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Spencer Rendahl: Unnatural Disasters

11/13/12 7:55AM
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(Host) As former journalist and commentator Suzanne Spencer Rendahl watches New York and New Jersey slowly recover from Hurricane Sandy, she's reminded of a night two years ago, when her family woke up to similar howling winds - and a strange banging noise.

(Spencer) I got up at dawn that 2010 February morning in a sleep-deprived, uncaffeinated daze with my then-three-month-old son on my shoulder. I looked out the window and mumbled something about seeing pieces of siding from our house around the yard.

"That's not siding," my husband announced from another room. "That's our roof."

That freak wind storm made New Hampshire a disaster area. But it's not the only big storm that twin state residents have recently endured. We also had the ice storm of March 2011, which knocked out our power and closed our daughter's school for two days. And of course Tropical Storm Irene caused extensive flood damage across Vermont and New Hampshire. And most recently, we watched in horror as our friends and neighbors to the south suffered through Hurricane Sandy.

We call these events natural disasters - but I'm no longer sure that they're really all that natural. Scientists can't say that the windstorm that ripped off my roof was caused by what some people call "global warming," and others "climate change." But they can say that thanks to deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, we've changed the chemical composition of the air we breathe - the same air that governs Earth's climate. And many have predicted for decades that climate change would cause an increase in these kinds of extreme weather events.

Last summer, the Midwest suffered the worst drought since the dust bowl. Yet politicians seemed determined to avoid talking about Climate Change during this past election season.

With Sandy's arrival, that silence ended. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have both proclaimed climate change a reality. They warn that we must prepare for more extreme weather events. Bloomberg Businessweek magazine's cover simply declared "It's Global Warming, Stupid."

So we'll stockpile batteries and canned goods. But we'll also hold accountable those politicians who call climate change a left-wing hoax. We'll join with others around the world trying to curb greenhouse gasses. We'll consider more carefully the need to fly or drive. And we'll try harder to remember that the real cost of gas may be the condition of the planet we leave to our children and grandchildren.

After we lost our roof, I explained over and over on the phone to our insurance company and friends and family how the wind had peeled strips of our standing seam roof off one by one.

"Like peeling a banana," my daughter chimed in on cue.

By the end of that day, we lived under sheets of blue tarp. My husband and I considered ourselves lucky that no one got hurt and joked that we had our very own Troubled Asset Relief Program.

But I worry that in the future my children - like too many of Irene and Sandy's victims today - won't find the fixes - or the humor - nearly so easy.
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