Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Super-storms, climate change and war

Phyllis Bennis reports from Washington DC on the ideological impact of Hurricane Sandy

November 13, 2012
4 min read


Phyllis Bennis is Red Pepper’s United Nations correspondent, and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.


  share     tweet  

Downtown Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy, by André-Pierre

The super-storm that ravaged Haiti, Cuba and much of the East Coast of the United States two weeks ago, just ahead of the U.S. elections, may finally be recognised as the ‘shock and awe’ phase of climate change’s permanent war against the United States.

Certainly the devastating effects of climate change have been visible elsewhere in the world much earlier. Hurricane Sandy may bring even the most ideologically blinded in the U.S. to join the awareness of the rest of the world, as the reality of climate chaos becomes irrefutable. Some argued that the storm’s ferocity was the great equalizer, because rich as well as poor were left without power for days and weeks, luxury townhouses were swept aside along with seaside shacks and derelict public housing buildings. But that claim ignores the stark reality of the dramatic wealth-poverty divide in this country—laid newly bare by the storm.

In New York, probably the most unequal city in this country, the collapse of infrastructure under the relentless pounding of hurricane-force wind and rain was not an equal opportunity catastrophe. Who will be able to rebuild—and who will not? Whose lives will be permanently destroyed—and who will ultimately walk away with some frightening memories?  Who had insurance coverage for their houses – and who lived in uninsured rental apartments?  Without the subways, people of means could join the endless lines for crowded taxis—poor people walked. When banks and finance companies and the stock market closed, their salaried employees continued to collect their pay checks—poor people, who couldn’t get to their low-wage hourly-paid jobs, didn’t get paid at all. Do we really think that the rebuilding of the opulent high-rises of Manhattan’s Battery Park City will take as long, and leave their residents as desperate, as the reconstruction—or even repair—of the huge public housing projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn, demolished by the raging floods?

Its proximity to the U.S. elections means this storm provides a broad test for the capacity and the legitimacy of government: will its response be able to provide for despairing people’s most basic needs, or will government failure lay bare, as did Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the racism, poverty and disempowerment that still shape so many lives in this country? Hurricane Sandy posed an immediate choice in the presidential election as well, with voters choosing a campaign and a candidate acknowledging the moment demanded full mobilisation of every facet of public and government capability. Supporters of the defeated Mitt Romney had called instead for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to be defunded and urged victims of the storm to rely on the largesse of the private sector and church-based charity.

In the longer term, of course, the super-storm’s challenge goes way beyond the election to the far more important question facing our movements:  how to fight with renewed urgency to realise Rachel Carson’s vision of the human right to a safe environment for the entire planet.

In the meantime, for those of us in this country unaccustomed to the immediacy and implacability of war, the massive destruction in much of New Jersey and New York City gives us a hint of what it must have been like in Iraq, almost ten years ago, when George W. Bush’s ‘shock and awe’ destroyed power generators, electrical plants, water treatment facilities and more—suddenly rendering the once-modern city of Baghdad, with its skyscrapers and highways, silent and dark. For those on the twentieth floor of urban apartment buildings, the struggle to find clean water and a way to lug it upstairs without elevators could not have been so different than that faced by Iraq’s high-rise dwellers.

Understanding this storm’s impact in the context of our on-going struggles against climate change AND against inequality and war, may turn out to be one of the most important outcomes of this long and toxic election season.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Phyllis Bennis is Red Pepper’s United Nations correspondent, and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright