The 14th Regiment Armory was built for the National Guard (née New York militia) in 1893. The massive Brooklyn structure was supposed to mimic the castles of Europe — brick towers and fortifications of previous centuries. Now a YMCA, the Armory today is a shelter (filled to capacity) with nursing home evacuees from Hurricane Sandy. The metaphor: What was built originally to protect us, has to be repurposed for a new type of foe.
Wall Street, in Lower Manhattan, in the 1600s was an actual wall. The settlers of New Amsterdam built a northern border to guard themselves against the English and Native American encroachers. In recent times it could be re-named Barricade Street. It’s a militarized zone with checkpoints and barriers to presumably thwart an attack on the stock market. Those precautions did little when Wall Street was flooded — under water — during Sandy. The markets were closed for a third time in their history: The first being the blizzard of 1888 and the second being the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he “will preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it.”
Romney wants to build more ships instead of building infrastructure so we don’t need ships to get down Canal Street.
As I write this parts of Manhattan are still dark. Crews are still searching for missing family members on Staten Island. The final death toll has not been tallied. The victims not yet buried.
We’ve been shortsighted. We’ve marginalized those who warned us. We’ve treated environmentalism as an irksome fad. We’ve given cadence to nontroversies and called it balance. We’ve spent trillions to protect ourselves against terrorists and done nothing to keep our biggest cities above water in a storm.
“One of the very important national security threats we face is climate change.” Said Senator Barbara Boxer in a 2007 cable interview. In the 2010 mid-terms, her opponent sacked Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, made it into a campaign commercial and said: “Terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.”
Yes, the weather. This frivolous weather thing the hippies keep harping about just devastated the biggest, most densely populated, city in the country. The city that never sleeps shut down completely. The structural damage and loss in revenue are unprecedented. Even before Sandy, our weather-related fatalities far exceed the Americans who’ve died from terrorist attacks. Since September 11, 2001 there have been roughly 30 Americans killed by terrorism (depending on how you do the numbers). Extreme weather deaths in the same time period have totaled 6,408 as of 2011 according to the National Weather Service.
But the word “terror” is what’s ginning up the right wing and the phrase “climate change” never got mentioned once during the presidential debates.
Associated Press photographer John Minchillo captures this folly best in his photograph of seawater rushing in to the Ground Zero construction site during the storm. A picture worth a thousand words; at least two of them being “global warming.”
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” mocked Romney during his acceptance speech at the RNC. Romney’s answer to this crisis has been to hold campaign events with campaign-purchased canned goods (something the Red Cross has said to please NOT donate to them) in swing states and not answer any questions about what he’d do with FEMA if elected.
In contrast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference minutes after the storm passed:
“I’m hopeful that not only will we rebuild this city and metropolitan area but use this as an opportunity to build it back smarter. There have been a series of extreme weather events. That is not a political statement; that is a factual statement. Anyone who says there is not a change in weather patterns is denying reality. We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns; we have an old infrastructure, we have old systems. That is not a good combination and that is one of the lessons I will take from this, personally.”
Maybe the old moniker of New Amsterdam could be the clue to our future: The Netherlands has figured out how to keep the sea away from their cities. They build infrastructure (dikes, dams, floodgates, canals, drainage ditches and pumps).
But for Americans, the saturation of terrorism spending has left us drowning in our streets.