by M. Doretta Cornell, RDC
Hurricane Sandy and the Nor’easter that recently swept through our part of the country brought out the compassion of people here and around the nation. From the first moments, people reached out to others in greater need, offering hospitality, meals, the loan of a phone for a quick call, as well as housing for the duration, clothes and other items to replace those lost or temporarily inaccessible.
As often happens in crises, we recognized our common vulnerability and reached out in compassion to those around us, creating a real sense of community.
This is a wonderful sign of hope: if we could keep this spirit of responsibility and caring for each other, what a more life-giving community we would have!
One perhaps unexpected lesson was recognizing how much we depend on people in all areas of our community to respond to such great need. This, for me, evoked the contentious pre-election debates about the role of government and claims that the “private sector” of small businesses, churches and local volunteer organizations should provide any services people might not be able to meet on their own.
Over the past weeks, we have seen very clearly that we need all sectors of society to cope with a crisis of this magnitude. We recognize that we are all interconnected, both by our human vulnerability and by our varied roles in society.
Government intervention, on all levels, remains greatly important, from FEMA to local mayors and governors coordinating services; to emergency medical, fire and police personnel; to state militias providing rescue and repair work—all were, and still are, desperately needed.
Utility and phone companies and tree experts, for instance, were also obviously needed and responded with not only local personnel but with generous contingents from other regions. Their expertise, organization and heavy equipment are essential to the repair and cleanup.
Local religious groups, schools, businesses and individuals offered helping hands, free hot meals, and sleeping space, and collected supplies for those stranded in the cold and without power, and often with very few remnants of their homes and belongings. (Please join in this effort!)
As we can see by looking around us, as well as at others around the world suffering from similar events, the response to climate change must be multi-pronged. We are now in a crisis management phase of this response. This is important for the present time and also for planning in case of future events.
Equally important is recognizing the causes of these events, and acknowledging that we need to change our ways of living to prevent greater increases in the damage to Earth that accelerate changes in climate.
So, another lesson we need to take to heart is how we can change our impact on climate change and its effects.
The United States produces 19 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to the EPA’s 2012 report on 2010 data. We sent 6,821.8 million tons (that is, almost 7 BILLION tons) of these gases into our atmosphere in 2010—and we are only 4.46 percent of the world’s population! We are also the only major Western nation without strong national policies to significantly reduce our output. We are alone in the loud political opposition to scientific data on this issue.
Fortunately, many companies, industries, and individuals are making strides. All of us need to make personal efforts to reduce our individual creation of these gases, but, on a larger scale, we must insist on national policies that will reduce our “carbon footprint.” We also need monitoring systems and adequate personnel to be sure the policies are implemented. This, as part of world-wide efforts, scientists tell us, will mitigate some of the predicted effects of the changes. However, our actions are very late and have to be huge to make any observable difference.
Besides mitigation, we must also adapt to the changes that will continue to come at us. So, besides becoming sustainable—that is, living so as to make life possible in a future similar to the present—we must also be resilient.
Climate change means that the current situation will not prevail. We must prepare for very different situations in the future. For instance, making a beach house more secure might be effective for a few years, but is it wise to allow construction on shores that will likely be inundated frequently or permanently underwater over the next twenty years?
All of this is practical and beneficial for businesses, people, animals, plant life, and Earth itself. But it is also the compassionate response—we are all one population living on this one planet. Every action we make affects the lives of all the other human and non-human parts of our community—and those who will make up the community of the future.