At Last, A Climate Change Solution!

May 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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So you already know that climate change is doing very bad things to the planet. People around here, in New York and New Jersey, are still scrambling to recover from Superstorm Sandy. Record flooding has ended the drought in parts of the midwest, but 46.9% of contiguous states are still in a drought, “with water content in the California  snowpack at 17% of normal, an ominous situation for a state that depends on a steady stream of snowmelt to replenish reservoirs throughout the summer.” And last Friday scientists reported that CO2 in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen on earth for millions of years, and that guarantees future catastrophic weather events and related problems..

But now there’s a solution. We can just go to Mars–well, some of us, at least.

If, like me, you don’t follow space exploration very closely, you may have missed the fact that in August, NASA achieved one of the biggest breakthroughs in space exploration since the 1970s:  its space rover,” Curiosity,” landed successfully on Mars, and in the months that followed, accomplished tasks that resulted in a number of major discoveries. Basically, the “Curiosity” mission determined that water has existed on Mars, and that therefore certain locations there constitute the first truly habitable places in the solar system not on our planet. A fine article by Burkhard Bilger in the April 22 issue of the New Yorker details the exploratory process and the discoveries that emerged.

It seems unlikely that the average person will be setting off  for Mars any time soon. The “Curiosity” mission cost two and a half billion dollars, but the Great Recession resulted in a significant cut-back in NASA funding; the next two planned missions will be modest by comparison, “NASA technology from the 1960s”, as one scientist described it. Even the missions being planned by private firms like Space X and Orbital Sciences sound like pretty small potatoes.

Yet the entire episode reminds me of learning some years ago that a group of extremely rich men were investing millions of dollars in stem cell research. They were doing so in hopes that near the end of their lives they could be frozen until stem cell research progressed to the point where whatever problem threatened their survival would be cured. They were hoping, in effect, to become immortal.

The prospect of leaving our burgeoning environmental destruction behind and flying off to Mars may soon be equally appealing to those with the resources to do so. Bilger reports a possibly apocryphal survey in which three-quarters of astronauts said that they would go to Mars if the opportunity presented itself, despite the fact that, for the foreseeable future, such a trip would be necessarily one-way. “The pilgrims on the Mayflower didn’t hang around Plymouth Rock waiting for a ship to take them back,” the Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin later told him.

But that was theoretical. Now, a Dutch non-profit organization, Mars One, is actually planning to send a crew to Mars in 2022, according to Time magazine. Thus far, seventy-eight thousand people have applied to go, the vast majority of them from the US. The non-profit is producing a reality television show to raise the six billion dollars needed to fund the expedition.

This all sounds absurd, of course. But so, I suspect, did Columbus’s outing half a millennium ago. At least there are no indigenous people on Mars to have their environments and cultures destroyed.

Meanwhile, those unwilling to abandon the blue planet in favor of the red one are massing in Bryant Park, in Manhattan, tomorrow at 5 PM, to tell President Obama what we think about the Keystone XL Pipeline. We hope you will join us.

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Get the Government Out of My Flooded House!!

November 2, 2012 at 10:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Well, as the clean-up from SuperStorm Sandy progresses, some Americans seem less opposed to government intervention than they used to be. Residents of Staten Island, the only Republican leaning borough of New York City, are outraged that help is not coming to them faster. Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey (who sounds for all the world like my Philadelphia working-class relatives) is actually grateful to President Obama for acting quickly.

On Wednesday, October 31, my Congresswoman, Yvette Clarke, sent out an email about government services available in the light of Hurricane Sandy:

FEMA : Federal Emergency Management Agency. Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in designated counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online, or at a toll-free number 7am to 10pm seven days a week.

TRANSPORTATION: The states of NY and RI have access to $13 million in quick-release emergency funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the first installment of Federal Highway Administration funds to help begin repairing roads, bridges and tunnels. The Federal Transit Administration will send experts to offices established by FEMA to provide guidance in damage assessment and recovery, and to direct transit agencies to available federal assistance programs. The FAA Air Traffic System Command Center is maintaining constant communication with airlines, the military, business aviation, and airports affected by the storm, all of whom will advise the FAA about flight schedules and plans to resume operations into affected areas. .

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and FEMA activated ambulance contracts to support state requirements to evacuate patients as needed and requested.  HHS has personnel deployed in support of state response efforts, including two 50-person Disaster Medical Assistance Teams providing triage and basic care in shelters in NJ. HHS also has personnel supporting 350 ambulances in New York that were activated through FEMA’s ambulance contracts. An additional Disaster Medical Assistance Team remains pre-staged in the mid-Atlantic, prepared to deploy quickly along the East Coast if needed.

NATIONAL BUSINESS EMERGENCY OPERATION CENTER: FEMA activated. More than 330 representatives from retail, transportation, food and groceries, building management, and other industries receive daily briefings on key federal response efforts. These briefings assist in federal and private sector planning efforts, and provide a forum to discuss response efforts and challenges that may arise for maintaining business operations.

HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is coordinating with FEMA and affected states to identify housing providers who may have available housing units, including public housing agencies and multi-family owners. HUD is also speeding federal disaster assistance to NY and NJ to provide support to homeowners and low-income renters forced from their homes in the most heavily impacted areas. The President’s major disaster declarations for NY and NJ allow HUD to offer foreclosure relief and other assistance to some families in the designated counties. HUD has granted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearances of  (FHA)-insured home mortgages.

AGRICULTURE: TheUS Department of Agriculture regional Food and Nutrition Service leadership is working with state commissioners and program administrators to meet food needs for emergency shelters and feeding sites and to assist with Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) requests.

Republicans, by and large, think that the free market will take care of problems like old age and Hurricane Sandy. In 2005, President George W. Bush introduced a major initiative to privatize personal Social Security accounts and to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into investments. When the economy collapsed in 2008, a lot of us, for whom Social Security is a significant portion of our incomes, were grateful that Congress had ditched that idea.

Then, in 2011, during one of the debates in the presidential primaries, Mitt Romney called for the privatization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency at the center of government response to Sandy. You can see him arguing that position here. I imagine he will be holding a press conference later today claiming that that was not what he meant.

The question is, will we Americans, with our notoriously short attention spans, be able to forget, between now and next Tuesday, the role the federal government is playing in the recovery from SuperStorm Sandy? 

Climate Change, Fellas?

October 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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I trust you will excuse me for using this blog as a way of communicating with my friends and relations that although Keith and I live in Brooklyn, NY,, Hurricane Sandy did us no harm. Western Flatbush may not be the section of New York most lusted after by new residents, but it does have the advantage of being outside all the flood zones. And the electrical wires are buried underground in much of Brooklyn, something the rest of you may want to think about as these extreme weather events become more common.

Which leads me to my next topic. As Hurricane Sandy was bearing down upon us, the presidential campaign slowed but certainly did not stop. When it tools up again, it will be interesting to see if, in the light of this storm, either of the candidates utters the words “climate change.” They certainly haven’t done so up till now.

I am by no means the only person to have noted this. 350.org tried to have a demonstration in Manhattan on Sunday, to point out the connection between climate change and Hurricane Sandy, but they had to cancel it because of the storm. And in a recent article on TomDispatch.com titled “Climate and Clarity,” Rebecca Solnit reflects incisively on the connections between climate change, Sandy, and massive greed. I urge you to read what she has to say.

But I don’t think it hurts to repeat what Solnit and others are saying: extreme weather events, like this storm, and the massive drought in the US midwest last summer, and the tsunami in Hawaii the other day that turned out to be not so bad, are directly linked to climate change. As  a blogger on 350.org observed just before Hurricane Sandy hit, ” This is a storm unlike any we’ve seen before because the earth is doing things it has never done before. The water along the Atlantic coast is 5 degrees hotter than usual, super-charging Sandy’s rainfall, and drawing the strength of the storm further north…”

Now don’t get me wrong here. By pointing out that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney have said anything in their campaigns about climate change, I am not suggesting that there are no other differences between them. The election of Mitt Romney portends a catastrophe for this country, even for a significant number of the people who will vote for him.

But as a compelling article in The Nation last week documents, Obama–and the Democrats in general–aren’t doing at all well on energy. This is probably because of the huge amounts of money the energy industry pours into lobbying and campaign contributions. The 2010 campaign of Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, was the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the natural gas industry during the period 2005 to 2011. Is it any surprise that he then undertook to permit natural gas fracking in the state, until literally thousands upon thousands of citizens protested such a possibility?

I might add that the “fellas” in the title of this blog post does not refer only to politicians. The US Catholic bishops have not exactly made climate change a big issue in this election either. Climate change is optional, you know, since it’s not directly connected to abortion or contraception. Of course, the bishops did establish a Catholic Coalition on Climate Change a few years back. And that group has been speaking out boldly during this election, as I’m sure you know. And at the bishops’ urging, Catholic priests speak out from the pulpit about climate change all the time. Believe that and I’ll tell you about my recent trip to Mars.

As the flooded-out residents of New York City now grasp, the extreme weather that comes with climate change is no joke. If Mitt Romney is elected, they had better move to higher ground. But even if God has mercy on us and Barack Obama is re-elected, the day after the election, we have got to start banging our fists on him, because climate change has arrived, and the window of opportunity for doing anything about it is shrinking as you read this.

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