Normally historians like to rib Geography teachers a bit- mainly about how their subject is just colouring in! Obviously I do occasionally teach some Geography to lower school students myself, which I have to admit that I enjoy when I’m suitably prepared, but as a historian I can struggle with the more complex ideas!
But there’s one aspect of Geography I understand better than any other- significant natural disasters. From the Boxing Day Tsunami to the Japanese earthquake, from the ‘Frisco quakes of old and debilitating Icelandic Ash Cloud to this week’s tragedy along the East Coast of North America, when geographical disaster strikes, the historical consequences are plain to see. I visited New York back in 2010, and to see the footage of Manhattan in darkness & under water would be remarkable if it were only a visual image. To consider the devastation it has caused to people’s lives is hard to comprehend. The impact for individuals may go unnoticed by history, but in some ways may be greater than any other recorded aspect.
The clean up job will not be in the news for long, but it’s impact could be much bigger. Scientists have warned that melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels could lead to submerged sections of Manhattan Island unless “global warming” is tackled or innovative methods to avoid permanent flooding are avoided. Tropical Storm Sandy may speed this process up. I remember seeing an exhibition in New York that showcased some ideas on how to build a “New New York” that would escape such dangers, and although impressive, without private investment the ideas are extremely unlikely in times where the US purse strings are tightened.
There’s also the political impact of the storm- how will it affect the run up to the Presidential election? On the day of the storm the “poll of polls” had Romney in the lead for the first time in a long time. But the storm benefits Obama more. Although there will be no public mention of such, the Obama camp will be considering how they can use it to strengthen Obama’s image- the strong President who unites the nation & leads confidently in a time of crisis. So far, so good for Obama too, with even Republican Governors-who usually are the first to criticise the President- praising his leadership for “cutting through red tape” & “getting the job done fast” at this time. Romney meanwhile, has to keep a low profile, no matter how much he may want to do otherwise. To get involved would be to risk being seen as “cashing in” on a crisis for his own gain. There’s also another question- could the election even take place next Tuesday? Will the population of the east coast states really be concerned with voting right now?
My thoughts and prayers are with those who are suffering as a result of the world’s destructive power. It reminds us that no political or financial can protect us from the power of of our own habitat. We are feeble men, at the mercy of the elements & higher powers. Geography always has and always will play a major role in writing History, and for that reason I will tone down the jokes and crank up the dialogue between Geography and History teachers, from whom I can learn a lot.