A flooded basement, hundreds of pictures and possessions destroyed, a family heartbroken at the loss of their home. This is just a small aftermath of the storm, known as Hurricane Sandy, that struck Long Island and its surrounding areas six years ago. Over the years, families have had to pick themselves up, carrying with them the burden of rebuilding their homes as well as their lives.
“There was water everywhere,” says Rebecca Gonzalez, 20, a Staten Island resident. “My basement was completely flooded. Everything that was in the basement was lost and nothing was able to be recovered because there was too much damage.”
Gonzalez, a Hofstra University student, does remember the government helping out in some way, but she recalls many FEMA letters being rejected. She says, “It was a topic of conversation amongst our neighborhood. You would always ask for updates from each other and if they had a success, you would ask what they did [to see what] you didn’t do.”
“What would you want the government to do if you were in a tough situation?”
Today, Gonzalez lives with the memories of Superstorm Sandy, which have influenced her perspective on the environment. She says, “Now that I’ve experienced something like Sandy, the destruction and aftermath has taught me that there are a lot of precautions that could be done in order to weaken the damage if something were to happen again. For those that don’t think the environment is an important issue, they need to think about what if it happened to them – what would you want the government to do if you were in a tough situation?”
As polling day quickly approaches, Long Islanders now have the opportunity to vote for politicians that will speak up for the environment. Luckily, legislative voting records for Nassau and Suffolk county politicians are available for the public to see, which can help come November. Specifically, the elections for the House of Representatives in District 2 and District 4 are important to highlight, not only because they are local to this area, but the incumbents are not worried about the election. Yet, with their confidence so high and voting records public, individuals can decide whether they deserve to stay.
For instance, District 2 Representative, Peter “Pete” King, claims to be a man for the environment. In a statement on his political website, he says, “I support legislation [that] aims to improve and restore water quality in the Long Island Sound while conducting studies to strengthen the implementation of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.” Yet, his voting record begs to differ. Over the course of his political career, he has been three times more likely to approve legislation that is anti-environment than pro-environment. According to the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard, his lifetime score is 16%, showing his actions don’t align with his words.
“If we fail [to] significantly reduce carbon pollution…we will experience…more intense weather events in the future.”
On the other hand, District 4 Representative, Kathleen Rice, has quite the opposite voting record in comparison to King. According to the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard, her lifetime score is 95%. From helping those who were affected by Sandy to expressing concern about the environment in general, Rice has emphasized the importance of being aggressive when it comes to protecting our world and the issue of climate change. She says in a political statement on her website, “There is no doubt that if we fail [to] significantly reduce carbon pollution, sea levels with keep rising and we will experience more frequent and more intense weather events in the future.”
With politicians in office that are on both sides of the spectrum, it is up to the public to go out and vote for the issues that they are concerned about. Yet, millennials have one of the lowest turnout rates when it comes to voting. According to a Newsweek article, “only 16 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 bothered” to show up to vote in the 2014 midterm election.
Craig Burnett, an assistant professor of political science at Hofstra University, says the reason why many people do not vote is because they have their eyes on the prize aka the presidency. He says, “Many people are only watching for the presidency. That’s [like only] watching the major sporting events, for example, the World Series or the Super Bowl.”
“Every individual action matters.”
Fortunately, that is where people like Adrienne Esposito come in, who, along with her team, help to educate those in making their own decisions when it comes to voting, especially when dealing with the environment.
Esposito, who is the executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment believes that it is the job of Long Islanders to understand what is happening in their hometowns and how they can institute change. She says, “Every individual action matters. Every person who makes a small change contributes to the overall change.”
As part of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Esposito educates society on the scientific issues relating to climate change. She also does not shy away from emphasizing the importance of contacting elected officials in your area to express concerns. Esposito says, “Elected officials respond to what the public is talking about. Younger people need to call their senate assembly offices and ask them what they are doing about climate change.”
For young individuals who are looking to make a change, especially in regards to the environment, Burnett has one piece of advice: show up to vote on election day. He says, “Younger people care about the environment; they tend to be more liberal on issues and they don’t [view] the current administration as pursuing policies they want them to pursue. It’s about taking this dissatisfaction and activating it in a way that turns up on election day.”
Opening image: Great Kills Staten Island After Hurricane Sandy in 2012; Photo Credit: Neal Dubs