Hurricane Sandy “More Scary Than 9/11,Because You Get The Feeling It Could Happen Again & Again & Again”

Colin Beavan, aka “No Impact Man“, lives in New York City and wrote this thoughtful response after experiencing Hurricane Sandy last week (bold type added):

Dear friends,

I don’t say this often but I am scared. Not scared to the point of paralysis. Not scared enough to run away. Not scared enough to stop trying to help. Not scared enough to think we’re doomed. Just scared enough to feel worried for myself, my family, my friends, my community, my country, and my world.

I was lucky when Hurricane Sandy hit. My daughter Bella and I put on our waterproofs in the early hours and ran around Brooklyn’s Fort Greene park in the wind and rain with Frankie–our dog–and our Occupy Wall Street activist friend/hero Monica Hunken.

That night, the lights flickered a couple of times. I lost my internet for three hours. Frankie the dog hid in the upstairs bathroom bathtub. That was the extent of it.

But when I woke up, lower Manhattan was flooded and without power. All the coastal parts of Brooklyn and Queens from Red Hook to Coney Island through the Rockaways and Hamilton Beach were hammered. The wind had driven a fire through Queens that destroyed so many houses. And the world’s most amazing subway system was brought to its knees. To say nothing of poor Staten Island and coastal New Jersey.

We in the Tri-State Area didn’t get Katrina. But we got a taste of her.

Yes, there are some good parts. New Yorkers have been showing up some of the emergency shelters in such numbers that they have been turned away. There are donation drives and volunteer efforts. And about a gazillion New Yorkers have taken to cycling.

But there is a lot of suffering. And a lot of fear not of what Sandy brought. But of what next year’s storm will bring. And the year after that. And after that. First Irene, now Sandy, for how many years in a row can New York City withstand a “once in a century” storm, people are asking?

I hung up the phone with a friend just a few minutes ago. She said, “In some ways, this is way more scarey than 9/11, because you get the feeling that it could happen again and again and again.”

In a coffee shop this afternoon, everyone at every table was talking about climate change. People are talking about where they will go next time. To an aunt’s in New Hampshire. A friend with three cottages in Maine. People are talking about their escape plan for when New York stops functioning.

Katrina, Irene, Sandy, droughts all summer, busted corn crops, water shortages in the southwest: it’s hard to believe we aren’t seeing what the climate scientists predicted. But sooner. Way sooner than they said.

It feels ironic and sad. That the war in Iraq sparked by 9/11 may have got us what we wanted–control over more oil. But that burning that self-same oil has brought us another mini-9/11. Except that this one we are kind of doing to ourselves.

Fracking–the drilling for natural gas by injecting poisonous chemicals into the same rock formations that our drinking comes from. Fighting in the Middle East. Drilling in the arctic. Mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Mining the Canadian tar sands. Building the pipelines. This is bonkers.

Especially when the sun shines everywhere. The wind blows everywhere. The rivers run everywhere. We can generate our power in better, cheaper, safer ways.

Of course, there are reasons for resistance. Our economy is based on fossil fuels. Changing it would be a gargantuan effort. There would be a cost to a transition. But the costs of not making the transition will be much higher. Ask the NY Mass Transit Authority, which is still pumping out the tunnels. Or ask the citizens of New Orleans.

But this isn’t a bitch fest. It’s an appeal.

Years ago, when I did the No Impact Man experiment, I went on the Good Morning America show and I said it wasn’t important that all Americans did as much as I did. “We must each just do something,” I said.

I was mistaken. We must each do a lot.

We all–including me–have a tendency to think that shaking our fist at the TV news or leaving an angry comment on a blog or “clictivism” is some sort of an expression. We need to do more. Not just more at home, but more in our civic engagement, more in the citizen guiding of how our society moves forward.

In fact, I’d argue that we–all of us–need to find a way to dedicate at least some part of our lives to solving our problems. Climate change we need to fix, yes. But also we need to accept that the economic system we live in is driving that climate change. Consumption, as the basis for economy, has become like a winter coat that needs to be shed. It no longer serves us.

Now, I’m not going to claim that I know what each of us should do, how each of us should help to bring about the Great Transformation. I don’t think anyone exactly knows. This, by the way, was the great criticism of Occupy Wall Street, back in the day. That they didn’t say exactly what we should do. They didn’t make their demands clear, the press kept saying.

That was Occupy’s strength in my view. The willingness to bring attention to problems we don’t quite know the solutions for. Occupy didn’t have concrete demands because none of us quite know what we should be demanding quite yet. Occupy was saying “stop ignoring problems just because we don’t know the solution!!!!!!”

You may disagree with me. You may say, we know the solution, it’s renewable energy. But where is the political will to bring that change about when the fossil fuel industry has spent $150 million in this election cycle?

You may say, the solution is getting corporate money out of politics. But how do we do that when the politicians we need to vote for such a thing are the beneficiaries of that self-same corporate money?

You may say, the solution lies in measuring Gross National Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product. But how do we get that done?

We have lots of ideas about what would fix things, but we have no idea how to actually get those ideas instituted. That’s kind of where we are at a loss. How do we actually bring about the change?

It’s not to say we can’t bring it about. But it is to say that a lot more of us are going to have to join the search for the solutions and the effort to institute them.

In a way, what I am saying is the same as what Occupy said: “Stop pretending that you can’t help just because you don’t know exactly how to help!!!!!!”

We all have to start dedicating some of our lives to these problems. Not just voting for the right people. Not just leaving comments on blogs. Not just having intense conversations over coffee.

So what then?

Here’s a thought. Decide to dedicate five to ten hours a week to helping figure out what to do. Then use those five to ten hours to bring your personal gifts to the search for societal solutions and the means of implementing them.

If you are political then, whatever side of the aisle you are on, start going to your party’s meetings and insist that they address themselves to the major, new-world problems we are facing instead of grumbling over the same stuff they have for 50 years. Get them to try to be leaders instead of winners.

If you are an artist or musician or writer, use your talents to bring more and more attention to our problems and the quest for the solution. Be a constant reminder of the peril our society and world faces.

If you are a therapist or life coach, find a way to introduce to your clients the idea that the problems they face are the same problems all of us are facing. Financial insecurity, for example, is something we can fix together better than any one of us can fix alone.

If you are a banker, bring your personal values and your heart and soul to work with you. The expression “it’s only business” has to be jettisoned. This idea that the free market will fix things so we can ignore the dictates of our conscience needs to be fixed.

If you have a spare bedroom, find an activist who can’t drag themselves away from the work they are doing for all of us long enough to earn themselves some rent. Home and safety for those on the front line of social change is a wonderful service.

If you have two feet, march with my friends at 350.org whenever you have a chance.

All of us have our own ways to help.

One thing is clear, whatever our individual contribution, every one of us needs to be moving back into the political system and the democracy. We are all so disgusted by it that our instinct is to abandon it. In this case, our instinct is wrong. We totally need to Occupy our democracy. We need to flood it with people, with us.

Overall, though, my point here is that all of us have a role to play in our cultural healing. There is no leader who can tell us how to contribute. Each of us has to look around us and use our own minds and souls to see what needs doing and how we are best suited to do it. Each of us must contribute in our own way.

I began this piece by saying that I’m scared. Because I am. But my fear is just a sign that I need to do something. There is really only one thing I know how to do–to write. And so I’m doing it. I don’t know if if will help. But it is the one thing I know how to do.

What is the one thing you know how to do? What is the one thing you can dedicate a slice of your life to?

We can’t leave it to the politicians or the designers or the Occupiers or the activists. It’s up to each of us.

Because–and I’ve said and written this many times–the question is not whether each of us is the type of person who can make a difference. The question is whether we are the type of people who want to try to make a difference. And Sandy has told us we all need each other to try.

Love,
Colin

PS I’d love to hear in the comments what you are doing or plan to do.
PPS If you want to let your Brooklyn friends know that I’m running for Congress and ask them to vote for me on Tuesday, that would be great too.

Colin blogs at No Impact Man.

U.S. Senator: Washington’s Failure To Act On Climate Change Is Blameworthy & The Consequences Profound

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave a powerful speech in the U.S. Senate last week, making a thorough  and well-supported argument for immediate comprehensive action to mitigate the effects of human-caused climate destabilization and ocean acidification:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=k6VQ0vYfrAw#!]

Here are some excerpts from the transcript:

Mr. President, I am here to speak about what is currently an unpopular topic in this town. It has become no longer politically correct in certain circles in Washington to speak about climate change or carbon pollution or how carbon pollution is causing our climate to change.

   This is a peculiar condition of Washington. If you go out into, say, our military and intelligence communities, they understand and are planning for the effects of carbon pollution on climate change. They see it as a national security risk. If you go out into our nonpolluting business and financial communities, they see this as a real and important problem. And, of course, it goes without saying our scientific community is all over this concern. But as I said, Washington is a peculiar place, and here it is getting very little traction.

   Here in Washington we feel the dark hand of the polluters tapping so many shoulders. And where there is power and money behind that dark hand, therefore, a lot of attention is paid to that little tap on the shoulder. What we overlook is that nature–God’s Earth–is also tapping us all on the shoulder, with messages we ignore at our peril. We ignore the messages of nature–of God’s Earth–and we ignore the laws of nature–of God’s Earth–at our very grave peril.

There is a wave of very justifiable economic frustration that has swept through our Capitol. The problem is that some of the special interests–the polluters–have insinuated themselves into that wave, sort of like parasites that creep into the body of a host animal, and from there they are working terrible mischief. They are propagating two big lies. One is that environmental regulations are a burden to the economy and we need to lift those burdens to spur our economic recovery. The second is the jury is still out on climate changes caused by carbon pollution, so we don’t need to worry about it or even take precautions.

   Both are, frankly, outright false.

…Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean.

   The laws of physics and the laws of chemistry and the laws of science these are laws of nature. These are laws of God’s Earth. We can repeal some laws around here but we can’t repeal those. Senators are used to our opinions mattering a lot around here, but these laws are not affected by our opinions. These laws do not care who peddles influence, how many lobbyists you have or how big your corporate bankroll is. Those considerations, so important in this town, do not matter at all to the laws of nature.

   As regards these laws of nature, because we can neither repeal nor influence them, we bear a duty, a duty of stewardship to see and respond to the facts that are before our faces according to nature’s laws. We bear a duty to shun the siren song of well-paying polluters. We bear a duty to make the right decisions for our children and grandchildren and for our God-given Earth.

   Right now I must come before the Chamber and remind this body that we are failing in that duty. The men and women in this Chamber are indeed catastrophically failing in that duty. We are earning the scorn and condemnation of history–not this week, perhaps, and not next week. The spin doctors can see to that. But ultimately and assuredly, the harsh judgment that it is history’s power to inflict on wrong will fall upon us. The Supreme Being who gave us this Earth and its abundance created a world not just of abundance but of consequence and that Supreme Being gave us reason to allow us to plan for and foresee the various consequences that those laws of nature impose.

   It is magical thinking to imagine that somehow we will be spared the plain and foreseeable consequences of our failure of duty. There is no wizard’s hat and wand with which to wish this away. These laws of nature are known; the Earth’s message to us is clear; our failure is blameworthy; its consequences are profound; and the costs will be very high.

To read the full transcript, go to the PDF of the Congressional Record (Senator Whitehouse’s address starts in the 3rd column of  S6477) or projectquipu.net

If you’d like to send Senator Whitehouse a note thanking him for his courage in standing up to powerful polluters, his address is:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Hart Senate Office Building
Room 717
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: 202-224-2921
Fax: 202-228-6362
(and by the way, today – October 20th – is his birthday, if you want to include that in your message!)

The Trouble With Carbon

More from The Agenda With Steve Paikin, this week broadcasting from the Equinox Summit: Energy 2030 – Ingenuity in Energy Solutions being held at the University of Waterloo.  Last night’s discussion focused on transportation and how they way we move impacts on the current climate crisis. The hour-long discussion started off with an excerpt from this short video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIA-zXUo12Q]

To listen and view the discussion, go to The Agenda’s website.

Click here for an interactive map of global CO2 emissions.

Climate Destabilization – We’re Only Running This Experiment Once….

High school physics and chemistry teacher Greg Craven has put out a great video series looking at the “more acceptable risk” in the issue of climate change – or global climate destabilization, as he prefers to call it.  Although his video How It All Ends is a sequel to The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See, Craven holds out hope that we can still avoid the climate tipping point.  He asks us all to spread the word about what is and isn’t an acceptable risk in this debate.  Craven points out that this is likely to be the greatest threat that humanity has ever experienced, and reminds us that  “We have greatness within us – it’s time for the best in us to come out”.  So, watch How It All Ends and then do your part to spread the word, to policy makers as well as to your friends and family.

Thanks to Kate for forwarding me this video!

Climate Change Deniers Risk Catastrophe

This guest posting was submitted to a local newspaper recently in response to an opinion piece entitled “Why Dismiss Dissent” by right-wing ideologue Peter Worthington.  While the said newspaper declined to publish it, I am happy to give it space here:

In this article, Mr. Worthington parrots the usual climate change-denying arguments and pseudo-science: Humans are too insignificant to cause climate change; carbon dioxide is our friend; climate change is a conspiracy by poor countries to dupe rich countries into giving them money; etc. What Mr. Worthington fails to do is address any of the vast body of research which shows convincingly that the earth is warming quickly and beyond normal variations. He also entirely fails to mention that virtually all reputable climate scientists from around the world and across numerous scientific disciplines agree that global warming is real and threatens humanity’s future, that it is caused by human activity and industry, and that the need to change this constitutes an emergency. While there are still some details of global warming which spark debate between serious scientists (i.e.those scientists who use their skills to look for the truth and not to promote an agenda), the basic facts have been settled. Moreover, despite Mr. Worthington’s claims, there is really no believable way in which all these diverse scientists from around the world could be conspiring to deceive the world into accepting global warming as real when it is not. And what would be the point? They don’t stand to gain anything and would actually stand to lose a great deal by lying. On the other hand, most prominent climate change deniers have either demonstrable links to organizations whom the status quo benefits (oil and coal producers, etc.) or, as with Mr. Worthington, to right-wing lobby groups who are funded by these organizations. One has to ask which group is more likely to be trying to deceive the public.

The situation is this: We are all on the Titanic speeding through the North Atlantic night. Someone has just spotted what looks like a very large iceberg dead ahead and we are bearing down on it fast. The crew begins rushing to avoid the collision but the ship owner shows up and begins shouting that we should all stop and discuss this first. Maybe the iceberg is smaller than it looks, or further away. Maybe the ship could survive the impact. Maybe the ship can turn faster than we think. Maybe turning sharply will cause some passengers to fall out of bed andsue the ship owner. We should probably just wait and see what happens.

Does this approach make ANY sense?

Mr. Worthington, given the relatively small long-term cost of changing our
greenhouse gas-emitting ways and the absolute catastrophe which awaits humanity if
scientists are right about climate change, isn’t your recommendation for continued
inaction kind of irresponsible?

Fourteen Days to Seal History’s Judgement on this Generation

Published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages, the editorial 14 Days to Seal History’s Judgement on This Generation, is a call for action from world leaders on climate change:

Today 56newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action,  climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear.

Read moreFourteen Days to Seal History’s Judgement on this Generation

“Our Choice” Presents a Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

I’m on a weekend trip to Vancouver, British Columbia this weekend (I’ll address carbon credits when traveling by air in an upcoming blog), so will keep my postings short and sweet. I’ve just picked up Al Gore’s new book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis” and will share a paragraph from it with you.

In any case, despair serves no purpose when reality still offers hope.  Despair is simply another form of denial, and it invites inaction.  We don’t have time for despair.  The solutions are available to us!  We need to make our choice to act now.

Mr. Gore goes on to quote an African proverb:

If you want to go quickly, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

Enjoy your weekend, and don’t despair – make a choice to act!  Remember, when people lead, leaders follow.

A Prayer for the Earth

21 days left before world leaders meet in Copenhagen for UN Climate Talks.

As today is Sunday, I thought I would share an excerpt from A Prayer for the Earth, written by Tim Costello of World Vision Australia and Brian McClaren, a speaker, writer, and contributor to Sojourners “God’s politics” blog.

A Prayer for the Earth

Most gracious God, creator of all good things, we thank you for planet Earth and all creatures that share it.

Have mercy on us, Lord. Through ignorance and carelessness we have poisoned clean air and pure water. For monetary gain we have reduced verdant forests to barren wastes. In our craving for more we have plundered your beloved creation and driven many of our fellow creatures to extinction. Only recently have we begun to realize the dangerous future into which our current patterns of consumption and waste are driving us, especially in relation to Earth’s climate. Only recently have we begun to see our need to find a wiser and better way of life in the future, before it is too late and our choices are limited by the consequences of inaction.

We who join in prayer today believe the time has come, Lord. Please guide us now, our God, at this critical moment in history, to better fulfill our role as stewards of this fragile planet. Guide the leaders of nations who will gather in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. Give them courage to set noble goals that reach beyond short-range political expediency, short-term economic profit, and short-sighted self-interest. Impress upon their conscience our sacred duty to bequeath to our children and grandchildren a healthy and thriving environment rather than a world in climate crisis.

Read moreA Prayer for the Earth