Friday, November 2, 2012

New York missive no 122 - post-Sandy haircuts and more

Both C and JNH had post-hurricane Sandy haircuts. And our neighbors gave the shrubs in the front and back garden their fall pruning, wrapping the chopped parts up in black plastic sacks. As if to say after the storm, let’s straighten things out, restore some order. (Albeit to unruly hair or gardens).

Of course, that doesn’t stop everything from feeling out of sync and fragile. Western Queens got off very lightly compared to other parts of the city. Some lost power (our block was lucky and had power throughout) and trees came down here and there but there was nothing like the major flooding and widespread power outages of elsewhere. Nor, of course, the horrendous fire that ripped through 100 homes in Breezy Point. Nonetheless there are plenty of signs of lingering disruption.

When we called our local cab firm to book a cab to take my parents to the airport (they’d got stuck for a couple of extra days), the man at the end of the line laughed. He said their firm had no cabs available and he didn’t know of any that did. The disrupted subway system and limits on private cars driving into the city has flooded the taxi companies with demand. (In the end I nabbed a limo driver from under the subway tracks at 30th Avenue, who jumped up the price because of the lack of gas).

Yesterday when C and I went into my branch of Alma Bank we were seen by a woman who had relocated temporarily from the Ditmars branch, given it was out of power and therefore closed. The queues at the supermarket are long, because people are stocking back up on provisions and because the credit card machines are running sluggishly so each plastic transaction takes a long time. In the butcher's shop, I felt surprised relief to find our Friday night pepper-and-blue-cheese burgers were in stock. "I appreciate it more than usual," I said to the guy who works there, "when places have things I’d expect them to have." "Tell me about it," he replied.

It seems that finally some politicians and media outlets are acknowledging that our recent crazy weather patterns are caused by climate change and there may be more to come. Governor Cuomo said after the storm: “[P]art 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.” Bloomberg Businessweeks’ cover story headlined, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid."

It’s ironic that as a result of storms like Sandy people are compelled to take the kind of actions that environmentalists have been saying for ages we should take to prevent them. Like sharing cars, taking public transport (such as is available), turning off the lights, minimising flying. As with environmental damage in all parts of the world, it's people with the least resources and who have contributed least to the cause who tend to get hit hardest. And who are likely to be overlooked by measures to mitigate impacts.

It’s a shame it has to take such a major shake-up of one of the world’s richest cities to wake the world’s richest country up to climate change but let’s hope this has been a wakeup call – and not one immediately followed by another hit of the snooze button.