I was so happy. My daughter was settled in at a remarkable, small school/organic farm in Vermont for the next few months, looking ahead to a curriculum famous for its emphasis on environmental studies and sustainability. Her education, at least for this season, was going to be nearly as progressive as it gets in the U.S. She and her fellow students would be helping their faculty to raise all of their own food, cook their own meals, care for their own living spaces, and learning to walk and live in the wild forests around school with ease and sensitivity. She and I said good-bye, and I looked ahead to a six-hour drive back to New York City. But the news from the Atlantic coast was not good, with the impending approach of Hurricane Irene, so I decided to stay in Vermont for a couple of nights until the worst of the storm passed.
It turned out I couldn't have picked a worse place to stay. Though my daughter's mountaintop school was relatively unaffected by Irene's rains, the rest of the state's waterways filled up within hours. Previously placid creeks, streams and rivers became raging torrents, sweeping away houses, barns, bridges, roadways, animals, and even people. When I eventually left Vermont, moving from one route to another in an effort to find safe passage that the civil authorities hadn't barricaded, I reentered New York to find my apartment building evacuated by city authorities due to a huge landslide caused by wind and rain at the height of Irene's fury. Five days passed before engineering tests convinced city officials that the building was safe to re-inhabit.
The difficulties I encountered because of Hurricane Irene were minimal inconveniences compared to the loss of life, property, and livelihood experienced by others. But what I and so many others realize is that Hurricane Irene was a "gift" of climate change that's likely to keep regifting itself in coming months and years. With the waters of the Atlantic now warmed to unprecedented tropical temperatures all the way up the eastern seaboard to New York City, hurricanes are far more likely to reach my city and up into New England and even Canada at a strength rarely seen in earlier times.
All of which had me thinking about fellow climate change activists in Washington D.C., organized by Bill McKibben and the folks at 350.org, who were staging a two-week civil disobedience at the White House in an effort to convince President Obama not to give the green light to the Keystone XL Alberta to Texas tar sands pipeline: http://act.350.org/sign/tar-sands/
I had planned to join their protest, but climate change in the form of irate Irene prevented myself and many others from participating. But 1,252 people did engage in peaceful protest, and were arrested at the White House on behalf of the planet. Many of them held up signs with messages from citizens all over the world, including India, urging President Obama to end the pipeline project. They understand how real "globalization" is: Mr. Obama's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is a game-changer for the CO2 levels of earth as a whole, since the tar sands in Alberta, Canada are, as climate uber-activitist Al Gore has termed them, "the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet."
In the meantime, on Friday, September 2, under pressure from big industries and Republican lawmakers, Pres. Obama asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw regulations that would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that causes asthma and other lung ailments. As a prominent U.S. environmental spokesman put it, "Putting corporate profits above public health is unconscionable. It's outrageous that it would be countenanced -- by this president or any other."
It is still very much business as usual (pun intended) among politicians in the United States, starting at the top. President Obama will make his decision on the tar sands project in the next few months. 350.org and countless other environmental organizations in the U.S. show no signs of easing the pressure on him to do the right thing. On September 24, millions around the world will mobilize for the Moving Planet worldwide rally to demand climate solutions. We can all join in, take a stand, make demands: http://www.moving-planet.org/