Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frankenstorm: A Lesson We Can Learn From?

My mom since I was little has always said whenever we are at the beach, “Tengo mucho respeto al mar.” Which means, “I have [she] a lot of respect for the ocean.” I have always understood her position of respecting the ocean since I’ve always been a bit of a chicken shit when it comes to all of Mother Nature and her undeniable, unstoppable forces. Anything that much stronger than me, anything that can toss a 168-foot tanker aside in the same easy manner as it can a plastic bag in a wind storm has my respect. 
AP Photo/Sean Sweeney
Last Thursday, October 25, at early, early morning, I was awoken from the thunder and lightning that was thrashing around Santo Domingo. The wind was howling like a wolf and scratching at my window trying to get in to my dry bed. I called Olive and Jersey onto my bed and made sure we were all snuggled in tight. Even in the safety of our concrete, built for hurricane walls, and the comfort of my dogs, when a massive lightning bolt crashed hard and loud into what seemed like my bedroom window, I jumped and gasped in fear. The next day, Husband was let out of school early and by that evening, school for Friday had been cancelled. We had felt the effects of only the tail end of Superstorm Sandy and she had gifted us with the Caribbean’s version of a snow day. Yippee!

And then I heard that Miss Sandy was headed straight for New Jersey and New York and the whole East Coast. We had high winds, torrential rains, flooding, and two days off of school and we hadn’t even been hit by the "real" storm. I knew then that if that was what Santo Domingo experienced as a side effect of a storm that hadn’t even passed over us, what could my home, New Jersey, expect?

Well, we know now what they could expect: 

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

New Jersey’s shores: devastated and underwater. New York: on fire and flooded. Subways: closed and facing the worst damage of its 108-year history. People along the East Coast: powerless (figuratively and literally), phoneless, homeless, and clueless as to what the hell just happened. Photos of the storm are almost too much to believe. Governor Christie is quoted saying that the wreckage is "beyond anything I'd ever thought I'd see." For once, me and the Governor are in agreement. According to CNN, "the level of devastation at the Jersey Shore in unthinkable." For the past three summers my nephew has had his July 5th birthday celebrated at Point Pleasant's Boardwalk. Just this summer, we brought our Rafa to celebrate her cousin's birthday at the shore and ride on these boardwalk rides. Parts of that boarwalk are now destroyed, toppled over, drowned. In some pictures you can't tell where the ocean ends and land begins. Sandy came in hard and left nothing on the East Coast unturned.

AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City Danny Drake

AFTER - Brian Thompson
 “The Storm of the Century” and “The Perfect Storm” were both names that I kept hearing from across the Atlantic as I frantically watched videos and news reports and updates on the storm that was headed for my family. But Frankenstorm, due to the monster of a storm that was extending its arms for the East Coast on the day before Halloween, was the most fitting name.

But this post isn't meant to be about the devastation that a Superstorm left behind. Its about the devastation that we are causing. The question isn't if we can survive this - we will. People show their strength in hours of weakness. And if I know anything about being from New Jersey and growing up next to New York, its that they don't make people any tougher than they do here. The real question is can we learn from it?

Can we learn from this Superstorm? 

Most people I speak to admit that global warming exists but most people don't make changes, even small ones, to help the problem. And some people, namely people in high power, still refuse to accept that global warming is even a problem because if they did, then they'd have to do something about it. And doing something about it would cost them dearly. Well, would cost their wallets dearly. 

But now, its going to cost dearly anyway. As per a report by the NY Daily News, the "superstorm cost could hit $50 billion... $20 billion in property damages and another $10 to $30 more in lost business."   
AFP Photo / Timothy A. Clary / Getty Images         AP Photo / Port Authority of New Jersey and New York
Facade of a building is ripped off due to winds and force    Water rushes into th PATH Train through elevator shaft

Mark Wilson / Getty Images                                          AP Photo John Minchillo 
The road on Avalon's ocean cost ripped out from Superstorm Sandy                 Water floods Ground Zero                        

AP / Charles Sykes
I'm not insensitive to the damage that Sandy has left behind and the ways that lives have been forever altered, but we really can't be that surprised by it. Can we? Can we really blame Mother Nature or Sandy for this destruction when we have been polluting the waters, the air, and the environment for decades? We are the cause of these storms getting bigger and badder than we've ever seen? And at some point, we are going to pay the price. A bigger price than we just paid. A much bigger price than $50 billion.

So instead of waiting for another $50 billion storm, why don't we spend that money into finding solutions. I'm sure there are plenty of global warming solution research projects that could use that kind of investment. The kind of investment that would help us be proactive instead of reactive. Why must cities be evacuated and towns get wiped out before we think? Does Queens really need to burn down and the Jersey Shore be drowned before the powers that be change the course in which we are all headed? In which we are all headed

If Sandy showed us anything its that no one is spared by Mother Nature. Affluent neighborhoods were not spared from floods and power outages and fires. Atlantic City's famous boardwalk, where the rich and famous gamble their money, drifted off to sea along with the trailer parks of the city. Million dollar mansions were washed away by the same ocean as the one that cleared rickety shacks of Cuba. We are no different. And while before we could watch Haiti and Cuba and Japan get hit by natural disasters and feel sorry and donate money while thinking we could never be toppled or devastated, there is no room for this train of thought anymore. We can be devastated, We can be toppled. In fact, we have been. 
(Is there much of a difference here?)
Aguacate, Cuba  Associated Press / Franklin Reyes
Breezy Point, Queens
(Reuters/Keith Bedford)
If we don't see that this is a problem for all of us, a problem that all of us must fix together, then we are doomed. We will all be "up shit's creek without a paddle" as the adage goes. But it will be literal.

Natural disasters are happening more and more often and are growing ever more intense. It seems that every year we, the human race, are hit by a Frankenstorm of some sort, a disaster to end all disasters: 2011's earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, 2010's earthquake in Haiti, 2008's Tropical Cyclone in Yangon, 2005's Hurricane Katrina. We can no longer look away and hope that this is another place's problem and hope that we can watch the devastation on our televisions from an ocean away and send care packages or money to FEMA and the Red Cross. 

Donating to the cause is not enough.  Money won't buy you out of destruction. Mother Nature can't be bought. She doesn't want your money. She wants you to wake up and stop living off the land without giving anything back. And if we don't listen soon, she's going to get tired of waiting. Don't be mistaken, Mother Nature will win every time. 

I'm not here to tell you what to do. I am not a tree hugging, vegan eating, green living person. I have made some small changes and still have many other ways that I could do better. And if ever there was a time to do better, America...

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