After Sandy, We’re Ignoring the Lessons We Already Learned
By Rob Moore
Five years after Hurricane Sandy, our nation's leadership is willfully ignoring all the lessons we paid dearly to learn. Instead the nation is now charting a very dangerous course given the powerful storms we will face in the future.
Marking the fifth anniversary of one of the most destructive storms to ever strike the U.S., we see a very different response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate than we saw to Hurricane Sandy five years ago.
After Sandy, there was a recognition that we needed to take action to decrease our vulnerability to the extreme weather events that climate change makes more likely and there was a renewed emphasis to combat the root causes of climate change.
In the aftermath of this year's string of catastrophic hurricanes, which have turned 2017 into one of the most destructive years on record, we've seen a response that borders on ambivalence to the plight of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And in so many other ways, we are seeing a deliberate attempt to ignore the lessons we paid such a high price to learn.
After Hurricane Sandy made landfall, the images of flooded subways, shorelines full of homes falling into the ocean and a darkened Manhattan skyline provided a much-needed wake-up call to the nation about climate change. We were confronted with the reality of what scientists had been telling us for years: climate change is real and it's placing communities at greater peril.
There was a recognition that we needed to take action to decrease our vulnerability to the extreme weather events brought about by climate change and there was a renewed emphasis on addressing the root causes of climate change. For what now seems like an all too brief window of time, our nation adopted a strategy that was focused on avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable consequences of climate change.
After Sandy the federal government rolled out a suite of actions that included:
- The Post Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy set a new bar for how the federal government would respond to weather related disasters, emphasizing the need to not just rebuild the same way in the same vulnerable places, but to do so in a way that would make communities more resilient to future severe events as well.
- Federal flood protection standards were updated to ensure that all public infrastructure and facilities built using federal taxpayer dollars would be sited and designed with an additional margin of safety for future flooding, even accounting for future sea level rise.
- FEMA began requiring states to assess how climate change could make weather related disasters more frequent or more severe, making sure that states were preparing for a more uncertain future.
- USEPA proposed the Clean Power Plan, charting the nation's pathway to reducing our emissions of pollution that cause climate change.
But since President Trump took office, we've lost that momentum and we have seen our nation regress as it shrinks away from the multitude of challenges posed by climate change. And the error of these misguided actions are all too apparent in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.
Just ten days prior to Hurricane Harvey making landfall in Texas, Trump rescinded federal flood protection standards. These standards would have ensured that public facilities and infrastructure built using federal taxpayer dollars would be built with a greater margin of safety against flooding and future sea level rise. The standards would have also guided the post disaster recovery from recent storms, had they not been rescinded.
Trump has proposed cuts to FEMA programs that are essential to disaster response and preparedness. These include reducing the amount of funding the nation budgets for responding to and preparing for natural disasters. In addition, the administration has proposed that all funding be eliminated for mapping areas vulnerable to flooding and reducing the resources used for weather forecasting and severe weather prediction. These programs are clearly more needed than ever and that need only increases as each year brings increasing risks.
And our response to the crisis unfolding in Puerto Rico over the past several weeks does not even remotely resemble the way the U.S. is expected to come to the aid of its citizens.
It's become all too clear that climate change has irrevocably changed the nature of weather related disasters in the U.S., but we are failing to heed the lessons that we are being taught. Events like Hurricane Sandy would have been considered a once in a lifetime event in the past. But now, record breaking disasters occur with alarming regularity. Since 2012, the U.S. has experienced some of the most costly flood disasters in the nation's history starting with Hurricane Sandy in 2012, catastrophic floods in Central Louisiana and the Carolinas from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and now the combined fury of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.
The evidence for action is all too clear, yet our nation's leaders expend far more effort to willfully ignore the evidence that is laid out before them than they expend to address the challenges that are so painfully obvious.
By John R. Platt
The straw-headed bulbul doesn't look like much.
It's less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.
Cages line the Malang bird and animal market on Java in 2016. Andrea Kirkby / CC BY-SA 2.0
A kingfisher, looking a little worse for wear, in the Malang bird and animal market in 2016. Andrea Kirkby / CC BY-SA 2.0
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julián García Walther
One morning in January, I found myself 30 feet up a tall metal pole, carrying 66 pounds of aluminum antennas and thick weatherproofed cabling. From this vantage point, I could clearly see the entire Punta Banda Estuary in northwestern Mexico. As I looked through my binoculars, I observed the estuary's sandy bar and extensive mudflats packed with thousands of migratory shorebirds frenetically pecking the mud for food.
There are currently few Motus stations in Mexico, leading to a large information gap. Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND
Red knots and many other shorebirds travel thousands of miles from breeding grounds in the Arctic (left) to nonbreeding grounds in Latin America (right). Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND
Motus stations require a high vantage point that overlooks estuaries. Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND
Any bird with a transmitter will be picked up if it flies within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of a Motus station. Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND<h2>Tagging Birds</h2><p>The stations alone can't detect these animals. The final step, which will happen in the coming months, is to catch birds and tag them. To do this, our team will set up a soft, spring-loaded net called a whoosh net in sandy areas where the red knots rest above the high-tide line. When birds walk past the net, the crew leader will release the trigger, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwMiA2iqVc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">safely trapping the birds with the net</a>.</p>
WhooshNetCapture.MTS<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6440038cdc58961906f5fa164b457688"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vwMiA2iqVc0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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While some mainstream environmental organizations welcomed Tuesday's introduction of the CLEAN Future Act in the House of Representatives, progressive green groups warned that the bill falls far short of what's needed to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis—an existential threat they say calls for bolder action like the Green New Deal.
<div id="25965" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6116a1c2b1b913ad51c3ea576f2e196c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1366827205427425289" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">BREAKING: Rep @FrankPallone just released his CLEAN Future Act — which he claims to be an ambitious bill to combat… https://t.co/M7nR0es196</div> — Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))<a href="https://twitter.com/foe_us/statuses/1366827205427425289">1614711974.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="189f0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa31bacec80d88b49730e8591de5d26d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1366863402912657416" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The CLEAN Future Act "fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and… https://t.co/yREn6Qx9tn</div> — Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)<a href="https://twitter.com/foodandwater/statuses/1366863402912657416">1614720605.0</a></blockquote></div>
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