Strange weather, or why aren’t people in government talking about climate change?

Last night at nine o’clock, during the peak of Rochester’s brush with super storm Sandy, I was standing on the lakefront in Irondequoit with my sister taking in the weather. It was blowing hard but the lake level is very low and the beach there is extremely shallow with a series of sandbars that reach quite far out. As a result, the big breakers were breaking farther out and dissipating, rather than hurling themselves at the beach with full force.

The air was invigorating and seemed full of those negative ions that running and crashing water are said to generate; a tonic. And it was mild, 60ish at the end of October, undoubtedly because of Sandy’s tropical origins. Any way you look at it, strange weather.

Sandy is being referred to as the aforementioned super storm or, early on, Frankenstorm, because she has morphed from a Cat 2 hurricane in the tropics to the spawn of that hurricane and a classic nor-easter set-up. Warm, fast tropical air saturated with moisture meets cold front. The meteorologists were all in agreement: This thing is something different, huge and, unlike tropical weather, unlikely to fall apart over land (though this morning’s mild opening seems to indicate that it is breaking up faster than expected, at least around here). Strange, in other words.

The other strange thing, to me, is how our dialog around weather has become generally better informed. We trade maps, satellite images and videos on Facebook and long strings of comments become attached as friends in different parts of the country pitch in with their experiences. Those meteorologists are everywhere on the news, even when we don’t face some kind of weather catastrophe, which is fairly rare in these days of 100 year storms, fires, floods…they have plenty of work to do explaining and predicting this stuff. And we’re all engaged because this crap affects our lives directly.

Yet there is a strange silence in one sector of our society: Politics and government, especially at the national level. No mention of climate change during a Presidential campaign, a campaign reaching its peak just in time to be eclipsed by Frankenstorm. The obvious reason is the same reason why deniers exist: Money. Money that is to be made in the short term by oil, coal and gas and money they spend to crush any discourse on the subject, especially by those who might actually be able to do something about the unfolding tragedy called climate change.

I believe that the political calculation, made years ago, about climate change was that it would primarily affect poor people in distant countries; though any scientist would tell you that we live in a closed system where any event creates unforeseen and universal side effects. This calculation has proven to be completely wrong yet it is the underlying assumption of those in power and those who think they are in power. In other words the energy money and the politicians. But that calculation is beginning to blow up in their collective faces.

If you live in the northeast your plans changed this week. For me, canceled business travel, others are having no power at home or having to evacuate. Maybe you can’t get to work or a tree fell on your house or your basement is flooded. These things are completely agnostic- they hit rich folk and poor folks, white folks and black folks, Christians and atheists, etc. We’re all in this. But somehow, our leaders in Washington have decided that this is not an ‘important’ issue, especially during a national election. Given that their houses, power and roads are equally affected, this seems as strange as the weather. That calculation, still determining our future.

Money before safety, health, commerce, community, family and the future. Money now, changing hands on both sides of the political fence.

Strange weather.


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