ever once confronting the threat of climate change and the need to prepare for it. The upside is, he has had plenty of money to spend on campaign ads. The downside: Sandy.

Obama should not resign, however.  After an abject apology he should put every fiber of his being into preparing his countrymen for a post-industrial world. Some still say we can mitigate the effects of climate change if we get our act together. Which is exactly the same thing as saying, if we had some eggs we could have hams and eggs, if we had some ham. We have tipped over dominoes that are going to fall for a thousand years.

If Obama savagely bit the hands of his industrial benefactors, got them off the levers of power, and threw the weight of government behind finding ways to live sustainably in a drastically changed land, then more of us would survive what’s coming in the wake of Sandy. That would be a pro-life position.

These things that should happen now that Sandy has opened all our eyes are so obvious, rational and necessary — they are exactly the way America has responded to mortal threats before — that I am going to go turn on CNN  and wait for them to happen.


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6 Responses to Superstorm Sandy: Tasting Apocalypse Now

  1. Gail Zawacki says:

    The size of the storm, the flooding, sea-level rise, are obvious signs of climate change. Let’s hope the people who suffered losses from those things start calling out the deniers that have prevented political action and cultural change that could have averted or at least postponed the tragedy that this storm has become for so many.

    On the other hand, one of the worst effects of Sandy – lost power – is mainly due to falling trees, as are most deaths. And that’s NOT from climate change.

    Very people even ask the question – why are so many trees of all species are falling onto power lines in the first place, at a frequency that isn’t explained by wind speed. The wind just wasn’t strong enough in either Irene or Sandy to explain so many falling trees and branches. Where was all the structural damage from wind (not flooding) – the torn roofs, overturned trailers, tossed outdoor furniture? I haven’t seen any, and yet, everywhere in New Jersey roads are blocked and lines are down from fallen trees.

    Very few people realize that trees are dying off at a rapidly accelerating rate from air pollution. Vegetation is even more sensitive to pollution than humans, particularly because it causes them to lose natural immunity to pests, disease, fungus and drought, which are then typically blamed for forest decline, bark beetles and wild fires.

    Although peak levels of air pollution have been reduced, especially for SO2, nitrogen oxides have continued to increase and consequently the constant background level of tropospheric ozone has been inexorably rising. It’s invisible, but it’s there just as are oxygen, nitrogen and CO2. Except it’s toxic.

    Over the past few years it has surpassed a threshold that is tolerable to plants. Annual agricultural yield and quality have declined, and longer-lived trees that absorb it season after season have passed a tipping point and are now dying in droves. The damage done to vegetation by ozone has been well understood for decades and demonstrated in countless field surveys and controlled fumigation experiments.

    Ozone is the real reason that so many trees and branches are falling, and why so many people (including me!) are without power. If you actually look at the fallen trees, almost all are rotten inside or have injured leaves or needles, which are visible symptoms of ozone exposure.

    This is an extremely unpopular idea, because it is very threatening to a life style dependent on burning fuel for energy. Nevertheless, it is critical for people to understand, since we are also dependent on trees for oxygen and as a CO2 sink, as well as various other products and services, like fruit, nuts and lumber.

    It seems people have short memories but the trees never used to come down in huge numbers – let alone fall on people, houses and cars with such regularity – which simply cannot be explained by an expanded population.

    I have been putting photos and links to research on a blog for several years now (
    and wrote a book which can be downloaded for free linked at the top of the page. Other books have been written about this problem but they are generally ignored, one of the best is An Appalachian Tragedy. It’s a little out of date and focussed on forests from Georgia to Maine, and this is now a global issue, but it explains the phenomena very well.

    Climate change isn’t the reason that trees are dying (YET). But dying trees are going to massively accelerate climate change as they become CO2 emitters instead of absorbers, which has already started.

  2. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Oh, don’t worry. There’ll still be lots and lots of people who will continue to do the following: (1) to believe that we can continue in our current destructive way of life; (2) to believe that Sandy’s just an occasional fluke of Nature; and (3) to verbally abuse online all those who are convinced of the reality of climate change. Or they will (4) believe that we can have our cake **AND** eat it also — that we can save the planet **AND** continue in our current way of life.

    I’m so proud of the degree of depravity and madness to which our species is capable of descending. :)

  3. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Tom – my thanks for another cutting edge post.

    The aspects of Sandy that seems to me most telling
    is that without Jetstream disruption there would have been no landfall,
    and thus no damages.
    And that Jetstream disruption, in reflecting the trend of arctic sea ice loss,
    is going to worsen year after year
    until we achieve sufficient albedo restoration over the arctic,
    meaning that until then any hurricane heading north from Florida
    is liable to be steered slap into the US east coast – year after year.

    From the US climate policy strategists through to city mayors,
    coming on top of all other impacts of of intensifying climate destabilization,
    including drought, derrechos, tornado swarms, super-cell deluges, etc,
    potentially annual damage of Sandy’s level or greater is patently untenable.

    It may or may not take a third east-coast hit to tip the balance of power,
    but the US bipartisan climate policy of a “Brinkmanship of Inaction”
    with China is now obviously flawed by its basic miscalculation of risks,
    meaning that it cannot and will not be sustained.

    From this perspective perhaps the most creative focus
    is on just what the replacement US climate policy should consist of ?

    All the best,


    PS: Go easy on the masochism of enduring CNN – it ain’t healthy.