A Last Blast on Sandy

Out here in Long Island, you can really see the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Trees are down everywhere, there’s construction on all sides. Yet New York City is trying to shut down its hurricane relief centers. FEMA requires loan applications to be in by December 31. Today the New York Times ran quotes from people calling Sandy the storm of a lifetime, who are planning to rebuild in places where the flooding was most devastating.

So let’s review the climate change situation one last time in 2012. To have experienced a month that was not warmer than the historic average, you must now be at least 27 years old. That means close to 50% of the world’s population has lived only in the time of warming. By all measures scientific and experiential, the climate is changing and the only debate is how fast.

This year, two major exit routes to climate disaster closed. With the desultory agreement at the Doha round of the UN climate change convention, even the most optimistic person has realized that national governments are not going to drive this agenda. For instance, the world’s developed nations are committed to donating about $60 billion to the poorest threatened nations to help them adapt. None has been forthcoming so far. Imagine if these countries were banks–they’d have ten times the cash.

Second, and more worrying, the global hydrocarbon industry has done an end run around the idea of “peak energy.” This much-touted idea from the 1990s suggested that the world’s reserves of fossil fuel were about to be used up and so alternatives would have to be found. The exploitation of natural gas by fracking, and the expectation that reserves under the Arctic and Greenland will become available once the ice melts, have changed all that. Scientists have created means to turn natural gas into diesel, of which there is currently a shortage, and the building blocks for plastics. In other words, the path is technically open not only to continue the fossil fuel economy but to expand it.

These points are not exactly unrelated. Politicians are easily influenced by immense wealth and there’s no money like oil money. The “recoverable reserves” of oil and gas now amount to $160 trillion, which is real money even these days–more in fact than all global equities markets. To take just one example, 85% of Nigeria’s oil revenues go to one per cent of the population. Of that money, some $300 billion is entirely unaccounted for. Living standards for the mass population have not improved during the oil exploitation period of Nigeria’s history. This is where the politics kicks in.


Occupy Nigeria

Remember Occupy Nigeria? There was a reason why millions participated.

Because none of the oil, gas and tar is actually necessary as other research has shown:

A well-designed combination of wind power, solar power and storage in batteries and fuel cells would nearly always exceed electricity demands while keeping costs low.

As Peter Rugh has recently shown in his excellent article on the Far Rockaways, this contradiction is now at the center of post-Sandy politics. He quotes Occupy Sandy activist Jessica Roth

“If the Rockaways were based on clean energy going into this we would have been in a completely different situation. We would have had battery packs off of solar that were storing energy. We would have had wind turbines off the coast, which can pull up to 30 miles an hour off winds coming into the shore.”

Meanwhile, State Senator Addabbo has his mind on gas. While he says he is opposed to fracking, a carbon intensive method of methane extraction widely opposed by environmentalists, he supports the construction of a 30-inch pipeline that Williams Transco plans to build that will pump highly-pressurized, inflammable, fracked gas through the Rockaways.

This is a crossroads in national and international politics that Sandy has thrown into high relief here in New York. Renewable, local energy and a related localized politics interactive with its community–a sustainable democracy. Or a pipelined energy, controlled from afar by a small global elite.

A protest in the Far Rockaways

A protest in the Far Rockaways

This is why we occupied 2012 and how we must take the argument forward. It’s not a “climate” debate. The climate is a model for average temperatures and conditions. There isn’t a politics in a model. The question is how we respond to the change the model predicts, who benefits from that change, and whether those impacted by it will have a voice. It’s about freedom.

A Return to Violence

Even before I heard about the massacre in Connecticut, before I was even technically in the country, I was reminded of the intense peculiarities of the U.S. In the Customs area of American Airlines, every kind of traveler was greeted with an immense slow-moving queue. A tall, white US citizen began remonstrating with American Airlines staff about the lack of energy in helping people. They called in Customs officers as back up and for a moment it looked as if he would be arrested. In fact, after an explanation, nothing happened.

When I finally got to the front, the Customs person I spoke to pointed out that people will have gone home blaming “big government” for that. In fact, it’s American Airlines to blame for pushing 500 people into retirement and not replacing them as part of their “restructuring.” And then he added that he could get fired for saying that. So to keep airline debt-holders happy, thousands of tired travelers are inconvenienced, miss connections, lose luggage–and added bonus, the government gets the blame.

Then, of course, we heard about the shooting. It’s important to repeat, yet again, that these don’t happen in Europe because they don’t allow people access to guns. When we see it reported that support for “gun control” has gone down, let’s remember what this really means in the condensed meme that it represents. “Gun control” means “the African-American socialist president is going to take away your guns as part of his plan to institute a United Nations-run totalitarian society.” Gun sales shot up after Obama’s elections in both 2004 and 2008.

It’s no accident that nearly every shooter in these events is a white male. That’s not to say that the shooting itself was a racialized event but that the fact that white men demand to make it absurdly easy for people like them to get guns has a racialized motive. And then the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the “Batman” shooting in Colorado did involve political motives.

I’ve had many occasions over the past year to write about people with unmet needs in this society. Many found their way to the occupations, when they were active, both here and in the U.K. Like most of them, whatever this young man’s issues were, he clearly did not get the help he needed. And he far more clearly received the message that this violent society sends most loudly of all, that violence is a good way to make a point, to resolve issues and to claim attention. And that it’s ok to use that violence on people weaker than yourself, whether women, children, the endebted, the homeless.

In order to make any kind of move away from the culture of violence, it’s obvious that there needs to be limits set on the possibilities that one person can attack another. But that is just a small start. The health care system needs to be able to help all those with needs. That requires more public revenue.

Women against Starbucks in the UK

Women against Starbucks in the UK

In Europe, they have ideas about that too. UK Uncut has shamed Starbucks into making some restitution for their tax avoidance by making these kinds of connections:

Sarah Greene, a UK Uncut activist said: “It is an outrage that the government continues to choose to let multinationals like Starbucks dodge millions in tax while cutting vital services like refuges, creches and rape crisis centres. It does not have to be this way.”

The politics of austerity is also a politics of violence. As the Greek Debt Audit Campaign has put it:

The link between debt, austerity and privatisation is clear. We consider it urgent to end the growing impoverishment of the people and ensure that all can cover their basic needs, as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: housing, food, healthcare, education, employment and social services.

One way to summarize these rights is the formula “the right to existence” that comes down to us from anti-slavery organizing. A right to existence includes the right not to be subjected to physical or economic violence.

Staten Island today

Staten Island today

When I turned on my phone for the first time, one of the messages I received was from the Small Business Administration because I registered with FEMA after Sandy. It reminded me that the SBA loans were the “primary” form of government “assistance” for the disaster and that the deadline for applications was December 31, 2012. More debt, with deadlines, while people are still clearing up and finding out what their situation really is.

That’s the last official day of this project. Obviously, it won’t be over on that date.

What’s Radical Now

Fifteen months ago, OWS launched the meme of the 99% against the one per cent. We identified the agents of the crash as “Wall Street” and its primary consequence for the 99% as debt. In 2013 the agenda has to move forward. The new agents of exploitation are the mining and energy companies. The consequences are all too visible in the climate disasters.

As 2012 closes, the first billion dollar fine has been levied against HSBC bank. It’s a good symbolic moment but it amounts to 5% of HSBC’s annual profits. Directors are “deferring” their bonuses, meaning they get them in five years time. Today, it was UBS’s turn to step up for a billion dollar hit in the LIBOR case. The banks are happy because they did not get prosecuted. The financial markets let it be known that if big banks were prosecuted and declared ineligible to trade, it would engender another financial crisis. Governments don’t want that and caved. Still, the banksters have been sufficiently cowed to stop pretending they can’t afford a small increase in their US taxes.

None of this has helped the endebted very much. Admittances to British universities are down 14% this year, thanks to new tuition fees, for example. If debt suicides got as much coverage as royal-related prank call suicides, there would be nothing else in the media at all. Personal debt can’t be fixed, it can only be abolished.

And the reason for that is all around us. Abnormally cold temperatures in Northern Europe suggest that the slowing of the Gulf stream may have begun as predicted. No IPCC prediction, it should be noted, is behind predicted pace: they are all ahead. Arctic ice melt is so far ahead of presumed pace that it’s freaking out even those inside the climate change field. Floods, typhoons, hurricanes. You know the drill. We can’t grow our way out of the debt because it just adds to the planetary emergency.

So today Britain decided to approve its “dash for gas” and endorse the expansion of fracking in the UK. Never mind that the last time they tried, it set off earthquakes–yes, really. Now all they are doing is shattering carbon emission targets and polluting the British water table. Even the British government’s own climate change commission says that the planned 40 new gas-fueled power stations are not compatible with its own goals on carbon.

And it turns out that even in the neoliberal market-driven terms it makes no sense: gas will add £600 ($1000) to energy bills per year. But the same energy from renewables would only cost £100 ($160).

So welcome to your new one per cent: the energy moguls, who are driving us to extinction in the name of sustainability.


Here’s Francis Egan, head of Cuadrilla, the UK fracking mob. He was brought in from a company called BHP Billiton. You’ve never heard of them: here’s what they do:

We are a leading global resources company. Our purpose is to create long-term shareholder value through the discovery, acquisition, development and marketing of natural resources.

We are among the world’s largest producers of major commodities, including aluminium, copper, energy coal, iron ore, manganese, metallurgical coal, nickel, silver and uranium along with substantial interests in oil and gas.

What does this mean? it means they mess things up massively all over the world. Below is their own publicity photograph, demonstrating just that.

BHP Billiton

They have revenues of $72 billion annually and make pre-tax profits of $27 billion–nice returns there of 30% profit. Where do we get this information? On the debt investors page. In other words, we have to fry the planet so BHP Billiton can pay its debts. We don’t know as much about Cuadrilla because it’s a private equity company like Monsanto. But let’s have a wild guess that it’s profile is very similar. Debt, energy and climate disaster are mutually reinforcing and catalyzing. We have to get off the roundabout.

What’s radical now: demanding an end to growth, no new fossil fuel exploitation, debt abolition and a living wage. Can’t happen? Ask HSBC and UBS.


Riding the Rails

The Occupy 2012 Road Trip has come to France via high-speed rail. You can get from London to Paris in two and a half hours now. Well, you can get from Calais to Paris pretty fast, and the Brits don’t delay you that much. Why is this impossible in the US, I thought? Why did the Republicans manage to delete all the high-speed rail from the stimulus and why did the Democrats let them get away with it? The train was packed, as was the link to Strasbourg, also high speed, which gets you from Paris to 30 kilometres from the German border in two hours.

Like most people I know, I really like trains. I was sitting there looking out of the window, ready to give Europe a boost, when I saw something that I don’t think I’ve seen in Western Europe before: a full-blown shanty-town. If you live in, or have traveled to, a developing country you’ll know what I mean. Informal housing, not officially connected to services, constructed out of sheets of corrugated aluminum (aluminium UK readers). The settlement was on the steep slope of a railway siding, so most of the structures must get soaked whenever it rains or snows by the runoff. And it was snowing. After London, it didn’t feel that cold out, but not so that you would want to sleep in one of those places.

As I was taking this in, I looked down at the journal I was reading, a very interesting collection of essays on race, colonialism and debt in the current American Quarterly (mostly paywalled but with a useful online resources section here) {PS American Quarterly, check out Strike Debt!!} Many of the essays show how the foreclosure disaster was particularly visited on African-American and Latina/o households, who were targeted for sub-prime high interest rate mortgages.

From there I went to thinking about China Miéville’s recent wonderful oddity Railsea [spoiler alert!!] The novel at first seems to be a reworking of Moby-Dick set on an alternative Earth where humans ride everywhere on railways–the rails, as they call them–and Captains of special trains pursue particular monstrous animals, known as their Philosophy. But we hit an alternative loop and go in search of the end of the Railsea. Without giving away too much, it turns out that the whole reason this railway world exists, with all its poisonous soil, abandoned materials from another world, mutant creatures and other foibles, was to pay off debt.

When I got off the rails, I was at once impressed by the apparent comfort and prosperity of Strasbourg, home to the European parliament, a body that is routinely steam-rollered by the Troika but apparently makes a nice living at it. I mentioned this to my anarcho-communist hosts. Oh no, they said. The city just puts all the “dangerous people” (their ironic quotes, meaning migrants, the dispossessed and so on) outside the centre of the city.

Climate Change Makes Growth Makes Debt

For some time, I have been asserting that climate change, debt and official growth figures are linked. New reports on the macro and micro levels show that the increase in climate-change-generating emissions is the same as that of global growth. Added together, they equal the figure for the increase in global debt.

Emissions are the correlative of “growth.” But now we can see that they combine to generate debt in excess of both, requiring yet more “growth” to pay back the debt. Which causes more emissions, but never enough growth to recuperate the debt. The practical results are those the new Strike Debt report on Hurricane Sandy clearly shows: climate disaster makes profit for certain sectors by debt financing. Nothing is solved, everything gets worse.

Start with climate. A new report on CO2 emissions this year shows continuing bad news:

Data show that global CO2 emissions in 2012 hit 35.6bn tonnes, a 2.6% increase from 2011 and 58% above 1990 levels.

While this is a slight decline from 2011, emissions levels are running far ahead of any possible chance to restrict climate change to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels–if you think this year was bad, remember we’re not even half way to 2 degrees yet.

Interestingly, global growth levels are exactly the same according to current reports:

Global GDP growth is now expected to expand by an estimated 2.6% in 2012, very close to the global recession threshold of 2.5% and well below the long-term average growth rate of 3.5%. However, the forecast for worldwide GDP in 2013 is 3.2% growth.

So the “growth” we have is in fact experienced, as we all know, as recession in all but name. It now precisely mirrors carbon emissions, demonstrating statistically what I and many others have been saying: you cannot grow your way out of this financial crisis because it still further destroys the biosphere. Yet I did not realize that growth and emissions were in such lock-step.

Here’s the kicker: debt levels are rising at the aggregate of growth plus carbon emissions, as the end of year statements are showing:

Overall global debt capital markets activity totaled US$4.2 trillion during the first nine months of 2012, a 4% increase from the comparable period in 2011. Bolstered by a resurgent corporate debt market, third quarter global debt activity totaled US$1.3 trillion.

Climate change plus growth thus equals debt: minus a percentage point for losses caused by climate disasters. So here’s how it works: climate disaster generates more borrowing, which produces weak “growth,” because the disasters also cause huge personal losses.

I’m aware that “adding” emissions figures to fiscal growth is not real mathematics. Nonetheless, the comparison is striking and the realization that debt is outpacing growth two to one, even as emissions accelerate, is the definition of a no-win situation. As long as the economy is thus predicated on generating debt, we will have low growth and high carbon emissions.

The “micro” example comes from New York City, where residents are learning the hard way that FEMA is just another loan agency. All people wanting FEMA support are required to apply for loans. A new report from Strike Debt called “Who Pays for Sandy?” highlights the difficulties behind the apparent “assistance” being offered:

[the] application is reported to be at least thirty pages long. Applicants are reporting that the forms are difficult to complete, because flooding destroyed much of the required paperwork.

Nor are the loans so great when you get them. Interest rates are determined by credit scores and the ceiling on loan amounts is not very high. Nonetheless FEMA loaned about $6 billion after Katrina, with expectations post-Sandy being for much greater amounts.

As Strike Debt puts it:

By only offering loans to already struggling homeowners, FEMA and the SBA shift the burden of disaster to individuals and send profit to the loan servicers.

In short, climate change disaster generates debt creating growth. But it’s the debt that will be the highest number and the longest legacy.


Three Years to the Spanish Revolution

So today I made a major mistake. I left Barcelona. I am aware that I am romanticizing the city, but romanticism has a radical genealogy and is not to be confused with sentimentality. This morning I wandered around the city streets and headed for the site of the CNT headquarters during the Spanish Civil War. It’s now a bookshop, which in properly anarchist fashion, was not open when I visited in contradiction to its posted hours.

Barcelona still has the small bars and restaurants that are so enticing to those of us who grew up in dull Northern cities. Paris feels like a museum these days but Barca has the feel of a place that matters. To be involved in the movement in New York has often felt like a marginal activity. In Barcelona, I found my most radical utterances were received as mainstream, not just by activists but by the academics, artists and journalists that I met. Last night one activist said to me that she expected there would be a revolution in Spain within three years. I  believed her.

Whether it wins, that’s another matter, but the reasons for the left shift are not hard to find. Today the European Union yet again bailed out the banks with a 

payment of €37 billion from the euro zone bailout fund to four Spanish banks on the condition that they lay off thousands of employees and close offices as part of their restructuring.

The chief culprit Bankia will lay off 6000 people, and some of the other banks are merging so there will be over 10,000 redundancies to prop up the banks. Needless to say, the chance of any economic recovery took another backwards step today.

“No to Unemployment, No to Evictions”

And the mortgage crisis has got so bad that even the austerity dedicated government has decreed a stop to foreclosures, following a rash of foreclosure-induced suicides. Foreclosures were running at an incredible 500 a day, with a backlog of some 350,000 reported. There were at least eight reported suicides by debt in October and early November, causing angry street protests.

At the same time, Spain is feeling the effects of climate change. I was talking to someone from Seville yesterday, who told me that the summer temperature is regularly 48 degrees C/118F. The entire city becomes nocturnal to compensate. Yesterday in Barcelona, there was a tropical downpour that followed months of drought in the summer. Desertification is an issue across the country. While six per cent of fertile land has already become desert, up to a third of the country is considered under threat.

Fires, floods and beach erosion are all serious issues and long-term measurements indicate that there is a visible trend. For example,

Spain has lost 90% of its glaciers in the past century, with the remaining ice expected to disappear completely within a few decades, according to the environment ministry. While the Pyrenees were covered by 3,300 hectares of glacier when records began at the end of the 19th century, now only 390 hectares remain.

So Spain exemplifies the climate/debt conundrum. Austerity is causing the economy to shrink. Debt repayment is still demanded from banks, government and private citizens alike. If the economy were to grow sufficiently to make this possible, the climate disaster could only accelerate.

This is a contradiction so acute that the revolution being openly discussed in Spain might seem like the only sensible solution. Perhaps that accounts for the resilience and optimism of the Barcelona activists, despite all the tensions, splits and hardships that exist. Or perhaps it’s harder to break a great city than the neo-liberals think.

Decolonial Memory and Climate Debt

I’m in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the American Studies Conference. While this is perhaps the most progressive, even radical, academic event, it’s heartening to hear how many people have heard of the Rolling Jubilee. And how many love it. At the same time, as ever, it’s useful to look back at our situation from the decolonial perspective. The realization follows that New York is just another North Atlantic island with many of the same problems as places like Puerto Rico or Martinique.

Outside the hotel, the sea comes right the way up to the building here in Condado. Trucked in sand tries to hold it back but where the main hotels are here, there’s somewhere between twenty and thirty years before it floods. Barrier islands are no longer places to live.

On a panel about Caribbean environmental politics, two familiar themes emerged. First, zones of flooding and poverty tend to coincide and diminish the social agency of those who live there. If, as urban ethnographers have argued, you can think of cities as bodies, they also have embodied memories that are revealed at times of crisis. In this sense, they occupy themselves by making visible what needs to be done.

In Martinique, we learned, environmental activists have no issue with seeing the resonances between the current attempts to use carcinogenic pesticides, turn uninhabited beaches into hotels or mangrove swamps to shopping centers and the colonial past, including slavery. In fact, the presentation began with the monument at Anse Diamant to enslaved Africans drowned off the coast of the island.

Anse Caffard. Martinique

The figures are white because that is the color of death in West Africa from where the enslaved probably came. They look forever at the place where the ship went down and, in traditional African belief, the departed would have traveled from there via the underwater world of the spirits to an eventual return to Africa.

On the island today, activists visualize two classes: the béké, or the descendants of the slave-owners and colonists, who control all economic activity; and the people or the MartiniquaisHere is the divide between the one per cent and the 99% in the decolonial context. By decolonial, I mean that the formal colonization is over and yet the influence of the colonizers and their allies is still dominant.

The next point was more thought provoking still. Although groups like Assaupamar, for the preservation of Martinique’s culture and ecology, use the slogan Pays-nous (our country), they also recognize that, whether of African or European descent, they are not the original inhabitants. They stress a politics of responsibility rather than ownership, which the béké class do not–perhaps cannot–recognize.

I know there are many differences but I am also struck by these similarities. Coalitions of the 99% seeking to work past historical differences against a common perception that it is not possible to have the one per cent recognize what is said. Highly racialized cities, with clear segregation that overlaps the flood zones. Remember that people of color were moved to the Far Rockaways in the first place to make way for Lincoln Center so the one per cent could go to the opera.

If we are to acknowledge the realities of climate debt, we have to provincialize New York and see that it is just another flood-prone former colonial port with a race and class problem. Wall Street was the site of a slave market and a wall to keep out the indigenous. The material practices have changed but there are clear resonances that we have to learn to hear. There has been so much discussion of the memories evoked by the boardwalks destroyed in Jersey and the Rockaways. We need to listen more closely.


Sandy, Debt and Hunger in the Americas

So much has been happening in the United States and in New York in particular but we should not forget that some of the most acute crisis post-Sandy is in the Caribbean. Haiti and Jamaica are both facing major challenges of hunger and debt respectively. Unluckily for them, these slow disasters were not accompanied by death on the grand scale, which is the main means by which developing countries gain access to Western media. Jamaican debt should be cancelled to allow that country to recover. Haiti needs just about everything.

Sandy hit neither country directly but its heaviest rain bands passed over them both, causing 20 inches of rain in Haiti. The two islands had already suffered from the impact of Isaac earlier in the year and Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake of 2010. Or we could say that Haiti is still recovering from the indemnity imposed on it by the international powers after its anti-slavery revolution of 1791, whose last payment in 1947 just preceded the disastrous US-backed Duvalier dictatorship. It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with 54% of the population in abject poverty and 80% in poverty (estimate dates from 2003, pre-earthquake), according to those radicals at the CIA. Despite debt abolition in 2010, external debt has risen to $600 million, equivalent to 50% of the national budget.

The storm literally washed away the agriculture of both countries. The Guardian reports today:

With harvests destroyed in most of the country, Haiti’s entire food security situation is threatened….

Rivers which flooded during the storm washed away topsoil, fruit trees and cultures. Eroded banks gave way and protective walls were shattered. Of the country’s 140 communes, 70 were affected by the storm.

Plantations of corn, beans, sorghum, pigeon peas, bananas, tubers, peanuts, vegetables and rice were entirely destroyed or badly damaged by wind and water. The government, which declared a state of emergency on 30 October, confirmed that over 64,000 heads of livestock were washed away.

Half a million people face hunger, or severe acute malnutrition in NGO-speak. Food needs to get out there fast, and not just those bags of corn and wheat that government sends, but things that people in weakened condition can actually eat. It sounds like a mission Occupy Sandy could take on, as the next  part of its extraordinary relief effort.

In Jamaica, agricultural damage washed away the premium Blue Mountain coffee crop, which might not seem that serious until you consider the financial condition of the country. Jamaica’s foreign debt is so acute that, together with wages, according to the country’s finance minister yesterday, it

absorbs 80 cents out of every dollar and leaves us with just 20 cents to do everything else in the country.

The IMF are back in town, no doubt demanding more austerity from the tiny ruined former colony. First cultivated for sugar by the British, Jamaica became a banana plantation for United Fruit in the twentieth century until still cheaper fruit could be found in Central America. Now it depends on bauxite (aluminum), tourism and remittances from abroad, a classic postcolonial litany.

Over at the Rolling Jubilee, an amazing $100,000 has already been donated to abolish debt, which should eliminate an awesome $2 million of personal debt. Let’s also think how we can help our American cousins in Jamaica and Haiti recover from the disaster that our emissions helped to cause.



The Cold After the Storm

After Katrina, it was hot, freakishly hot. After Sandy, it is cold, ridiculously cold. There’s six inches of snow on the ground, howling winds. In Spike Lee’s classic When the Levees Broke, there’s a montage in act one of people saying over and over “it was hot.” Most people in New York and New Jersey who lost housing will be indoors tonight, so we may not get a parallel montage. But we’re only just beginning to understand what we’ve been through and are continuing to go through.

During MSNBC’s broadcast of the election results last night, a poll showed that 15% of voters rated the response to Hurricane Sandy as the top reason behind their vote. Of those people, 70% voted Obama and 30% Romney. It seems odd until you realize how little has been done because the scale is so much greater than we have fully realized. If you go to this link, you can see before and after aerial photographs of the coastline taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that make it clear that rebuilding is not a serious option.

NBC has been pushing the issue in its news partly because their anchor Brian Williams grew up on the Jersey shore and is still very attached to it. Over and again, middle-aged white men like Williams and Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, have been evoking their loss and nostalgia for a past that was in any case long gone. Obama toured with the crown prince of Jersey nostalgia, Bruce Springsteen, whose Jersey classic Asbury Park 4th July (Sandy), usually called just Sandy, has acquired an entirely new meaning.

This combination of a sense that Sandy indicated both what we now need to do, and what it is that we have lost, gave Obama his winning margin.

What will be done with it? Last night before tuning in to the results, I watched last week’s episode of Treme. By coincidence, it featured the documentary film maker Kimberly Rivers-Roberts, whose work in Trouble The Water was nominated for an Academy award. In a complex interplay of experience and fiction, the episode showed a group of the characters being drawn into watching Rivers-Roberts’ extraordinary footage of the waters rising in the Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina.

We then cut to her husband recreating the moment when they led a group of survivors to dry land only to be shot at by National Guard troops. These soldiers were nominated for bravery medals. In Treme, people who experienced Katrina play characters who also went through the storm, like Phyllis Montana-Leblanc, who came to national attention in Spike Lee’s film and has now become a Treme regular.

What such moments suggest is that there is no outside to the climate-changed biosphere, no retreat into a world of superhero make-believe. In his acceptance speech, Obama presented himself as a “champion” of those in need. Our system currently works that way. Today I called my re-elected congressional representative to complain that after ten days, my house had not been restored to electric power. A few hours later, the current was flowing.

But on the ground, moments of heroism are rare, and champions hard to find. As the new ice storm blew into New York, this was what people in Staten Island saw at the FEMA office

As crazy as this seems, the makeshift shelters are no good against the driving snow of a Nor’easter. We’ve yet to recognize that as well as the broken roller coasters and carousels, the space shuttle Enterprise in New York was damaged, thousands of artworks in studios in Chelsea and Red Hook were destroyed, and so on and on.

We don’t need a champion in all this. We need to hear that the press release put out today by Keystone XL to the effect that they are “confident” that the northern sector of their pipeline to extract tarsands will be confirmed in January was wrong. We can’t wait and see how the new administration chooses to decide because for us, shivering in Sandy’s cold, there is no choice. From now on, no more nostalgia, no heroes or champions. It’s time for direct action.

Katrina on the Hudson

Devastated suburbs, vulnerable city spaces, immense budget numbers, shortages of all kinds: welcome to Katrina on the Hudson. Today I drove to the Rockaways to drop off supplies and then around the South shore of Long Island. For someone who has done research on Hurricane Katrina, some things seemed very unpleasantly familiar, for all that the evacuations and mass transit system kept the death toll far lower.

We still don’t know the full extent of what happened. It’s looking as if the entire beach front from Jersey along Fire Island to Montauk has been devastated. Communities in the Rockaways are at the very earliest stages of recovery. Contamination by sewage and other toxic elements is palpable in places. Now the city council are talking about FEMA trailers becoming part of the cityscape until the New Year at least. People in New Orleans will be shaking their heads and saying “here we go again.”

The Rockaways are still a disaster zone. The coast is just devastated.

The sand has been piled up to create some passable roadways but others have simply disappeared.

A former roadway

While the houses closest to the water show most damage, there’s debris and ruined furniture awaiting garbage collection for miles.

You can see here that the accumulated sand in front of the house is about two feet thick. It’s a massive removal job to imagine disposing of all this sand and all the new wreckage.

Power stops long before the beach at about 157 Ave, just south of the Belt Parkway, two bridges away from the barrier island. I saw one power crew at work the whole time I was there. As planes going into Kennedy roar overhead, the only governmental presence was a few National Guard armored cars, some wandering police taking souvenir photos and a fire truck. No FEMA, no Red Cross.

Gathering clothes on the sand covered parking lot

There’s a very impressive mutual aid effort. Clothes donations fill the former beach parking lot. They’re going to be much needed. It was cold by day down by the water and temperatures are close to freezing tonight in New York. There were free food services too, cooking Mexican and Chinese.

As much as these efforts are amazing, they can’t meet the full demands of what’s needed here, as Nick Pinto pointed out in his blog:

Occupy Sandy is mobilizing an army of sincere and hardworking volunteers, and is working to assess the needs of residents. But they don’t have the earthmovers necessary to clear the streets of sand and rubble. They don’t have the ability to restore power to residents. The crisis in the Rockaways remains severe, and it’s looking less and less like a natural disaster and more and more like a failure of the state.

(Just to be clear, the photos above are not Occupy Sandy efforts). So what’s going to be crucial is shaping a new politics going forward that sustains the horizontal voice of the communities but also reconfigures the practices of the state. New York local politics have been a byword for corruption and incompetence for, well, centuries. Things have to change.

We need to acknowledge the full scope of what’s happening and how we have far more questions than answers. Driving around the South shore, it was clear at certain points that the massive sewage spills of the storm had not been dispelled. It can’t just be at the places where the stench is unmissable that this is a problem. What does it mean to say on the Long Island Power Authority website that some locations should

plan for the potential that power restoration could extend a week or more beyond November 7th [?]

That’s obfuscation pure and simple.

There are 57 schools closed indefinitely by the storm, nearly all in Brooklyn and Queens. How many of these have majority minority student bodies and what’s being done for them? Can we make the media move beyond their “coverage” resulting from placing a “reporter” in the rain, wearing an anorak, in some place that floods? How can we coalesce the new seriousness of social media into a functional citizen’s media?

There’s great urgency to help people in the immediate term, a short term need to restore functional social conditions and then comes the chance for change.

The next storm is already on the way.