The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Sandy and climate change: All in this together

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Many Americans are experiencing the same sense of helplessness, and maybe some level of solidarity with people who are more vulnerable to extreme weather events than those of us who have resources to cope. We should seize this temporary moment of realization to push forward towards a global response to climate change.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, we are experiencing a potential shift in the political tides on climate change. Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of President Obama Thursday, citing climate change, thrust climate issues into the political debate. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy have also made strong statements calling climate change a reality and calling for more preparedness and reforms in its wake. The media is becoming more willing to connect the dots and call a spade a spade.

Let’s not forget that climate change has ushered in a “new normal” for many communities around the world. Up and down the east coast, many Americans are experiencing the same sense of helplessness, and maybe some level of solidarity with people who are more vulnerable to extreme weather events than those of us who have the resources to cope and institutions able to support us through crisis. The startling images of Sandy remind us of how these crises must feel in places without the kind of support we are able to provide our fellow Americans. Places like Bangladesh, a least developed country with most of its population living in poverty, the majority living in low-lying areas highly vulnerable to floods, storms, and saltwater intrusion. Let’s not forget that Hurricane Sandy itself claimed more than 50 lives in Haiti where cholera is an acute public health threat and communities are still recovering from the earthquake that devastated that country less than two years ago.

So we should seize this temporary moment of realization about the threats all of us face to push forward towards a global response to climate change to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions levels and to direct resources those who need it most to build their preparedness. With the US election tomorrow and the next round of UN climate negotiations happening later this month, we have an opportunity to usher in a new political dynamic on this issue. The onus is now on the American public to hold our political leaders accountable for demonstrating new and sustained leadership on this global crisis. We owe it to the people who lost their lives in this awful storm, and to the estimated 400,000 people who lose their lives every year due to climate-related disasters.

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