I was surveying the damage around Pelham one evening, a few days after Hurricane Sandy struck the New York region.
I had to use a flashlight to navigate dark streets cluttered with downed trees and loose power lines.
It got me to thinking…
As a born New Yorker, I’ll argue that New York is the best city in the world, if not the center of the universe.
It also is the center of global media — or at least most major media companies. Compared to any other place in the world, we have perhaps the highest concentration and greatest total volume of reporters, producers, editors, writers, hosts and pundits. They have soapboxes and disproportionately large megaphones.
As a result, bad things that happen in New York tend to receive extreme media attention. That was the case with the Sep.11 terrorist attacks, and that most certainly is the case with Hurricane Sandy. Her stories and images are reaching far and wide.
This was underscored by my mother, who teaches aboriginal children at a small rural school in the Australian outback. Since days before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, her teaching colleagues reminded her continually of our dangerous situation, and she continually let me know they were all praying for us. I think my mother was more nervous about the safety of my family than I was. Maybe she was right and just being a good mom. Maybe the media reports had some influence. Maybe it was a little of both.
New Jersey, New York and neighboring states were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and I hope the national and global attention the residents receive from the extreme media attention help them gather the necessary support to rebuild as soon as possible. Indeed, the region will rebuild. I have no doubt about that.
But I also hope Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath in the New York spotlight will continue and drive our attention to other important and long-term issues.
1. Climate change. I’m not a climatologist, and I have no idea whether the severity of Hurricane Sandy had anything to do with global warming. However, there seems to be a consensus that global warming is occurring, and heightened attention to this serious issue is a good thing for the sustainability of our planet.
2. Energy conservation and independence. We have an energy addiction that must be alleviated. I now frequently walk past lines of cars a half-mile long, with drivers waiting hours to fill up their tanks before that gas station runs dry. Many of these drivers are not only fueling up their cars, but also their portable gas containers to operate their home generators. If a car is not part of your life, power-hungry electronic devices most certainly are. In the seven days after Hurrican Sandy, phone charging seems to have received equal airtime to food, water and shelter in local disaster relief bulletins.
3. Social class and poverty. We have an underprivileged, forgotten class who need help. It is easy for most of us to fall into our comfortable routines and social circles. It is times and high-profile stages like this that underscore how many unlucky neighbors could use support from those who have the resources.
I remember the aftermath and global spotlight of Sept. 11., which prompted a period of support and empathy for New Yorkers and America at large. We eventually lost that.
To be sure, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is an entirely different situation. Still, it is a large-scale disaster that provides us a unique opportunity to capture global support and empathy, and channel it toward important, long-term social issues.
Let’s not lose sight once the power is restored.