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

Posted in


  1. Yes, heads are in the sand, and it is all VERY discouraging! I think Obama is staying under the radar on the subject until after the election ~ with just a few days to go, wish us good luck! I just cannot imagine how bad things will get if Mitt is at the helm…

    1. Also check out Steaming Toad s channel on youutbe. HG Nelson and Amanda Keller humorously getting stuck in to climate science.A bit hit and miss, but hey they’re aussies and you’ve gotta support em.

  2. Actually heads are not in the sand. If you look at what has been done to clean the air, water, and earth since the 1950’s there has actually been quite a lot. Some places are further down that road than others…..developed vs devloping countries…..good news is the technology has been developed and deployed… places like India, China, and Africa can clean up the environment without the huge cost associated with Research and Development.

    History is worth studying here also. New York suffered a storm much like Sandy in 1937 and the northeast experienced many bad hurricanes during the 50’s and 60’s with the last major storm to hit new york in 1960. Back then it was blamed on splitting the atom and on global “cooling”…….yes cooling… the history….

    Could be we are in a “normal” weather cycle here. The National Weather Service says we are in for these types of storms going up the east coast for the next 5-10 years…….just like we experienced in the 50’s and 60’s the result of the Pacific Ocean cooling while the Atlantic stays a few degrees warmer…….when the cycle reverses the storms will go back to their Gulf cycle……….All rhetoric aside history clearly shows these patterns….and remember we only started recording this type of information in the early 1900’s when the government established the US Weather Bureau…….(See the huge hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900. 2500 lives were lost the deadliest in US History packing winds of 145 miles per hour and a storm surge over15 feet that washed over the entire island)

    point is there have been very large storms in the past and there will be very large storms in the future and if we continue to build houses on the Ocean the loss of life will continue also as will the cost to rebuild… the same place so a few generations down the road can go thru this over and over again……..

    as for the politicians…….the US Government and others are spending BILLIONS on alternertive and renewable energy and has been for quite some time. here too much has been accomplished in the area of technology. there are fundamental laws of Physics that unfortunately come into play here which humans and their governments have not figured out how to by pass yet……then there are the laws of economics…….current costs for renewables are 5-10 times higher than natural gas, nuclear, coal, and oil. but here too money has been spent to make those technologies “cleaner” and more environmentally friendly and more cost effective………….

    the trouble with politicians is they need their ten seconds of fame every day and it is hard to discuss a complex subject in that time frame. so one side wants all renewables and the other wants all carbon and nuclear……..both stupid positions…..but nobody ever said politicians were smart or reasonable. history here again clearly shows that truly “great” statesmen or stateswomen only come along on occasion. Most of the time the governed have to suffer thru mediocrity or worse incompetence.

    After the tsunami that hit Japan last year i read an article where there are markers left by the Japanese going back 800 years clearly showing where to stop bulding in relation to the ocean. Of course modern day folks ignored those cute markers and guess what? right the water from the tsunami came close but did not get up to the markers…..our anchestors were pretty smart to it turns out…..maybe smarter than current versions of human beings. and obviously there had been storms that had “taught” them where not to build……

    Ditto for Krakatoa……..that volcano erupts on a regular cycle it turns out and our anchestors left markings of how high the ocean gets but that did not stop the settlers in the 17 and 1800’s from building ports and towns too close and when it erupted in 1883 36,000 human being lost their lives….

    I vote for more common sense actually…………

  3. Great comments Mark. My issue isn’t that nothing is being done to recognize and address climate change, but that as a national priority it get’s about as much attention as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; probably less actually. Did it merit discussion during the campaigns or debates? The candidates apparently thought not.

Comments are closed.