A Democratic Hurricane

In democracies, a severe crisis often is required to mobilize voters behind a collective push for essential reform. Perhaps Hurricane Sandy will spur US citizens and politicians to take climate change seriously – and to implement public policies aimed at protecting America’s cities and coastlines.

NEW YORK – Nothing concentrates the mind like a full-blown crisis. Like millions of other people in New York City, I heard Hurricane Sandy rattling my windows and battering my doors. I was luckier than many. Rattling is all it did.

For many years, experts have been warning that such storms would overwhelm the city’s antiquated urban infrastructure. Salt water came streaming into open subways. Damage to the power supply reduced a third of Manhattan to a pre-modern state of darkness. And that was just New York. In parts of New Jersey, many people fortunate enough still to have a house are cut off by rivers of raw sewage lapping at their doors.

No one can say with certainty that this particular storm was caused by global warming, but almost all experts agree that the effects of polar-ice melt and sea-level rise will make future storms worse. And yet neither candidate in the United States’ presidential campaign bothered to mention the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.

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