Tuesday November 13, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE

The only way my life was affected by Hurricane Sandy was that it prevented me from going to Con necticut to take my college roommate out for her birthday. She didn’t have power and the main street of her town near the shore had flooded, so the restaurant where we’d made reservations was closed. Needless to say, we were disappointed. But suffering from disappointment is nothing compared to what those in New York and New Jersey are suffering from the storm’s devastation.

My superstorm reality -- a few fallen branches, lights flickering off now and then -- did not give me a context for what had happened south of the Berkshires. I read the paper, watched the news to get updates on the storm damage, looked for ways to help. The stories and photographs were distressing, some almost too difficult to absorb. The one about a child being ripped from his mother’s arms by the wind, found dead in a salt marsh two days later was heartbreaking and unimaginable.

I wanted to help but what could I do besides send money to the Red Cross, feel relief that FEMA was doing what it is supposed to do, be grateful that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised Presi dent Obama for his support a week before the election? Then I got an email from my friend Jan Seward, whose brother and sister-in-law who live in Long Beach, New York left their home to wait out the storm in the Berkshires. Jan described how catastrophically the area had been affected and sent an SOS for supplies that were needed. They would be making regular trips from the Berkshires to Long Island.

What a relief to do something tangible, I thought as I stood in line at Kmart buying blankets. It made ME feel better even though my contribution was not even a finger in the dam of devastation, nor did my immediate gratification do anything to address the elephant in the room -- climate change.

James McGarry pointed out in a recent column in The Baltimore Sun, "For the first time in 24 years, the words ‘climate,’ ‘warming’ or ‘greenhouse effect’ were not used once in the presidential debate cycle. Meanwhile, ‘oil’ and ‘natural gas’ were mentioned 56 times. To put that in context, the U.S. just experienced the warmest eight months on record, when 60 percent of the nation experienced moderate-to-exceptional drought conditions, 44,000 wildfires burned 7.7 million acres, and U.S. corn production reached its lowest yield in 17 years. In 2011, the 14 most severe weather events in the country cost the U.S. close to $140 billion. And now comes Hurricane Sandy, which is on track to be the largest storm ever to hit the East Coast, with damage estimated in the tens of billions . . . The nation is haltingly moving from one disaster to the next while the candidates bicker about who can drill for more oil and gas. To ignore the problem of greenhouse gas emissions while millions of Americans are suffering as a result is either extreme denial or the peak of negligence."

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Last week, this paper listed contact information for contributions to relief efforts for those affected by the hurricane. In addition to local efforts, national organizations are seeking donations to help people with immediate and long-term needs. But I as I scanned the list of most needed items, I kept thinking that what we need most right now are some grassroots efforts to mobilize citizens to help minimize climate change. I know I can reduce my carbon footprint, change my light bulbs, buy produce at the farmer’s market but that is akin to buying blankets for people who have no homes. We need to start changing legislative policies.

Bill McKibben wrote in an article in Orion four years go, "If people who care about climate change mobilize politically, 5 percent will be more than enough too . . . it will persuade senators, congressmen, and presidents to back strict legislation that will set real caps on emissions and fund real research on the technologies we need. If such laws pass, they would change the behavior of 95 percent of Americans, including reluctant in-laws." He writes, "It’s not, I warn you, as immediately satisfying as installing a new tankless water heater or greasing the chain on your bike."

But, as he says, we need to mobilize. We don’t have a lot of time to waste.

How else are we going to protect ourselves and each other?

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.