Monday’s New York Times suggests that even the one percent, the leaders of Wall Street, have been effected by the power of Hurricane Sandy. Certainly millions of middle class people have suffered dislocation, as well as loss of electricity, homes and their sense of security. What has been less discussed by the media and political leaders is how poor people (words hardly mentioned during the elections) here and around the world, whose daily support base is already fragile, have been the primary victims of Sandy and climate change in general.
In New York City, the residents of low income communities, such as Rockaway and the Lower East Side — most of them people of color, along with many elders and children — were first of all disproportionally vulnerable to the fury of the storm and then found themselves in dark streets and apartments and stranded in high rise buildings without elevators, without food or water and without the same level of timely aid as the more affluent areas. Happily, noble volunteer groups such as Occupy Sandy have stepped into the breach, a tribute to the ingenuity and generosity of the Occupy movement.
Even less known is the toll that Sandy took on the already struggling Carribean area before it touched on the U.S. mainland. Beautiful Santiago, the second largest city of Cuba with 500,000 people and 650,000 more on its outskirts was slammed by a Level 5 hurricane, which flattened its homes, schools and hospitals. They still have no electrical power after two weeks, while parts of New York City lit up after four days. Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, was also devastated.
On September27, almost prophetically a few days before Sandy, several Carribean and other heads of state made an urgent appeal to the next UN Climate Change Conference to be held on Nov. 29 in Qatar. They challenged the UN, in light of the failure of many of the past climate gatherings, to finally create concrete plans, strategies, financial aid and binding treaties to address the climate crisis, especially as it impacts the developing nations.
In their statements, these leaders insisted that their people are already the victims of global scorching:
“The islands of our planet are at war against climate change, warming temperatures and rising seas… Entire nations… may cease to exist as a result of our inaction.”
These are the voices of the poor — of the lowest percentile of the 99 percent — calling out to us. They are telling us that the climate policies of the richer nations and of the energy corporations do not represent their interests or the interests of Mother Earth. Sandy is a dramatic reminder of the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did not do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did not do it to me.” ( Matthew 25)
– Fr. Paul Mayer, originally published at The Huffington Post.