Sandy – the Non-Wake-Up Call

Seaside Heights, NJ, the day after its direct hit from Sandy
I remember some time ago watching a television show on the History Channel or National Geographic or some sort.  It was a show about the top ten natural disaster threats to the United States.  I know the show was done after Hurricane Katrina, because the show made a point of highlighting that a Gulf Coast hurricane aimed at New Orleans had been a well-recognized threat by meteorologists and disaster-preparedness experts for quite some time.  They also said that a similar hurricane targeting the East Coast, specifically the New York-New Jersey area, would make Katrina an afterthought.
Greetings and good riddance to Hurricane Sandy.
I’ll leave the climate change debate to others.  To me it’s a settled issue.  As I heard Chris Hayes of MSNBC state earlier this week, we’ve passed the point of climate change – we are now at the point of global climate disruption and approaching global climate catastrophe.  But I write about planning here.
New York City appears to have garnered most of the media attention related to the storm.  Without question the city took a beating, and power is still out in lower Manhattan five days after the storm hit.  Also, Long Island and the more urban areas of New Jersey have been in the public eye as they too are still struggling to recover.  The appeals that I heard from the mayor of Hoboken were heart-wrenching.
But from where I sit some 700 miles away, the greatest damage took place in the area that was most directly hit, and was the most vulnerable – the Jersey Shore.  Boardwalks gone, roller coasters lost to the sea, cottages and bungalows reduced to rubble.
I look at the buildup of cities and towns on our coasts and think, why?
Our nation has been playing Russian Roulette with the ocean for decades and we finally lost.  A thoughtful article by Sarah Goodyear of the Atlantic Cities reflects on how she was reading, at the very time the storm stuck, a new book called The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, by John R. Gillis.  In it, she says the author mentions how humans’ relationship with the sea has changed since the 18thCentury; we used to revere its awesome power and give it space, but today we romanticize its occasional gentle breezes and draw closer to it.  That has been to our detriment.  Similarly, over at Salon.com an article mentions that environmentalists and planners question the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore after such destruction.  That question, frankly, has already been answered.  Here’s New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:
“I don’t believe in a state like ours, where the Jersey Shore is such a part of life, that you just pick up and walk away.”
The powers that controlled the development of the Jersey Shore will rebuild, because they are giving the general public what it wants.
I’ve heard many pundits mention that Sandy should serve as a wake-up call for us to take action on a variety of things: storm surge protection in New York Bay; environmentally sensitive rebuilding on the Jersey Shore.  But I don’t believe in wake-up calls.  My understanding of human behavior tells me that we will always do what we want to do up to and until we can no longer do it.  We will not take preventive measures for any action until we’ve been sufficiently battered, and finally see the benefits outweigh the costs in front of us.
There will be a lot more Katrinas and Sandys before we change anything.

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