I’m writing this column on 9-11, sitting in my office just a few blocks away from where that tragedy occurred 16 years ago. I’ve recently spent time at the 7 World Trade Center building that was erected a few years ago, a towering tribute to our city’s ability to bounce back and soar higher in the wake of devastation. That building was built better and more resilient so that what occurred on 9-11 can never happen again.
I’m remembering that fateful day that changed our city and our country forever while I’m watching on television the devastation of Florida and the Caribbean this past weekend, when a hurricane left so much damage on a large swath of the southern United States. I can’t help thinking of Hurricane Sandy, which occurred just five years ago and which took so long to recover from.
While we must remain extremely vigilant so that terrorists can’t repeat the 9-11 attack on our shores, we must also be sure we protect ourselves from the inevitable next hurricane that will hit New York. I recently read a climate expert saying that a mega hurricane like Sandy is likely to hit New York at least every 25 years or less. Because there is no way of knowing when the next one might hit, we have to start protecting ourselves now.
When Sandy hit in 2012, there were many elected leaders clamoring for initiatives to bolster our defenses against the next one. Building barriers near low-lying areas, elevating entrances to our subway stations near sea level and other smart public policy ideas were advanced. As far as I can tell, however, the city has done little to follow up on this.
It’s human nature to forget about a problem once it’s pretty far in the rear-view mirror. It is easier to focus on what’s going on now, but it is misguided to think that these issues will resolve themselves or just go away. As almost every climate scientist has told us in recent weeks, the warming of the oceans means that future storms are going to pack even more punch than they have before. The next Sandy-like storm in New York could be even more damaging and since we are a coastal city we are right in harm’s way.
So on a very macro level, we have to push our local and federal leaders to address climate change. More green energy, fuel efficient cars and many other changes need to be accelerated — if we don’t slow down the warming of our oceans, things are going to get very dire even faster than we thought. We’re in the middle of a mayoral election campaign — a tepid one at best — that allows voters to demand that Mayor DeBlasio outline his plans to protect us from the next storm. Next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is up for re-election, affording us another opportunity to escalate our concerns that New York become inoculated against the kind of devastation we saw in Texas last week and in Florida this weekend.
Not to be even more of a downer, but lost in all the hurricane coverage is the scary earthquake in Mexico that killed more than 60 people and wrecked many buildings. New York is on a fault line and many scientists have predicted that one day we may also experience the kind of rumblings that our friends in California have routinely suffered. What are we doing to protect ourselves from that earth-shaking possibility?
In the meantime, let’s count our blessings and send our donations to the Red Cross for the rebuilding efforts in Houston and Florida. Let’s study what other countries on the water have done to fortify themselves against hurricanes. What have countries that are on fault lines done to protect themselves from earthquakes?
The most important thing we ask of government is to keep us safe. Fortunately, this administration and its predecessors have done amazing work to tame crime in New York. But now, let’s shift some of that focus on the potential disasters that loom due to nature. And let’s do all we can to make sure we do much less to make these natural disasters worse because of man-made pollution.
Our children’s future — and our planet — are at stake.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallo