President's Commentary: Hurricane Sandy and reflections on government and public services | National Union of Public and General Employees

President's Commentary: Hurricane Sandy and reflections on government and public services

Events around Hurricane Sandy highlight the importance of government and the public sector. Both in trying prevent these extreme occurrences and in responding to them when they happen.

Ottawa (01 Nov. 2012) - Like you, I have been watching Hurricane Sandy with both awe and concern. The magnitude of the storm and it's destructive power reminds us that the natural world follows its own laws and that we ignore them at our peril.

Hurricane Sandy also brings home to me the absolute importance of government and the public sector. Both in trying to prevent these extreme occurrences and in responding to them when they happen.

It is readily apparent to any reasonable person that we are seeing the impacts of climate change. While no scientist will attribute individual weather events to climate change they will say that higher ocean and air temperatures do create these huge storms more frequently.

This was the conclusion of a recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. In that study the authors demonstrate that higher surface temperatures, ocean and air, create large storm surges in cyclone activity:

"The largest cyclones are most affected by warmer conditions and we detect a statistically significant trend in the frequency of large surge events (roughly corresponding to tropical storm size) since 1923."

"In particular, we estimate that Katrina-magnitude events have been twice as frequent in warm years compared with cold years."

I want to point out that 2005's Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most costly storm in U.S. history.

Professor Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, explains that "when storms develop, when they do hit the coast they are going to be bigger and I think that's a fair statement that most people could sign onto."

“In other words, global warming is causing more intense storms,” Bradley said.

The majority of climate scientists think that as our changing climate raises global ocean and air temperatures we will see more and more storms of this magnitude – and larger!

The sheer loss of life and economic impact of this storm alone demonstrates that addressing the effects of climate change is the single most important issue of our times. And this is not even looking at the other possible negative impacts of climate change - such as droughts. Our governments should be acting swiftly to implement laws, regulations and programs to respond to this reality.

Unfortunately, a combination of ideology and corporate greed is preventing many governments from taking the necessary steps to address climate change.

It also must be said that the destructive impact of this storm was very much diminished through the efforts of the public sector. Consider the importance of the weather monitoring and reporting agencies, evacuation efforts, the emergency responders (firefighters and paramedics for example), health care workers and those who maintain our infrastructure. Imagine how many lives would have been lost without these individuals working to protect and assist us.

In the aftermath of the storm will then come the efforts to restore order and rebuild. Once again, the public sector will be front and centre of the work to return these communities to normal life.

However, these very services that served to protect and preserve life and property during this storm are finding themselves the victim of funding cuts. Public sector workers, and the work they do, the subject of attack and insult.

The very existence of those programs needed to restore hundreds of communities have been questioned and threatened by those who wish to shrink or get rid of public services.

I hope that the legacy of Hurricane Sandy won't be solely that of death and destruction but also of renewal in the belief that governments can be used to prevent, protect and rebuild. That there will be a renewed appreciation of the work of those that labour for the public good!

James Clancy
National President

NUPGE

James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE