Will Hurricane Sandy be a climate Pearl Harbor?

The Gunther Report

Will Hurricane Sandy be a climate Pearl Harbor?

Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com

Only after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor did the US mobilize to enter World War II.

Might Hurricane Sandy mobilize the US to tackle global warming?

This isn’t my metaphor. People have been talking about “climate Pearl Harbors” for years. (Here’s a Joe Romm post from 2008.) The theory is that, because global warming is a slow-moving threat  that for a variety of peculiar reasons is incredibly difficult to resolve politically — for more on that, read my climate ebook, Suck It Up — a dramatic event, involving death and destruction, will be required to awaken a citizenry that is largely indifferent, confused or otherwise occupied.

Of course we’ve had plenty of extreme weather in recent years. Hurricane Katrina. A Russian heat wave that killed 700 in 2010. Floods in Australia in 2011. Disasters in places like Pakistan and Mali that barely made headlines.

But those involved black people, poor people, faraway people or, in the case of the wildfires and droughts that plagued the US this year, trees and crops.

Hurricane Sandy is affecting New Yorkers. New York, along with Washington, is the power center of the US. Wall Street. The news business. Media, fashion, advertising, PR.

These are sandbags outside the office of Goldman Sachs.

The rain had barely stopped when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, had this to say:

It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable.

Well, uh, gee, yeah.

This hurricane might even turn New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie into a climate hawk.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a demonstrated passion for the climate issue. He could make global warming a focus of his considerable energies, not to mention his fortune, after leaving office.

[To be sure, those of us who have been paying attention understand that no single weather event can be definitively tied to climate change blah blah blah blah -- but come on, people. As Grist's David Roberts wrote today, no single Barry Bonds home run can be attributed to steroids but the performance enhancing drugs sure put some extra pop in his bat.]

By chance, I visited this week with the leader of one of the world’s biggest environmental groups. He sounded chipper, and expressed the hope that Sandy might be a game-changer.

“New Yorkers are not shy,” he told me. “The most powerful people in the country have been pretty damn inconvenienced.”

No one wants to see suffering. But if Hurricane Sandy does turn into a wake-up call on climate, maybe a few days or weeks of inconvenience will be a price worth paying.

Photo of flooded Brooklyn area after Hurricane Sandy provided by Anton Oparin via Shutterstock.com.