Observations About the 2022 Mid-Term Elections
As a person who majored in political science and has been engaged actively in public
We think of extreme climatic events as happening only in this past few decades, but there were events that fundamentally altered our country’s demography in the 1920’s and 1930’s and 1950’s, and were more devastating than what we are now experiencing.
The Mississippi River flooded in 1927 and had short and long term impacts. In those floods, 700,000 people lost their homes and Herbert Hoover became a hero for his leadership in flood relief efforts, which propelled him into the Presidency in 1928. The flooding disaster triggered acceleration in the migration by African Americans from the Southern delta farm areas to Northern cities, which was part of a major migration by African Americans from South to North between 1915 and 1970. It also resulted in a significant increase in federal control of waterways and flood control systems across the country.
The 1930’s also brought extreme weather patterns, this time in the form of extreme droughts. The Wessel Living History description of these droughts characterized them as the worst droughts in America in the last 300 years.
The droughts covered about 80% of the United States in 1934 and were repeated in 1936, 1938 and 1940. They precipitated major population migrations from the Great Plains states to California, as farmers simply abandoned their now-barren farms and made their way west. California’s attempt to stop people from migrating into the State by policing its borders was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1941. This decision, Edwards v. California, helped pave the way for the future Civil Rights Act of 1964 by articulating a constitutional right to interstate travel for a citizen of the United States. That constitutional right enabled Congress to eliminate racial barriers to interstate travel 23 years later.
The 1938 Category 3 Hurricane that hit Long Island (the strongest storm to hit the Northeast in the past century) permanently altered the geography of that area by breaking through the single barrier island and creating four separate barrier islands along the Island’s south shore, including Fire Island, the longest of the barrier islands.
Hurricanes Connie and Diane hit New England five days apart in 1955, and brought over 12 inches of rain to the region. Over 200 people died in these storms.
We are now dealing with the short term consequences of another natural disaster, Hurricane Sandy, and, just as these prior disasters created long term impacts, I believe that Sandy will be a catalyst for long term change. What I hope we think about how to rebuild and re-plan our infrastructure and our lifestyles to mitigate the impact of the natural disasters that will inevitably recur.
None of us can know whether we are moving into a prolonged period of extreme weather, but we should not let this terrible tragedy pass without being humbled by the forces of nature and without taking time to draw the maximum possible learning from the storm. What are some of these possible big lessons?
The worst natural disaster to hit my immediate neighborhood was the March, 2010, storm which had no name, because the winds never reached tropical storm levels. However, the combination of 35-40 mile per hour winds which lasted for 16 hours, plus four inches of rain in an already ground-soaked area, led to more fallen trees and downed power lines than what happened in much more powerful storms. Our neighborhood did not lose all that many trees this time, because we lost so many of our vulnerable trees in 2010 and in Hurricane Irene in 2011. That no-name storm exposed more vulnerabilities among our natural vegetation systems, because it combined water and sustained winds.
We have a great deal of difficulty responding to natural disasters with five characteristics:
The best strategy may be to allow rebuilding, but to eliminate all floor insurance subsidies in these zones and let the market price insurance at the appropriate level of risk, and to issue much stricter building codes.
We need to think more about some of our long term transitions from physical media communications to electronic communications. We are more dependent than ever on electronic transactions, which is inevitable, but the robustness of our electronic transaction infrastructure and its ability to withstand events like this has not yet kept pace. The New York Stock Exchange should not have needed to close for two days, but its all-electronic capability, while possibly the best in the world, should be able to operate somewhere else for the duration of the storm and its recovery effort, as Arthur Levitt, former Chairman of the SEC pointed out in an op-ed piece in the November 7, 2012, issue of The Wall Street Journal. online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204349404578099352057659538.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
Right now, the worst traffic snarls are in many spots are at the gas stations that had both electric power and gasoline. When there is catastrophic damage to an area, the supply lines for items that enable people to withstand the loss of power or other necessities get damaged as well.
Meanwhile, in Darien, the library stayed open until 11 pm each night to give people access to the Internet and to lighted, heated places for children to study and parents to relax. It was very crowded, but it was made available to everyone who could get to it.
Friends with electric power, either because they did not lose it, or because they had a generator, made their homes available to others who needed a place to bathe or cook.
Socially conscious people made packaged food available to the local food bank for people less fortunate. The food bank has created a network of drivers to collect donated foods, which it has requested be dropped off at polling places in town tomorrow, and to distribute them to poorer members of the community.
Local government officials are very civic-minded, but much of the sense of sharing comes from the voluntary acts of people who routinely care for one another in a way that I do not see in other communities. As we think about how to create more just and equal societies, we need to appreciate how much of the wealth and quality of life in a community derives from the activation of collective support systems.
I am contributing to the broad effort to create a 4th Regional Plan for the Tri-State Region, an effort spearheaded by the Regional Plan Association. I feel strongly that setting standards about how to prepare for, and respond to, major weather and other cataclysmic events will be a much bigger part of our long-term planning than it has been in the past century of long-term planning events.