New York state and city officials may not have been global warming deniers, but they were global warming ignorers. We now know, from an Associated Press story Sunday, that a series of legislative reports over the last 30 years had presciently predicted the huge storm surges, fires, power outages, flooded subway tunnels, temporary shelter and gasoline shortages — virtually all the elements of disaster that happened during and after Superstorm Sandy.
So it’s not as if this was something that couldn’t reasonably be foreseen — like terrorists flying airplanes into the World Trade Center. Yet, for the most part, the warnings were ignored.
The reasons were understandable. Europeans have been living in New York City for more than 400 years, and there is no record of anything like this occurring before. It would have taken a great deal of political will and leadership to make the case for extraordinary steps, such as relocating people and building levees, to deal with some still-hypothetical threat.
At least as important, it would have taken a lot of money, which has been in particularly short supply the last decade or so, just as the reality of global warming and climate change was becoming clearer and clearer. And if disaster did strike, there was always the likelihood of federal money to help the victims and rebuild — even if the building was in a flood plain.
The consequences are now plain for all to see. Big storms (and they are becoming bigger and more frequent) cause many billions’ worth of damage and severely disrupt and even cost lives. And while the feds have been generous with aid, it won’t cover the entire bill — nor will they likely be as generous next time, particularly if the state and city haven’t shown they are serious about disaster planning and prevention.
Not only must attention be paid but actions taken, costly though they may be.