Did hurricane Sandy bolster the case for 'green' energy?

If superstorms like Sandy are increasingly destructive, they will make several green energy initiatives look practical in ways that have nothing to do with climate change.

Craig Ruttle/AP
A National Guard truck drives through high water on Newark Street in Hoboken, N.J., Wednesday in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Parts of the city are still covered in standing water, trapping some residents in their homes. Some 90 percent of homes were without power. Will Sandy make 'green' energy more attractive?

It took a huge and deadly superstorm walloping America's media capital (New York) and its political capital (Washington) for major news outlets and politicians to begin talking about climate change.

Is Sandy evidence of Global Warming?NBC asked. (Scientists don't know.)

After Sandy, Bill Clinton rails against Romney on global warming,” CBS headlined. (With only five days to go, does it matter?)

The more interesting question is whether hurricane Sandy will bolster the case for “green” energy initiatives in the long term.

Imagine sitting in your darkened home in Hoboken, N.J., day after day, with flooded streets and downed power lines. You’re worried about the next time a superstorm hits. Questions begin to form:

Do I need a gas-powered generator – or solar panels on the roof? How come my utility’s grid isn’t more storm-proof? (And if you’re thinking a little more broadly:) Will rising sea levels force my taxes up as the city armors its coastline?

You don’t have to believe in global warming to ask these questions. The evidence is pretty clear that sea levels are rising, about 12 inches per century. Storm surges from hurricanes and superstorms will tend to be more destructive in the future because of the rising water.

These practical questions strengthen the case for several green-energy initiatives:

A solar-powered home that generates its own electricity – without the need for outside fuel – contains a certain logic that has nothing to do with climate-awareness. It would make even more sense if there was a “smart grid” that decentralized the electrical grid to make it more redundant and storm-proof. 

Down the road, one can imagine consumers buying hybrid cars on the theory that their batteries can double as sources of power in an emergency.

None of this lessens the important concerns raised by climate scientists. It's just that up to now, the conversation surrounding climate change have been about the high cost of doing something to mitigate it. Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that doing nothing may also carry costs.

Green energy initiatives could mitigate those costs and risks.

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