Sandy's Sobering Catalyst... Climate Change

I watched from my window as Hurricane Sandy stormed through America's northeast. Although I had declined several invitations to weather the storm with friends, I quickly realized I wasn't alone. It became hard to ignore the elephant in my room with me -- Climate Change.
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I was alone in my bedroom in Brooklyn as the wind howled and tree trunks tore apart outside landing on my neighbor's front stoops.

I watched from my window as Hurricane Sandy stormed through America's northeast, killing at least 60 people in its path. Although I had declined several invitations to weather the storm with friends, I quickly realized, I wasn't alone. It became hard to ignore the elephant in my room with me -- Climate Change.

Climate change is kind of like racism. Nobody really wants to talk about it, but it is as critical as it is constructive that we have that conversation now. Whether politicians, pundits or polls bring it up or not, like racism, we all know climate change is real. We all know it threatens our peace, security and the very unity of these United States of America.

Still, perhaps because we need it, we are gifted sharp reminders.

"My party is full of racists," Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson reminded us just the other day, "the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character... and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that's despicable."

What may be more despicable than racism in this context is denying its existence. Just like those who deny our climate is changing, and that we, with our drills and in our drivers seats, are directly contributing to the change.

Sandy submerged much of Lower Manhattan underwater, cut millions off from electricity, subways are not running for at least several days, airports are closed, tunnels are flooded, transformers are exploding and fires breaking out. It should come as no surprise that the MTA described it as "the worst disaster in the history of the 108 year old subway system."

ConEd, New York's utility company, described the damage and destruction done to its power systems, as "unprecedented in scope."

Yes despite these unprecedented realities, we remain a polarized, nation. Politics often get in the way of the important conversation we should be having. But Mother Nature isn't really concerned with picking sides in politics. What she is probably concerned about is why our politicians have been ignoring her for so long.

Seeing Gov. Christie and Obama working together as they respond to the superstorm is encouraging. Since Sandy, they both have exchanged compliments in recent days, but it was not so long ago that Gov. Christie was railing against Obama for saying that the government has a role to play in helping people build businesses.

Imagine if New Jersey and New York had to rely on state resources for disaster relief as Romney continues to suggest?

But putting politics aside is imperative because the people affected by this storm are do not belong to one political party. As Bill Clinton reminded us, they are being told the same things.

"All up and down the east coast there are mayors, many of them Republicans, who are being told you gotta move these houses back away from the ocean," Clinton said. "You got to lift them up. Climate change is gonna raise the water levels on a permanent basis."

For the first time since I was born - September 1984 - the presidential and vice presidential debates ignored the threat of climate change, which is both the greatest challenge of our time and a sobering and serious national (and international) security threat. If you don't believe me, ask Sandy, or the scientists, or for that matter, our Secretary of Defense.

"The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security. Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief" - Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

As Sandy smashed into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds, I was on Twitter staying up to date on the latest developments from the region. I would eventually quote one of Obama's acknowledgements of climate change.

Stevo, from South Florida responded to me on Twitter:

He shared the following tweet from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, who in his Twitter bio claims to be a former speechwriter for President Reagan.

People like Rohrabacher are a big part of the problem because they prevent us from having a serious and comprehensive conversation about observed changes in our environment and how they are affecting millions and millions of Americans.

The arctic is melting faster than most scientists predicted. The extent of Arctic sea ice coverage hit a record low in 2012. Rapid decreases in the sea ice means the polar ice sheets might be melting more rapidly than previously predicted, introducing vast amounts of water into our oceans. The ongoing rise in average global temperatures, which contributes to the rapid melting, is largely linked to the burning of fossil fuels. China has recently overtaken the US as the top greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

About a month ago, a Chinese icebreaker became the first ship from China to cross the Arctic Ocean, a move that highlights Beijing's aggressive ambitions in the remote region where new trade routes appear likely to open up. China also recently applied to become an observer at the Arctic Council, made up of Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

But its not just China that is looking at the potential economic opportunities created by the melting ice caps. As the Arctic sea ice coverage hits a record low this year, a new Gold Rush may be emerging with many countries including South Korea looking to invest in drilling opportunities for oil and gas as the Arctic economy start to grow.

For the U.S. alone, the economic potential from the energy and mineral resources is in the trillion of dollars. But the geopolitical and environmental cost is likely to be of unimaginable proportions.

I do not know the specifics behind the science on climate change, but I do know if we continue to act on the premise that there are no consequences to our actions, to our industrial growth, to our carbon emissions, the next Sandy will come sooner and stronger than any of us would like.

I understand that profit motivates everyday Americans and our politicians. Romney himself is perhaps epitomizes that persona. But pursuing profit and prosperity without taking time to process the potential negative effects to our environment and national security is a profound mistake.

When Romney ridiculed President Obama for his efforts of fighting global warming by saying, "Oh, you're going to turn back the seas.", his arrogance was certainly on full display.

When it comes to climate change, like Romney, we could all use some humility and a willingness to learn more about the challenges we face. After all, we share this planet, and its natural resources with many species. Climate change does not just alter the patterns of diseases in humans, it has the power to disrupt the delicate balance of our ecosystem, which we are all mutually dependent on for survival.

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