I can’t help thinking that in all the years I’d spent in New York City, I’d never experienced a hurricane or a tornado. But over the past few years, New York has seen tornados, hurricanes, record-breaking blizzards–in short, some of the most severe weather in centuries. All the houses in my neighborhood, and many others, lost power, and didn’t regain it for days, if not weeks. My parents’ car, and every other car in a 5-block radius? Submerged like submarines and completely useless. If you want to see climate refugees, look no further than Brooklyn, NY.
I’m thankful for the early warning system and the efforts that went into informing people ahead of the storm. But it was not nearly enough. Several hospitals lost power after the generators were flooded; some, like Coney Island Hospital, which caters largely to South Brooklyn’s low-income, immigrant, and elderly populations, won’t be open until at least January. What’s worse, most patients–as well as nearby residents–weren’t ordered to evacuate. After the over-precaution for Hurricane Irene, people were hesitant to leave their homes for another merely heavy storm. Now, they have left their homes, but mostly because they don’t have a home left to stay in.
I can’t begin to imagine how much worse it must be to live in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, where intense hurricanes, cyclones, and monsoons are an annual occurrence. I would think that communities would become more resilient and neighborly over time, the way that New York has become after Sandy, but there’s evidence to the contrary. Ether Duflo and Abijit Banerjee, two economists at MIT, found that many people are less likely to help in times of need because they don’t want to start a cycle of reliance. This point (mentioned in their wonderfully insightful book Poor Economics) about avoiding taking on other people’s financial burdens–even when they’re your parents or siblings–jars with my upbringing. Nonetheless, these findings have significant consequences for economic development. Perhaps storms in the developing world have costs like these that we can’t see or measure, but that may be harder to overcome than the mess that we in New York are continuing to face.
Apologies for taking pictures from a bus window. Next time I’m in NYC, I’m definitely visiting the church on foot. Unfortunately, the jungle doesn’t seem penetrable (there was no public entrance…)
Last week on my way home from Manhattan, a homeless Vietnam veteran sang “My Girl” for me on the subway after I gave him a dollar. Today as I rode home, a group of African American teenagers were break-dancing to a remix of a Soviet solidarity anthem as the Russian women on the train tried to hide their giggling. Although I would have loved to see a decrease in the number of people soliciting on the subway (and the number of homeless people), it was a nice welcome back.
It’s also good to see a bunch of new construction projects underway, from progressive growth of the Freedom Towers to revitalization of the Hudson Yards and [finally] more progress on subway expansion throughout Manhattan.
Yet, as much as my adopted hometown of NYC is flourishing, the larger picture of the US looks bleak. Whereas my friends and I have joked since we were kids that we’d want to live in exotic foreign countries after college, it’s now almost a reality. Our collective outlook on the political situation is dismal at best; what’s the point of a democracy if there’s nobody worth electing for office? Obama lost his identity after NDAA FY 2012, his mutant insurance system (instated via the Affordable Care Act), and now SOPA. Ron Paul, while the least air-headed person on the Republican side, is still highly ignorant on issues related to climate change and abortion (such as his Sanctity of Life bill). Regardless of who will win the 2012 presidential election, we as citizens are headed for a downhill battle if the status quo continues. Except now, unlike in our more naive teenage years, we understand that we have no place to run to, for every country has its problems and entropy must take its course.