Stepping Back From Hurricane Sandy’s Onslaught

1 Nov

paddler_slideshowIt’s clear director Oliver Stone is no scientist.

Stone is an equal opportunity critic, arguing that neither Obama nor Mitt Romney tackled climate change in a substantive way. “I was a little disappointed at the third debate when neither of them talked about climate control and the nature of the situation on Earth,” Stone said. “I think there’s kind of a weird statement coming right after … this is a punishment … Mother Nature cannot be ignored. That’s all I thought about.”

I’m glad Stone is still making movies and talking loud. But, ‘punishment”? That’s theodicy, not science. Talk of divine justice distracts from understanding if Hurricane Sandy, whose high winds and assorted forms of precipitation –yes, snow – have caused 40 deaths and $20 billion of structural damage, according to PBS, was a freak of climate change. Such incendiary speech also makes it impossible for public officials to devise ways to ameliorate the causes of catastrophes.

We do not know whether superstorms like Sandy are harbingers of a “new normal” in the uneasy and unpredictable relationship between climate change and extreme weather events. That does not mean that there is not or cannot be such a connection, but rather that the scientific research needed to prove (or disprove) it must still be conducted. That is how good science works. Sandy has provided a powerful demonstration of the need to support it.


If, like Stone, we think we know how Mother Nature works, and we know what we want politically, that’s a very narrow way to take care of everyone.

Governor Mitt Romney has offered his narrow vision of how to deal with the consequences politically.

At a Republican primary debate earlier in this campaign, GOP nominee Mitt Romney said he thought funding for disaster relief should be left to the states, or even privatized, and that to continue federal funding of disaster relief was “simply immoral,” a position that puts him at odds with events during the final days of this campaign. On the campaign trail Tuesday, Romney was given 11 opportunities to say he no longer thinks it’s a good idea to de-fund FEMA, and each time, literally stood by, refusing to take it back.


Romney’s position on FEMA puts him in a tough spot. Even Republican Super-Duperstar Chris Christie has praised the federal response to Hurricane Sandy, telling Fox and Friends that the President’s emergency declaration “helps us tremendously,” and that he told the President “if you could expedite designating New Jersey as a major disaster area, that that would help us to get federal money and resources in here as quickly as possible to help clean up the damage here.”

Even the fringiest of the right wing recognize the role of the federal government in matters of public safety, but with Mitt Romney, what you’ll get is a guy who thinks that every problem is a privatizable nail.

A little scientific and moral skepticism is in order now.


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