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The New and Nasty Normal

Song Suggestion: The Road to Hell, Chris Rea Drink Suggestion: Sea Breeze (vodka, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice)

I don’t know what is more depressing: the destruction left in Sandy’s wake or the teachable moment lost through the storm grates. The “C-word” (Climate) has replaced the “N-word” during this presidential run as the nastiest of national slurs, and pox on the lips from whom it spews. It’s as if we have entered the world of Hogwarts and things that must not be named. Neither candidate has used this opportunity to show real leadership on the very real problem of climate weirdness. It was no different in France, by the way, during the presidential elections there earlier this year. Crise climatique, c’est quoi ça?

Romney deserves credit for ducking the issue with the greatest temerity. When a heckler at his Virginia rally this week shouted “climate change caused Sandy!” and flashed a sign reading “End Climate Silence,” Romney responded with 2 minutes of clueless silence and blank (but brilliant) smile that seemed to say, “can anyone help me out here?” The crowd’s reaction was predictable: a loud chorus of boos for the heckler and stirring group chant of “USA! USA! USA!” while the inconvenient truther was escorted roughly from the event. Romney supporters are evidently in Camp America is Awesome!, with the unifying conviction that by sheer will we – God’s favored nation – can dictate terms on the weather like just another Olympic basketball opponent. But challenging climate science is not a sporting competition, right? We do all get that? Evidently not.

Romney’s take on the climate (what problem?) may be alarming for a Harvard man who may be king, but certainly not surprising. This is the guy who defended the coal industry with a cheery campaign commercial titled “War on Coal,” in which he glibly asks, “We have 250 years of coal. Why wouldn’t we use it?” Well, for starters it is the most carbon intense – i.e., dirtiest, nastiest – fossil fuel on this planet earth, accounting for over 40% of the US’s CO2 emissions and about 65% of China’s. Of course if one chooses to deny that CO2 emissions and global warming are linked, then voila, pas de problème. After all, the Church managed to deny that whole sun-at-the-center-of-the-universe baloney for 200 years after Galileo proved otherwise in 1610. These things do take time.

What is more discouraging, however, is Obama’s silence on climate change and its probable role this week in producing the highest Manhattan storm tide on record, or since 2000 producing 9 of the globe’s 10 hottest years on record, or in 2008 clearing both the Northeast and Northwest arctic passages of ice for the first time in recorded history, or…, and… ,in addition to ….  ad nauseum.  To be fair, the president has made an effort to at least acknowledge global warming and endorse the consensus of 99% of the world’s climate scientists that we are indeed on the road to a very toasty hell. He’s passed auto emissions standards and pushed investment in alternative energy, but his leadership on climate change as an issue of critical importance both nationally and globally has been in a word, tepid.

The 2 candidates and most all of our national leaders have adopted the it may go away if I stop thinking about it approach to problem solving. That F in math, well if I stop looking at the report card it may just go away before I have tell mom and dad. That mole on my neck, well if I stop looking in the mirror then it’s not really there. Think about global warming like an angry wart on your genitals. Yes, you can choose to ignore it for a while, but that may severely diminish your most divine, meaningful experiences of life permanently in just a few short years. Actually it’s worse. In this case your kids (and their kids and grand-kids) get the wart too, because you declined to get treatment.

If there was an opportunity for the candidates to establish a bit of “climate cred” this was the moment. Imagine either of them declaring after the storm, “Okay enough, now we get it and MUST act decisively.” I might have even considered taking a closer look at Romney if he had taken that kind of maverick position. It was a missed opportunity to draw in enlightened centrists and he blew it.

It was New York’s Mayer Bloomberg who took value from Sandy’s harsh lesson by breaking his pledge not to endorse either candidate and tip his hat to Obama (more precisely away from Romney) specifically for their respective positions on the changing climate. In his published endorsement, Bloomberg wrote that “Our climate is changing, and while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.” His beef with Romney is his position shift on global warm, criticizing him for “abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.” Bravo (and please consider a run in 2016).

So where does this leave us? In case there was any doubt, this is the new and nasty normal we can all expect moving forward: hotter summers, bigger storms, higher tides, more severe weather. I would not be recommending ground floor properties in Lower Manhattan, whose residents may be joining the islanders of Vanuatu on the list of the permanently evacuated . The question is no longer how do we fix this problem, it is now how do we live with this permanent change, and how do we limit even greater damage?

For some truly frightening reading on the damage done and what to expect next, read Eaarth by Bill McKibben. And you thought Halloween was scary!! Buckle up.

Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

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