Now is the time for President Obama to stand up and take this election by the balls by talking about climate change. Hurricane Sandy has killed dozens and wrought billions in damage. People are justifiably scared and ready to listen. Politically, it’s a slam dunk: while Democrats’ plans on climate change are anemic, they’re still the only adult in the room as Republicans refuse to even acknowledge the issue. Furthermore, while FEMA is on the ground providing relief and getting the power back on, Romney has stated he wants to cut FEMA and won’t even talk to reporters about this stance. I believe that if Obama handles Sandy’s aftermath skillfully, frames the storm in the context of climate change, and if he’s honest with the public about the dangers while providing a clear path forward, then he’ll be showing the kind of leadership that people will want to reward on election day.
Now you might complain that I’m encouraging Obama to take political advantage of a human tragedy. You’d be right, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Climate change is a problem with solutions in the political arena. If we don’t react to things like megastorms or epic droughts with political action, then what’s the point? Don’t brush aside climate disasters in misguided respect for the dead and displaced. Honor them instead by working to prevent the next catastrophe. Unless we raise hell now we’re guaranteeing ourselves more disasters like Sandy down the road.
My sister Jill resides in New York City, and as such she’s being evacuated right now due to hurricane Sandy. Her apartment is in Battery Park, right on the water, and with predicted storm surges of ~10 feet, the Hudson river will rise up to kiss the first floor apartments in her building within the next 24 hours.
Jill asked me yesterday about climate change’s role in the storm, a question I hope will soon be on everyone’s mind. Sandy is a wake up call. Right now it’s too early to tell if she’s a direct result of climate change, but Sandy is the kind of megastorm that climatologists are afraid of, where strange weather events occur because humanity is throwing wrenches in the gears. And Sandy is a strange one…she’s a mix of a strong hurricane, an unusually early winter storm, and fierce Arctic winds coming down from the north. Comparisons are being thrown about between Sandy and the “Perfect Storm” of Clooney fame, which was supposedly a freak hundred year event. But that’s how climate change works, it makes freak events commonplace. Strong and disruptive weather events that occurred every 100 years will now start happening every 50, every 20, every 5.
It’s also important to remember that whether or not it’s the direct cause, climate change is making Sandy a lot stronger and more destructive. Climate change means warmer ocean air, and warmer air holds more moisture. This moisture is fuel for hurricanes, the more there is the more powerful they become. Sandy is sucking up this power right now in the Atlantic Ocean, which has seen some of the highest temperatures in recorded history this year.
My sister and her family are safe, for that I’m thankful. But the worst of Sandy is still to come and I’m worried about everyone else who couldn’t get out of the storm’s path. Say a prayer for them, and in doing so recognize Sandy for the wake up call it is. Imagine each hurricane season with one or more megastorms like Sandy and you have an idea of where climate change is taking us.
For me, this was a big one. Jeff is my closest friend in the world…we’ve known eachother since high school, I’m godfather to his children, and he was the best man at my wedding (and I his). But more than that, for the stated goals of this project Jeff represents an important demographic: a suburban, middle class dad who is generally skeptical of climate change. He’d heard a smattering of the science and skepticism through the filter of mass media, and had reached the conclusion that the jury was still out on climate change’s existence and man’s role therein.
It was also good to have Toni with us, Jeff’s wife. Toni was initially reluctant to participate, as by her own admission she’s kind of a worrier and thus didn’t want the anxiety that comes with hearing bad news. Getting her join in took a mix of coaxing, favors, and explaining how much her participation really meant to me. I also fibbed a little and told her there wouldn’t be much in the way of doom and gloom. This isn’t a terrible lie since the talk isn’t overly depressing, but at points I do paint a pretty stark vision of the future as I try to get the point across. Also I feel that the urgency of the issue gives advocates some license to wield the big stick, to really force people to consider the issue whether they’re ready or not. If you care for someone, you’re honest with them…what good are friends but for delivering hard truths?
On the day of, Sarah and I got to their house pretty early to make dinner and hang out with the kids. We whipped up a mild curry dish with pork and rice which turned out a little bland, but it was still a hit with the godchildren. After we put the full-bellied little monsters to bed (and waited a while for them to actually settle in to that state), the adults opened some wine and sat down to the matter at hand.
For the talk itself, I didn’t think I did a particularly good job. I was nervous and sweaty (it was muggy that night), and I had to refer back to my notes a lot more than usual. I also tended to ramble and overcomplicate, in future talks I must remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). At the end I was afraid that I had blown a big opportunity, but as it turns out my worries were unfounded. If you poke around this site today you’ll see that Jeff is now its most active member! Part of this is just Jeff being Jeff: a good and loyal friend who is supports me in whatever I do. It goes further though, I believe Jeff is now something of a true convert to the cause of climate change. Of his own accord Jeff now scours the internet for climate information, often forwarding me stuff that I use in blog posts. Jeff, if you’re reading this (and I know you are), tell us in the comments what affected this change in you.
The Q&A was again the best part of the talk, both Jeff and Toni asked great questions. Check it out!
I like to get these things started off by inviting ridicule.
Jeff likes to play devil’s advocate, and I love him for it. He puts forth the range of climate’s Earth has seen over its lifetime, and rather than respond I make a fevered plea for Bruce Willis to save us from space aliens.
Jeff asks the question: if we need oil in the short term to help us produce renewable sources, how can environmental types be so anti-oil?
It comes up that over the summer the drought raised world food prices by 10%, so we get in to that a little. I rant about canned tomatoes, grocery bills are compared, and we explore just how much prices would have to rise before they became a serious family issue.
I joke about my dad a little, who thinks climate scientists are just in it for the chicks and the glory. Giving him the talk should be exciting…
We slide in to politics a little, and I think up a game where Jeff and I compare eachother against the political leanings of politicians and celebrities. It’s a fun diversion, but we spend most of the time struggling to remember the names of the people we want to reference.
If Jeff were ranking himself in the game above, he would put himself next to Ron Paul. Jeff asks me about Ron Paul as a “constituationalist”, and so I tell him what I know. This provides us an interesting segue in to Ron Paul’s successful effort to audit the fed, which was a important/interesting achievement that didn’t really get the press it deserved.
Toni asks about small steps people can take to start affecting change in their daily lives. I blather on for a bit about shifting the cultural narrative, and finally circle back to answer her question towards the end.
This is probably my favorite video of the bunch. Toni talks about the different recycling programs her friends participate in, and how it pisses her off when some towns don’t offer good options. She details some great examples of people who have gone from one type of recycling system to another, and how the different systems evoke different responses. Hearing about people being proud to recycle makes me really happy, and I try to frame the discussion in systems dynamics terms.
We discuss natural gas, fracking, peak oil, and how burning fossil fuels will end one way or the other because it’s simply unsustainable.
The larger point that Toni makes is a good one: without Al Gore around, climate change seems less real because there is no one to keep it alive in our consciousness. In Al Gore’s heyday environmental issues were everywhere in pop culture (remember Captain Planet, or Fern Gully?). But today the cause gets talked about a lot less, which makes it seem less real.
Thanks again to Jeff and Toni for letting me talk to them, and for being really great friends to me over the years. I couldn’t ask for two better people to have my back through all of this.
On September 28th, 350.org organized a rally in downtown Boston, and I decided to participate. In the weeks preceding, 50,000 people had signed a petition asking Mitt Romney how he planned to address climate change. The purpose of the rally was to transport those signatures to the doorstep of Romney’s Boston campaign headquarters, and to see if we couldn’t get something out of him on the subject.
It bears mentioning that this was my first ever protest-type event. Objectively I know that these kinds of actions are important…they get you off your ass, build community around a cause, and let bystanders see your message and that you mean business. But I dunno, I’ve just never really felt like I’m the protesting type…standing on the side of the road holding a sign makes me feel a little weird and self conscious. What got me out the door for this event was Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention where he mocked climate change. Any politician has a right to be skeptical on the issue, but Mitt’s got his mind made up: he believes in climate change and that it’s caused by humans. You’d never know it from his convention speech however, as he stood before America and mocked his own beliefs to make political hay. Uttering such foolish words before a global audience legitimizes climate denial and pushes the cultural narrative in the wrong direction, so that’s where I draw the line. Continue reading Marching on Mitt – 9/28/12→
Near the end of the presidential debate last night, Bob Schieffer lobbed out the meatiest question of all: “Mr. President…what do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?”
Obama didn’t open his mouth right away, he let the question hang out there for a few seconds while he considered his answer. Now I love talking foreign policy, but in this pregnant pause I saw a genuine opportunity to push a different agenda. I yelled CLIMATE CHANGE! in to void and then clenched my teeth and fists in wild expectation that I might hear the answer I wanted.
I was having dinner with my in-laws last night (happy birthday, Cindy!) and someone mentioned a story in the Boston Globe about Gloucester, MA. Apparently Gloucester is launching several wind turbine projects this year, including one that will generate all of its municipal power. This project, projected to save the city $11 million over 25 years, is so profitable that it’s described as a “windfall” by local officials. The savings will be plowed back in to the community to build a new public safety building…a win for the community, the environment, and city’s bottom line.
As I was reading up on Gloucester another turbine story came across my desk: renewable energy in Scotland now accounts for over a third of that used in homes and businesses. That’s a displacement of 8.36 million tons of carbon, or the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road. That’s equivalent to shutting down the country’s largest coal-fired plant. Scotland’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change (why doesn’t America have one of those?) welcomed the figures, adding “the Scottish government is committed to maximizing opportunities from the transition to a low carbon economy.”
What will a climate change world look like? To answer that, look no further than climate-induced droughts and subsequent food shortages. As climate change takes root and droughts become more severe, food shortages will breed global instability as countries struggle to feed themselves.
Food, like any other commodity, gets expensive when it is in short supply. In America we spend only 10% of our income on food, and we get most of our calories from meat and dairy. If the price of grain doubles we might grumble at paying slightly more for a box of Wheat Thins…but that’s where it ends. In contrast, citizens of poor countries spend 50-70% of their income on food, and get most of their calories from grain. If grain prices double for them, they simply can’t afford to eat.
Today over half of Americans (58%) say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” – now at its highest level since November 2008.
40% of Americans say people around the world are being harmed right now by climate change (up 8 points since March 2012), while 36% say global warming is currently harming people in the United States (up six points).
In addition, 42% perceive global warming as a threat to themselves (up 13 points since March 2012). 57% of Americans perceive global warming as a growing threat to people in the United States (up 11 points).