The Final Debate: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

The fourth and final debate of the 2012 presidential race was held along the East Coast on October 29th with Hurricane Sandy as the moderator. Until then, global warming and its economic, social and political repercussions were conspicuously absent from the debates, with neither candidates nor moderators, broaching the subject, as reported in the New York Times.

Was Sandy a tipping point for the global warming debate? Will politicians continue to mock climate change as Mitt Romney did at the Republican Convention when he elicited laughter by saying; "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family." According to Jennifer Daniel in Businessweek, "the number of natural disasters since 1996 costing $1 billion or more doubled compared with the previous 15 year period." "It's Global Warming, Stupid" was the headline in this same issue of Businessweek. Healing the planet and helping our families are not mutually exclusive.

Earlier cultures lived closer to the land, and respected the force of nature. The Taínos, the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Greater and Lesser Antilles feared and respected the ferocious Caribbean Goddess Guabancex. Also known as the "Rider of the Winds", Guabancex was illustrated on pottery and stone carvings as a "disembodied woman's face" with curling arms extended from her temples, looking a lot like a modern day satellite photograph of hurricanes.

In Nyack, the small Victorian town on the Hudson River where I live, Sandy's 85 mph winds lifted boats out of the water, severely flooded homes and brought majestic trees crashing down against power lines, roads, roofs and cars. Although we were hardly the worst hit, after a week and counting without electricity and heat, our community had its share of adversity.

Nyack resident Lisa Sokolov is a masterful jazz vocalist, as well as a neighbor and friend. She chose to embody the Goddess Guabancex for Goddess on Earth a few days after the hurricane hit. Standing amidst the devastation wreaked upon another neighbor's yard, she spoke of the omnipotence of the hurricane:

Guabancex is force, pure force, not malevolent, not beneficient, just pure elemental force. Singing, like Guabancex, is sitting at the center of your power, letting the elemental force of breath move through you.


As we begin to rebuild and reassess our homes and communities here along the eastern seaboard, it is time to acknowledge who will come out ahead in this collision course. Hurricane Sandy may have moderated the final debate of this presidential election, but Mother Nature will certainly be the final victor if we don't change our actions to live respectfully and in harmony with the planet.

Reports of dark New York City boroughs, empty gas stations and long lines at emergency relief stations remind us of our own fragility. For too long, we've ignored the messages from the natural world. Now, as we face these times of uncertainty and change, the Goddess Guabancex demands -- with the undeniable volume of the gale wind -- that we listen.

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