Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Perfect Storm: This is What Climate Change Looks Like

We were fortunate here in Maine to have avoided the worst of “superstorm” Hurricane Sandy on Monday. New York and New Jersey were not so lucky.
So here is my question in the wake of the devastating storm: Is it now permissible to have an open, serious conversation about global warming? Such a conversation would be particularly pertinent here in Maine since, like New York, we are a coastal state. Just sayin’…
Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama mentioned the words “global warming” or “climate change” during the three extended promotional advertisements known as “presidential debates.” Indeed, the issue has scarcely been discussed throughout the campaign.
This is a first according to Anne Zeiser writing for the Huffington Post (11/02/2012), who notes that global warming has been an “integral part of the dialogue” in previous elections. In 2008 both Obama and John McCain made combating climate change a significant part of their platforms. Even Romney, as governor of Massachusetts conceded that global warming is a threat. “I think the risks of climate change are real,” he told Katie Couric in a 2007 interview, “…and I think that human activity is contributing to it.” Newly redesigned hard-right Romney, however, has backed away from that position.
It seems it has taken the scorn of Sandy to thrust the issue back into the media—at least for the time being.
“Will Climate Change Get Some Respect Now?” New York Times columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof asks in the title to a recent piece (11/01/2012). The Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald followed suit with a similar editorial (“Sandy a call for action on climate change policy,” 11/04/2012). “Next time, it could be us [Maine], and there will be a next time,” the editors write. “We are in an era of severe weather events that we can expect to get worse based on our inability to develop policy that responds adequately to climate change.” And the cover story of the recent issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek says it all: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”
Whether readers heed the urgent warnings in any of these publications remains to be seen.

As it is, the only presidential candidates who have made combating climate change major centerpieces of their campaigns are Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson—and most of the American public has never heard of either of them. (And those that have would rather stick with Obama, who could not even be bothered to attend this summer’s global environmental convention in Rio, Brazil.) In response to Hurricane Sandy, Stein unveiled a new Internet ad which blames both corporate candidates for “captaining our ship of state into more [weather-related] danger.” But due to lack of funds, voters will not see this ad on television.
If anything, Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for humanity. Global warming is accelerating far more rapidly than scientists initially envisioned. This summer was the warmest on record. Much of the southwest endured interminable drought and devastating forest fires. And the Arctic sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. (In July, 97 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet experienced some degree of surface melt, according to images from NASA.) In fact, Goddard Institute for Space Studies official and esteemed climate change scientist, James Hansen claims the recent extreme weather and record-breaking heat patterns experienced throughout the world cannot be attributed to anything other than global warming.
Here’s the takeaway: It is clear at this point that, short of a massive, sustained Occupy-style grassroots resistance to push the next president to make serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, our political leaders will not adequately address the climate crisis.
Given the vast influence the coal, oil and energy industry has over our elected officials from both parties, Congress is simply incapable of taking meaningful action. Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Gulf and the other major oil companies essentially have the Republican and Democratic parties in their pockets. Likewise, the delusional, free-market capitalists will never put the environment before the economy, or anything they perceive as “hindering job growth.” If they have to literally fry the planet in order to maintain their perverse “profits-before-people” order, so be it.
Therefore, it is imperative we abandon the two corporate parties and elect Greens at both the local and national levels of government. And there’s no need to wait until 2016 or 2014 or whenever “practical” liberals consider it politically expedient to give Greens a chance. You can start this year—on Tuesday. There are a number of environmentally-conscious Greens running for Maine’s House and Senate here in Portland, including Tom MacMillan, Seth Berner, Asher Platts and Fred Horch in Brunswick.
Secondly, we need, in the words of environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben to “put our bodies on the line.” We need to engage in collective forms of nonviolent civil disobedience to block the building of pipelines, the removal of mountains, the construction of new coal-operated facilities and the like. McKibben and his activist peers had some success with this effort last year in (at least temporarily) halting the creation of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. So do not tell me such acts of protest are ineffective.
As I stated earlier, Hurricane Sandy was a devastating wake up call. The question now, for all of us, is whether or not we will heed its warning.



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