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In late October, 2012 superstorm Sandy swept up from the Caribbean and pounded the Northeast. The damage was horrendous: 268 dead, $68 billion in property loss, the most expensive disaster in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. The images of President Obama and Republican Governor Christie walking the beaches of New Jersey became an icon of collaboration at a time when the country was frustrated by Washington’s seeming deadlock. Obama was swept into office the following month, and Christie’s popularity soared in the aftermath. Sandy was not the only reason for these political results, but exit polls confirmed that it was certainly a factor. It was a demonstration that government can effectively provide help in a time of crisis when those in authority do not hold government in contempt, to paraphrase Paul Krugman. It was a message that resonated with large segments of the public.
But Hurricane Sandy had come in the midst of a scientific and political controversies about the effects of climate change on the intensity and frequency of cyclonic storms, and about the nature or role of government in protecting citizens from calamities. The response to Hurricane Sandy revealed the complex and sometimes contradictory responses to these debates. Governor Christie’s post-Sandy pleading for Federal aid moved some fellow Republicans to criticize him for “big government” solutions and excessive dependence on Washington, but before Sandy and thereafter on the question of global warming like many of his Republican colleagues he had voiced his own doubts on climate change, and emphasized that he had more immediate problems to solve than to debate such arcane issues. That seemingly “practical” approach contributed to his reelection, and in October of last year in his victory speech, the governor spoke of “the spirit of Sandy,” the sense of community and cooperation in problem solving that could become the way he would meet many kinds of political and social challenges.
Unknowingly, Governor Christie was repeating the arguments of Fidel Castro in a similar situation following the disastrous Hurricane Flora of 1963. Flora, the second deadliest storm in the history of the Atlantic had killed about 8,000 people in Haiti and Cuba. Castro at the time, embarrassed by the Missile crisis mobilized all of the institutions of Cuba in the relief effort. Cuba suffered over 1,200 death which was bad enough, but given the dimension of the storm, the government effort was a tremendous success. The successful cooperation and mobilization of society convinced him that this spirit of Flora could become the attitude in which all the country’s problems were met. Castro’s actions after Flora were used to justify the effectiveness of the Revolution and, in fact, Cuba subsequently became a model for disaster mitigation and preparation, but whatever the immediate political benefits, overtime Castro’s speeches also became “greener,”and like many leaders in the Caribbean, he began to emphasize the need to take global warming and the rise of the oceans seriously.
For the most part, that has not been the case in New Jersey. The problem is that separation of practical issues from long-term issues like global warming is short-sighted. In Sandy, for example, the New Jersey Transit Corporation, basing its decision on past experience failed to move its rolling stock to high ground and as a result suffered a loss of a quarter of its trains and $150 million in damages. New York’s MTA under Governor Cuomo suffered far less because he had taken climate change as a reality and had taken necessary precautions. Both governors had been handicapped, however, by the fact that FEMA funding had been so reduced prior to Sandy that the shoreline maps of areas of possible flooding of New York and New Jersey were decades out of date.
Castro’s experience following hurricane Flora made him an advocate of strong government action in response to natural disasters, but it had also made him responsive to the challenges of environmental change. It remains unclear if Governor Christie who is looking forward to 2016 has learned a similar lesson, and more importantly, if he could make that message appealing to his political party, the leadership of which continues to deny scientific evidence of human caused climate change, or suggests that even if it does exist, there is little that can be done about it. That position combined with a neo-liberal argument for weakening financial support for the public sector, lowering investments in infrastructure, and the dismantling of central authority that has gained much support since the 1980s, and it raises the question for Governor Christie and the rest of us if the “spirit of Sandy” that he so passionately invoked will be enough to confront the challenges of climate change.
Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. His many books include All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World and Sea of Storms. A History of Caribbean Hurricanes from Columbus to Katrina (forthcoming January 2015).
Shark week is well underway and the celebrations and glamorizations of the most famous of ocean predators continues unabated. However, as the creators of Un-Shark Week and co-authors of The Extreme Life of the Sea, Steve and Tony Palumbi know there are other fascinating marine animals that are equally deserving of your attention. In this fantastic interview with Voice of America News, they highlight some cool facts about sharks as well as other extreme creatures that have adapted to survive and thrive in the harshest environments of the ocean.
Each year, World Water Day is held on the 22nd of March as an international means of emphasizing the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of Earth’s water resources. According to UN Water, this year’s theme is International Year of Water Cooperation. Celebrations all over the globe are in full swing today. Check out the World Map of Events to get involved!
Want to broaden your understanding of water systems and sustainability? Our Princeton Primers in Climate series are the ideal first place to turn to get the essential facts and to begin further investigation–whether in the classroom or in one’s own reading chair.
The Cryosphere by Shawn J. Marshall
Introduction to the cryosphere and the broader role it plays in our global climate system. Looks at each component of the cryosphere and how it works–seasonal snow, permafrost, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and ice shelves. Marshall describes how snow and ice interact with our atmosphere and oceans and how they influence climate, sea level, and ocean circulation.
Atmosphere, Clouds, and Climate by David Randall
David Randall looks at how the atmosphere regulates radiative energy flows and transports energy through weather systems such as thunderstorms, monsoons, hurricanes, and winter storms. Randall explains how these processes work, and also how precipitation, cloud formation, and other phase changes of water strongly influence weather and climate.
Climate and the Oceans by Geoffrey K. Vallis
Offers a short, self-contained introduction to the subject. This illustrated primer begins by briefly describing the world’s climate system and ocean circulation and goes on to explain the important ways that the oceans influence climate. Topics covered include the oceans’ effects on the seasons, heat transport between equator and pole, climate variability, and global warming.
Celebrate World Water Day! Today, enlighten yourself and inform others about the sustainable management of the world’s water supply.
The impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be felt in the region and around the world for a long time. The Association of American University Presses has compiled a list of books from 23 AAUP members to offer insight and understanding about the role of oil–in economic, technological, and political development, in international relations, and in global environments.
From the AAUP Press Release: Books for Understanding is a free public service of AAUP to help librarians,
A complete list of Books for Understanding can be found at:
We invite you to check out the complete list along with these Princeton University Press titles:
Oil and the Environment: General Environmental Effects of Oil Drilling and Refining
Oil in Economic and Political Development and Social Change: Around the World
The Central Asian Economies Since Independence
Oil and Energy Crises
Drilling Methods and Technologies
Power, Speed, and Form: Engineers and the Making of the Twentieth Century