The Wednesday, October 31st edition of CNN International’s Amanpour featured an interview with Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY), about the aftermath and impact of “super storm” Hurricane Sandy. Governor Spitzer talked at length about the risks from climate change, the lack of political attention on this issue, as well as the lack of political attention on overall infrastructure needs. New York City was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, demonstrating the power of the climate, and the potential for costly destruction of low lying coastal areas.
Earlier today Gov. Cuomo spoke about the string of extreme weather events in extreme years, and how this obviously demonstrates the reality of climate change, and “Anyone who says there is not a change in weather patterns is denying reality.” Cuomo is calling for a rebuilding program that will make New York “smarter” to address the risk of future storm surges.
Spitzer echoed much of what Cuomo said, and noted that there was “no question about global warming during the presidential debates” and that there are still “still people in the Republican Party who deny the existence of climate change.” The thrust of Spitzers message was to say that Republicans stonewalling on climate change issues, on infrastructure investment in general, have thwarted efforts to keep municipal infrastructure in good shape, and are creating a huge financial risk from future extreme weather events caused by the climate change process.
Spitzer noted that Mitt Romney and the Republican party deny “the need for government to invest in infrastructure because government didn’t build that.” Meaning that the Libertarian aspect of the Republican party wants to keep the role of government small, and for example not in the role of building infrastructure projects. Romney, for example, has called for the elimination of FEMA, the government agency that handles emergency response. Spitzer went on to say that a storm like this “can provide a metastasizing effect in terms of public opinion” because it demonstrates the usefulness of government-provided infrastructure, and government-provided emergency response systems.
One often doesn’t know the value of something until its taken away. The subway system is flooded and shut down, several hospitals are without power and being evacuated, at least half of the city is without power, LaGuardia is still closed while JFK and Newark Airport have re-opened. In short, Hurricane Sandy left a trail of broken cities in its wake, and citizens perhaps more interested in repairs to city infrastructure that has been neglected for years.
Why wasn’t the necessary investment made earlier, such as when Spitzer himself was Governor?
Spitzer explained that “when you are told sometime in the next hundred years we will get a storm of this magnitude,” this doesn’t create the necessary level of urgency to invest government funds in a mitigation project. Later he noted that President Obama had made “a first step in the direction of either a carbon tax or some sort of emissions policy” but that it went nowhere in Congress, because of stonewalling in Congress on climate change issues. He later explained that when he was Governor, the “imperative was on our educational system.” Improvements to the educational system “ate up every penny of spare cash we had,” and that if “you say to parents, we want to increase your taxes and then use those dollars to deal with the one in 50 possibly of a storm as opposed to putting more teachers in the classrooms,” that the political dynamic is very difficult.
The problem with this, as Amanpour and Spitzer both noted, these “once-in-a-hundred-years storms are coming up every couple years.” Meaning that when the Governor makes a decision to put off preparations for a rare type of storm, that turns out to occur routinely because of climate change, that Governor has left his state unprepared.
Spitzer said “We cannot survive a succession of these storms without saying to ourselves something is fundamentally missing – in the way that Katrina in New Orleans helped.” In other words, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events is something we as a people must become prepared for.
Talking about the change of momentum since the first Presidential Debate (which Romney won), Spitzer said “This storm, I think, stopped that and got people to focus, again, the meme in the Republican Party at their convention was mocking the notion that government had built anything that mattered. I think now the public appreciates government matters.”
However, Spitzer makes the case that government does do things that matters, and expresses the desire that “I hope that whoever’s elected president — obviously, I’m for Barack Obama — uses this as a catalyst to say to Congress and to the public, this is something we must deal with, both in terms of investment and infrastructure and the mega issue of global warming.”
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