- Brenda Ekwurzelassistant director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Eight million people remain without power across 15 states following Hurricane Sandy, one of most devastating storms ever to hit the eastern United States. The storm’s death toll has reached 55 in the United States and is expected to rise. The storm also killed at least 69 people in the Caribbean, 51 in Haiti alone. In New York state, 90 percent of Long Island remains in the dark, as does Lower Manhattan and other parts of the city. As we continue to explore the links between Sandy and climate change, we’re joined by Brenda Ekwurzel, assistant director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Due to technical difficulties, we regret that this interview was cut short. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Freeport, Illinois. But on the East Coast, one million people remain without power across 15 states following Hurricane Sandy, one of the most devastating storms to ever hit the eastern United States. Storm’s death toll has reached 55 in the United States and is expected to rise. The storm also killed at least 69 people in the Caribbean, including 51 people in Haiti.
In New York state, 90 percent of Long Island remains in the dark, as does Lower Manhattan and other parts of the city. Democracy Now!'s studio in Manhattan has been without power for 36 hours. In New Jersey, 65 percent of homes and businesses are without power. Large sections of the Jersey Shore have been destroyed. New York City's subway shutdown remains shut down after suffering its worst-ever disaster. The chair of the Metropolitan Transit Authority said, quote, “The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced.” The storm also caused one of the worst fires in New York City’s history. A hundred eleven homes were destroyed and 20 more were damaged in the neighborhood of Breezy Point, Queens.
The storm also forced three nuclear reactors offline: Nine Mile Point unit 1 near Syracuse, New York; Indian Point unit 3 just north of New York City; and the Salem plant’s unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey. Meanwhile, officials declared an alert at Oyster Creek in New Jersey.
The Appalachian Mountains, the storm produced massive amounts of snowfall. Parts of West Virginia are now under two feet of snow.
We’re going to, in a few minutes, go to Suzanne Goldenberg, the environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper. She’s been reporting on the storm from New Jersey. But first we’re going to Washington, D.C., where we are joined by Brenda Ekwurzel. We urge you to keep on listening and watching. Brenda Ekwurzel is the assistant director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Brenda, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about this storm, what it means and the significance of climate change when it comes to this superstorm?
BRENDA EKWURZEL: Sure. What was very important with this storm, Sandy, is it was charting through waters heading north in above-normal sea surface temperature conditions, and that allowed it to thrive as a hurricane. So by the time it made landfall on New Jersey, it was still a Category 1 hurricane, which means warm waters are fueling this hurricane so that it has much higher wind potential, which is far more damaging to people who have structures that are in the path of the hurricane.
AMY GOODMAN: You know—
BRENDA EKWURZEL: The other factor is that the warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, and so there’s vast tracts of the United States on the Eastern Seaboard and all over, all the way up to Chicago and other places up to Maine, Florida, that had torrential rainstorms that were sustained. So that means that you can uproot trees, and they are more easily to be blown over, because you’ve saturated the soils, and they increase the water levels. What’s different from Hurricane Irene is, luckily, in some parts of the United States, we have less soil saturation compared to the situations with Hurricane Irene, which caused massive flooding in Vermont and other places. And so, there are some places like Pennsylvania where the conditions were wet, but other parts of the United States that were a little drier and needed some rain. But this is such a situation where the warmer atmosphere, the warmer oceans, are something that helped power this particular hurricane.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet, Brenda, why is it, with the 100 percent coverage of the—of the hurricane on the networks—I mean, as it should be—we almost never hear reference to the words “climate change”? Brenda, if you—did you hear my question, the question of why we never hear reference to the words “climate change”?
We are talking to Brenda Ekwurzel. She is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. I’m actually speaking to you from Freeport, Illinois, from an encampment set up by workers across the street from their plant that will soon be closing, their jobs being sent off to China. The company, Sensata, is owned by Bain Capital. And for the second half of the broadcast, we’re going to be bringing you that information.