Buy a Clue on Climate from Michael

Newark     Whether Trump is on the air talking about meeting with Kanye or some other distraction, the scrolls across CNN in the airport are in capital letters:  WIDESPREAD, CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE ACROSS FLORIDA PANHANDLE.  The eyebrow above the headline says simply:  Hurricane Michael.

The reports indicated that this was the worse storm to hit the Florida panhandle stretching from the Alabama border and Pensacola over towards Panama City in more than 160 years since records have been kept.  The damage from the storm surge was expected to be huge.  Early reports indicated it was at 5 feet over high tide even before landfall.  Water had risen in Lake Ponchartrain on the northern border of New Orleans several feet above normal and city services were suspended in far east New Orleans at a great distance west of the storm.  The forward edge of the front being pushed by Michael meant bumpy skies flying into and landing in Newark airport in New Jersey far to the north.  Rain and wind have meant a steady stream of announcements on delayed flights.

Michael is only one recent storm.  The death count is now over 2000 people on Sulawesi, one of the larger islands in the Indonesian chain after a fierce tsunami there.  Earlier the Philippines had also been hammered.  Puerto Rico is still a long way from recovery.  Usually in the US, the hurricane season is effectively over by October, but there is no such thing as “usually” anymore.

The recent United Nations report warned that we can expect more wildfires, worst hurricanes, and sea rising by 2040 unless something changes drastically.  2040 is only a bit more than 20 years from now, relatively speaking less than the blink of an eye in geological and atmospheric terms.

What does it take for Hurricane Michael to give a clue to the White House and the climate-resistance cabal of the Congressional Republican Taliban?  If even Exxon is trying to get ahead of the wave, how can the immediacy of the crisis and the fear of its impact not be sweeping away everything in its way?

Meanwhile recent news indicates that FEMA, the one federal agency that should know better since they are the paymaster and mop-up crew for all of the mess that climate change brings, reportedly is paying hundreds of millions to allow rebuilding in low lying and previously storm damaged areas.  One incredible example was the construction of a prison in an area where there were frequently mandated evacuations on the justification that “the sheriff wanted it.”

The new mayor in New Orleans is facing a fight over a proposal that some part of the tax revenues currently promoting tourism, the convention center and the stadium be used to upgrade the water and sewerage system.  The system needs hundreds of million in repairs potentially, and the city’s Water Plan, that includes rain gardens and bioswales, would likely cost over $6 billion. Yet, the hospitality industry in that city feels entitled to the tax revenue subsidizing private business and consumers, so the proposal may be doomed politically. As if there would be tourism in New Orleans without drastic expenditures on climate change and infrastructure upgrades?

One example of many on the refusal of government and corporate elites continuing to need a weatherman to see which way the wind of climate change is blowing, even when it is hurricane force and devastating everything in its path.

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Historical Amnesia, Citizenship and Crisis

Denver   Visiting with historians at Oregon State University who were trying to get a grip on what is happening in the US and the world today and how it lines up with other epochs was a fascinating experience.  In this country, and so much of the world, the contemporary focus seems to dwell on the import of every second and minute of the present and the glory and apocalypse of the future, depending on who you are streaming or listening this moment.  Not doing that for a day makes it refreshing to visit with people whose reference is understanding the present from the past and revisiting the past for lessons and answers to the questions of the present.

I was fortunate to do an interview as part of the new Oregon State University “Citizenship and Crisis Initiative” with Professors Marisa Chappell, Christopher Nichols, and rising scholar, Danielle Holtz.  The theme of historical “amnesia” was an undercurrent in much of the discussion.  They bounced between the impact of the KKK and segregationists in setting the stage for the dominant themes that still prevail and are deeply embedded in Republican conservative orthodoxy at this point and historical movements and figures for the 1950s and 20th century.  Heady stuff!

It goes almost without saying that the obligations and privileges of citizenship in the context of crisis owes much to the advent of Trump and the deep challenges every day in the world of his cultural and political dominance.  Part of the challenge lies in finding the channels for effective action and appropriate response, which is how I came in to these discussions through the side door, so to speak, since ACORN’s past, present, and future are alternative avenues of response as well as being paths not often taken.

Interestingly, Professor Chappell has been working for several years researching the leadership styles of women, particularly working class, low-and-moderate income women.  In the course of her research she has spent a goodly time in the ACORN Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.  She has also interviewed a goodly number of former ACORN leaders in Arkansas, Louisiana, New York, Arizona, Florida, and elsewhere.

Coming to grips with a deeper understanding of the leadership’s contribution is certainly overdue.  The role of local grassroots community organizations in creating and maintaining part of the social infrastructure of our culture and civic life is also overlooked.   It might be my imagination – or amnesia – that it seems there is work being done to understand it more fully and credit the role of these fundamental institutions as challenging the brick-and-mortar edifices to politicians and wealth donors.

New initiatives like these and professors more attuned to carrying the weight and doing the harder work of getting out of the library stacks and internet caches and meeting people to understand what really makes the world work at the bottom, rather than just the top, is encouraging and something we all need to advocate and celebrate.

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