Tag Archives: Sandy

Global Warming: Is it beginning to sink in?

20 Nov

The New York Times has recognized global warming for some time. So it’s not surprising that, post-Sandy, it’s been running a variety of articles on the theme: WTF do we do? Then thing is, the damage from Sandy has been so extensive that, one way or the other, billions upon billions of dollars will have to be spent. Even if the body politic decides to do nothing, that is, go back the way things were before Sandy, it’s going to cost billions and billions of dollars.

And that’s billions and billions of dollars in one of the most visible cities in the world, a city that has long prided itself on being the world’s de facto financial and artistic capital and, in a sense, the world’s premier city. After all, New York is where the United Nations in headquartered, no? New York is not some exotic quasi-tropical tourist destination like New Orleans. New York is, you know, the captial of the freakin’ world.

And it’s freakin’ because now it’s GOT spend billions and billions to do SOMETHING. But what?

In Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm Michael Kimmelman puts it like this:

Cost-benefit analyses, long overdue, should answer tough questions like whether it’s actually worth saving some neighborhoods in flood zones. Communities like Breezy Point should be given knowledge, power and choice about their options, then the responsibility to live by that choice.

This means embracing a policy of compassion and honest talk. It’s no good merely to try to go back to the way things were, because they are not
.
This sort of conversation is a third rail of American politics, so it’s no wonder all presidents promise to rebuild and stick taxpayers with the tab. That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.

But the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity. Continue reading

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Where FEMA Fell Short, Occupy Sandy Was There – NYTimes.com

10 Nov

On Wednesday morning, as the winds picked up and FEMA closed its office “due to weather,” an enclave of Occupiers was huddled in a storefront amid the devastation, handing out supplies and trying to make sure that those bombarded by last month’s storm stayed safe and warm and dry this time.

“Candles?” asked a dull-eyed woman arriving at the door.

“I’m sorry, but we’re out,” said Sofia Gallisa, a field coordinator who had been there for a week. Ms. Gallisa escorted the woman in, and someone gave her batteries for her flashlight. As she walked away, word arrived that a firehouse nearby was closing for the night; the firefighters there were hurrying their rigs to higher ground.

“It’s crazy,” Ms. Gallisa later said of the official response. “For a long time, we were the only people out here doing relief work.”

After its encampment in Zuccotti Park, which changed the public discourse about economic inequality and introduced the nation to the trope of the 1 percent, the Occupy movement has wandered in a desert of more intellectual, less visible projects, like farming, fighting debt and theorizing on banking. While several nouns have been occupied — from summer camp to health care — it is only with Hurricane Sandy that the times have conspired to deliver an event that fully calls upon the movement’s talents and caters to its strengths.

via Where FEMA Fell Short, Occupy Sandy Was There – NYTimes.com.

What Have I Learned from Sandy? Resilience Begins in Responsibility

8 Nov

I phrase it as a question because, though, considered as a weather event, hurricane Sandy is over and done with, as a psycho-cultural-historical event, it is only in the early phases of its life. In an earlier post (Thoughts on Sandy: We Must Change Our Ways, NOW) I talked about the need to restructure our world:

We have to rethink and restructure. We have to decouple and downsize. Otherwise we’re committing suicide by “civilization” and technology.

That idea isn’t new to me. It’s been with me in one form or another for a long time.

But, whatever lessons Sandy has for others—and I hope her lessons have been deep ones—I’m beginning to think that she does have a lesson for me, a lesson about self-reliance, community, and their interdependence. Still, I’m not sure. It’s too soon to tell. In any event, before I get around to a tentative account of THAT lesson, I want first to talk about some other lessons.

Sputnik, Martial Law, Berlin Wall

These lessons are personal lessons, though not entirely so. They are lessons about the intersection of my life with the larger currents of history. As such, I don’t expect that these historical events will have the same or similar significance for others, though they might. Briefly, these are the events:

  • 1957: The Russians launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to circle the earth
  • 1968: Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots broke out, and martial law was declared in Baltimore
  • 1989: Berlin Wall came down and set the stage for the reunification of Germany

I was ten years old in 1957 and was fascinated by outer space, rockets, and such—a fascination stoked, no doubt, but various TV programs by Walt Disney and films such as Forbidden Planet (1956). The launching of Sputnik marks the first time my dreams and fantasies met-up with history.

The launching of Sputnik was certainly a world historical event. Shorn of politics, it was the first time that humans stepped off of the earth to inhabit outer space, if only briefly. But of course, we can’t divorce Sputnik from Cold War politics, nor did I do so as a ten-year old. I knew, in my ten-year old way, that it was important for America to beat the Russians in the space race that Sputnik had catalyzed.

However, by the mid-1960s I had decided that, if the Cold War was in fact a real and pressing international conflict, it was a conflict dominated by a military-industrial complex that was more interested in preserving itself than in preserving the peace. The war in Vietnam had made me a pacifist and the counter-culture had almost made me a hippie.

Almost. I wore hippie clothing, listen to the Beatles, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, and smoked weed—yes, I inhaled. But I never made it too full-out hippiedom. I was too much of an intellectual for that.

And when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, riots broke out in Baltimore, where I was attending The Johns Hopkins University. The riots took place in East Baltimore, far from the North Charles Street campus of university, but that made no difference when martial law was declared. The whole city was put on lock-down. Curfew was 4PM and National Guard vehicles and men patrolled the streets. Of course I had to break curfew, along with some of my hippie (and non-hippie) friends. Continue reading

After Hurricane Sandy, Debating Costly Sea Barriers in New York Area – NYTimes.com

8 Nov

In the past few years proposals have been floated to protect the NYC area from flodding by putting large gates into New York Bay. The gates would lie in the seafloor most of the time but would be raised into place during a major storm, such as Sandy.

He said that if gates had been placed in strategic spots like the Arthur Kill, between Staten Island and New Jersey, they would have protected some of the areas that were swamped by floodwaters, including the edges of Lower Manhattan, low-lying areas of Brooklyn and Queens and the western part of Staten Island, as well as Jersey City and Hoboken, N.J.

“The idea is that you raise these barriers, and anywhere inside of that you’re basically protected,” Dr. Colle said, adding, “With a solid barrier, we basically can have business as usual in Lower Manhattan.”

But vexing questions remain. Would industries tolerate immense disruption from the construction of barriers in the city’s busy waterways? Would residents object to the marring of vistas? With climate change advancing, can scientists accurately predict the size of hurricanes that the sea gates would one day have to withstand?

And where would the $10 billion-plus in construction money come from? Even a study — taking into account the complexity of New York waterways, projections in the rise in sea levels and other factors — would take years and millions of dollars.

The scientists and engineers who have worked on conceptual designs for the city say a comprehensive study is needed on what would be the most effective locations and the most practical type of barriers — whether they swing close like a driveway gate or pivot up from the ocean floor, for example.

A feasibility study by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would have jurisdiction, would require authorization from Congress.

“A lot of things need to be taken into consideration before we throw up a giant wall,” said Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the corps.

What strikes me as that time to do the preliminary study and then the actual construction is on the order of significant climate change due to global warming. Thus one can imagine that the climate is changing fast enough that such gates would be obsolete by the time they’re built. These gates make sense ONLY if we take major steps to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Otherwise it’s just more wishful techno-dreaming.

via After Hurricane Sandy, Debating Costly Sea Barriers in New York Area – NYTimes.com.

Superstorm Sandy—a People’s Shock? | The Nation

6 Nov

Yes that’s right: this catastrophe very likely created by climate change—a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer—is just one more opportunity for more deregulation. And the fact that this storm has demonstrated that poor and working-class people are far more vulnerable to the climate crisis shows that this is clearly the right moment to strip those people of what few labor protections they have left, as well as to privatize the meager public services available to them. Most of all, when faced with an extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand out tax holidays to corporations.

Is there anyone who can still feign surprise at this stuff? The flurry of attempts to use Sandy’s destructive power as a cash grab is just the latest chapter in the very long story I have called The Shock Doctrine. And it is but the tiniest glimpse into the ways large corporations are seeking to reap enormous profits from climate chaos.

One example: between 2008 and 2010, at least 261 patents were filed or issued related to “climate-ready” crops—seeds supposedly able to withstand extreme conditions like droughts and floods; of these patents close to 80 percent were controlled by just six agribusiness giants, including Monsanto and Syngenta. With history as our teacher, we know that small farmers will go into debt trying to buy these new miracle seeds, and that many will lose their land.

via Superstorm Sandy—a People’s Shock? | The Nation.

Apocalypse Now: Sandy Dominates My Weltanschauung

6 Nov

Big word that: Weltanschauung. It means world view, a comprehensive top-to-bottom, right-to-left, inside-and-outside account of the world. Well, hurricane Sandy changed my world. She deserves a Big Word.

Now, physically, me and my stuff are now OK. But as I type this I hear noise created by the generator at the firehouse behind my building. The street it faces doesn’t have electric power. That firehouse is my polling place today. I assume the generator will power the electronic voting machine.

Tomorrow we’re supposed to get an ordinary winter storm, one of those storms that’re variously delightful, if you like snow, or merely irritating if you don’t. But this one is coming on top of Sandy, and Jersey City has not even remotely recovered from her. So the impact of this new storm could be harmful, especially for those still without power.

Given this, it is thus something of a shock when I go online to the various places I haunt and discuss and find that those discussions aren’t dominated by Sandy. Why not? Because most folks don’t live in an area that’s been crushed by Sandy. She doesn’t dominate their Weltanschuung.

For me and my neighbors, we got a taste of the apocalypse. For the rest of the world, life goes on.

40 Days and Nights of Techno Hubris: Titanic

29 Oct

It’s 7:30 in the AM this Monday in late October, just before All Hallows Eve, and my thoughts turn to Titanic, not the ship, but a folk poem about that ship. It’s a poem about water, lots of it, and that’s one reason it comes to mind.

I’ve published it here before, back in May of 2010, but it’s time to bump it up to the top of the list, along with a new introduction. Why?

Here’s why.

Lafayette by the Bay

I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City, NJ, less than a half-mile from the Hudson Rive and the New York Bay. Sometime in the next 24 hours there’s going to be a storm surge in that bay and part of Jersey City is going to be flooded. Probably not my part, but, in those immortal words of Thomas Fats Waller, “one never knows, do one?”

Whatever flooding there is, and there WILL be some, will be driven by hurricane Sandy. Last year it was Irene. Irene wasn’t as bad as predicted, at least not in my neighborhood–though Communipaw Avenue had 3 or 4 inches of water near Garfield, just a few blocks from me. But it was bad enough, and inflicted considerable damage inland in small towns and hamlets that were wrecked by raging rivers.

I want to blame this one on anthropogenic climate chaos, aka global warming. But that’s tricky. There were hurricaines, and nasty one, long before us industrious industrial humans started messing with the climate. Not knowingly, not intentionally mind you, no more so that those ancient humans desiccated North Africa until it became the Sahara Dessert. Be messing with the environment we did, not doubt about it.

The thing, we can’t blame any specific weather even on global warming, because all of the weather, all the time, 24/7/365 (366 in leap years) is affected. It’s the general tempo and temperature that’s affected, not specific events.

There are, of course, those who imagine techno-fixes for this mess. Let’s pump some sulpher into the atmosphere, they say, it’ll blot out the sun just enough to set things right. Any maybe we should all hold on to our lucky rabbit’s foot while doing it, ’cause we’re going to need all the luck we can get.

No, I fear that putting our faith in techno-fixes is just going to make things worse. We’re not that powerful, not that knowledgeable. So let’s be wise. Let’s listen to the poets of Titanic, which is, among other things, about techno hubris. And water, lots of water.

What’s Titanic?

Toasts

Titanic is a toast, a form of boasting narrative in the African-American oral tradition that is a precursor to rap and hip-hop. If you go to this YouTube video you can hear Rudy Ray Moore recite a version from Dolomite. Continue reading