It’s no secret to my closest friends and family that I worry about things. They might say I am a cynic, a pessimist. But I've tried for most of my adult life to take action when I see a problem, rather than just sitting around and complaining about it. Most of the big career decisions I've made have grown out of this mentality. I'm not trying to pretend that I'm selfless, or that I don't seek personal gain. But a huge kernel of my decision-making can be attributed to seeing a larger problem in the world and wanting to do my part to fix it.
Well, the game is over. We have all seen first hand how puny and insignificant our built world is. The most magnificent, vibrant, richest city in the history of humankind can be drowned in the blink of an eye. Tens of millions of people can be threatened all at once. Entire regions can be shut down in a matter of hours. And, if these places are lucky enough to get off the mat from the blow, our already fragile economy is forced to divert precious resources to cleaning them up and rebuilding.
I’m tempted to say that this latest storm provides us with a warning, a wake-up call. But that’s really a bunch of bullshit. The warnings and wake-up calls have been coming at us for years. This is the new reality. This is the world that we’ve been handed. And when I say “we”, I’m referring to my generation of twenty and thirty (and soon forty!) somethings. Because I think what’s most shocking to me as I reflect on yesterday’s disaster is that it’s my generation that’s “in control” now. The decisions that we make will determine what’s left for succeeding generations.
What it comes down to is this: we all need to make choices – career, lifestyle, political – that tangibly lead towards a solution to global warming. There is no longer an option to wait a few more years (or days, or months). The very existence of New York City (and Philadelphia, and DC, and...) hangs in the balance. We no longer have to try to imagine what this looks like. Subway stations are drowning. The East Village was swallowed. Dumbo was underwater. All of these things were predicted. Now we have real life showing us what it actually looks like.
I don’t have any easy answers to the question “what do we do now?” In future posts, I hope to examine some of the promising things that are going on that could get us where we need to go. But one thing I’m certain of is that we need a generational shift in priorities. This problem cannot wait while we focus on other things – rather, it has to become integral to those other things. Gernot Wagner has so eloquently shown that global warming can only be solved with macro economics and large-scale political changes (read: a carbon tax, or a global cap on carbon emissions). But it seems to me that the first step in that process is for all of us to get together and focus on the problem with the sense of urgency we now see it requires.