Hurricane Sandy offered students an opportunity to study a natural disaster from an economic, chemical, environmental and cultural perspective. When thinking of the immense destruction, one may wonder whether the days and weeks in which residents were without electricity and gasoline would reduce their carbon emissions, and therefore their contribution to global climate change. One may also wonder what will happen to all of the debris and whether the cleanup efforts will create extra jobs to stimulate the economy. The questions are abundant and the cogs of discussion are beginning to turn.
For the most part, the amount of total electricity saved during the widespread power outages is not available, nor are the figures about the total amount of extra gasoline and electricity used during the cleanup efforts. Debris, on the other hand, is more easily and tangibly quantifiable, particularly because there is so much of it.
The total tonnage of debris could well be in to the millions, according to Zach Seward in WHYY’s NewsWorks article “N.J. Dealing with Tons of Sandy Debris.” This amount of wreckage poses a huge problem of disposal, and now more than ever, recycling and reusing are being discussed as better and more realistic solutions than landfills for the millions of tons of waste.
According to Lawrence Hajna, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the debris will be recycled and reused to the “greatest extent possible.” The concern for waste and storage is very important, as landfills may quickly fill up, particularly with hazardous materials, such as lead, pesticides and asbestos. The NJDEP has created more than 70 temporary disposal areas to collect, sort and appropriate Hurricane Sandy waste. It is imperative that these waste facilities manage the incoming debris through repurposing and recycling rather than sending it to landfills.
The discussion of the Sandy devastation and damage has also led to questions about rebounding economic productivity. According to The Weather Channel’s Michael Melia in “Sandy Brings Economic Booms, Busts to the Northeast,” the storm is responsible for about $62 million in damage, which will result in an increased need for manual labor and goods to rebuild the densely populated region. In the same article, experts said that the increased post-Sandy activity could help spur the economy. Yet in NPR’s State Impact article “It’s All a Wash: Hurricane Sandy and the Broken Window Fallacy,” Dennis Delay, an economist at the Center for Public Policy Studies, believes that the damage was so widespread that any potential economic boom will most likely be balanced by the immense devastation.
Though these discussions are just beginning, it is important that all Americans, including college students, learn from this and other natural disasters so that we may be better prepared in the future to respond quickly and appropriately.
Printed in the 2/8/13 edition.