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Travel Musings

Sandy, Juan and I

On a Monday, her basement filled with water from one of the most polluted canals in New York City. Four days earlier, Talia had been taking me on a nighttime bicycle tour of the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, on which I took this snap of the lower Manhattan skyline. At this stage we had not heard of the brewing Hurricane Sandy that would kill at least 286 people, cause over US $68 billion of damage, cut power to millions, release 11 billion gallons of sewage overflow, and flood where we were standing.

It was six weeks before Talia could return to her apartment, but she used her experience of the neighbourhood reaching out to support each other during that time, to report on ways communities can be made more resilient in the face of climate change. Red Hook’s community farm had been doing many of the right things to reduce their carbon footprint and increase resilience, but that didn’t stop the flood waters. This highlights the need to also go after the fossil-fuel industry with strategies like divestment campaigns, which I’m delighted are gaining some traction here in Australia.

The previous time I visited the north-east coast of North America I experienced another massive storm. At the end of September 2003, Hurricane Juan was Atlantic Canada’s most destructive hurricane in over a century. Its impact was such that the Meteorological Service of Canada retired the hurricane name from further use, as a sign of respect. Across North America more and more people are cottoning onto the damage a warming world is bringing. In my month on the west coast, many people commented to me about the drying climate there, and I felt not one drop of rain on my bald head. It is sobering to remember the California fires of October 2007 forced almost a million people from their homes.

The film Chasing Ice has helped awareness, with incredible footage of calving glaciers the size of Manhattan. It made one die-hard climate denier break down in tears. Even Fox News seems to be finally coming around to reality, with an opinion piece on Monday calling for a carbon tax. I’m ashamed my country’s government is almost the only one left in the dark ages, hellbent on hindering international progress. I will be doing my bit to keep our carbon price by voting for Senator Scott Ludlam in the Western Australian senate election this Saturday.

When I left New York the week after Sandy, it was in a snow storm. My flight was about the only one out of JFK not cancelled that day. I guess Swiss Air know how to handle snow, with their fancy ice-blasting canons. A short video from the White House explains how recent localised cold spells in the States are consistent with global warming, due to the funkily-named polar vortex. What a shame the Australian government has axed the body set up to communicate climate science to its citizens. Eventually we will be forced to get with the program, but I dearly hope it is sooner rather than later.

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