The Climate Needs a Jubilee

I’m on sabbatical. This is an academic practice giving faculty time to research, free from teaching and administration, every seventh year. It’s a Biblical injunction, commanding that the land should lie fallow every seventh year, transferred to the labor of learning. Every seventh sabbatical was a Jubilee.

According to Jubilee USA, who campaign for debt abolition, the Biblical text is wide-reaching:

In the Jubilee, there is release for those enslaved because of debts, a Sabbath rest for land and people, redistribution of lands lost because of debt, and a reordering of prices for land and labor based on proximity to the next Jubilee.

Reordering, redistribution and rest. The planet’s climate needs such a Jubilee.

Midland Beach, Staten Island, 11-25-12

So, lest we forget do some of the victims of its most recent episode, Hurricane Sandy. Astra, occupier and Rolling Jubilee member, describes how in Midland, Staten Island:

Electric and heat are back on, sure, but many homes are totally uninhabitable and mold a growing public health crisis, one that’s damaging the repairs people have managed to do. People’s stories of dealing with FEMA and other government agencies and insurance companies were devastating, each household trapped in a different bureaucratic tangle. You can only get a grant if you can’t qualify for a loan, and many can’t get either. People in tears recounting being reduced to sleeping in their cars, not having access to their meds, talking about what it is like to have lost everything, and the insult of being given a $1300 check, as if that could cover damages, and no other aid.

Debt as the solution to climate disaster is so mindless it would make you laugh if it wasn’t so stupid. Because when the debt has to be repaid, that will require financial growth and more carbon emissions, worsening the climate crisis. It’s apparent that real estate developers already have their eye on a disaster capitalism opportunity on the East Coast.

There’s a new calculus at work in neoliberal climate politics. The developed nations have decided to make the issue the responsibility of the climate-threatened world. Lord Stern, the British banker whose 2006 climate report suggested that maybe the Copenhagen conference in 2009 might take action, has changed his tune. Now he is saying:

Developing countries must take on the lion’s share of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, because of the “brutal arithmetic” of climate change.

That is to say, developing countries do now account for about half of global emissions. So the arithmetic of neo-liberal brutes like Stern means they must do most of the cutting. Per capita, nations like the US still claim far more than their fair share, however.

Furthermore, there’s a climate crisis because of the cumulative effect of two hundred and fifty years of emissions, not those of the last five. This is where the climate jubilee comes in. After five times fifty years without taking a rest from ruining land, running up debt and corroding the atmosphere, it’s past time.

Slowly even mainstream commentators are starting to realize that governments and representatives are not going to be the agents of the change, as here George Monbiot in the Guardian:

the struggle against climate change – and all the crises that now beset both human beings and the natural world – cannot be won without a wider political fight: a democratic mobilisation against plutocracy.

Yes, indeed. Disappointingly, though, the call in the article is for campaign finance reform, the change-free change that everyone pretends to agree on.

A climate jubilee would mean turning things off, reducing the work day, creating a living wage, debt abolition, land redistribution and sustainable agriculture. It’s not going to happen, you say. The same thing was said about the Rolling Jubilee. Let’s start to ask the more interesting question: how do we make it happen, 99% to 99%?


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.


Gender and Democracy After Sandy

How do we now adapt to the climate-changed world that Sandy has woken us up to? Do we continue to militarize the world and talk of “hard” or “soft” options, in a country where hard means tough means masculine means good? And crucially who gets to decide? Early signs are troubling.

Rockaways one week after.

Since the storm swept into New York City, a long-frustrated lobby for the construction of a sea-barrier has seen its chance. Touting the $10 billion cost against the $50 billion the storm has supposedly cost, the barrier is presented as a “hard” option that will keep the water out. Except that it will do nothing for the barrier islands that suffered most. And if sea level rise is anything like what has been predicted, then even these barriers will be over-topped if and when a full-blown hurricane hits the region.

Alternatives have been proposed, such as the restoration of wetlands, the natural barrier to storms. We might try and restore shellfish like oysters to New York Harbor, where they used to grow in their millions, as a form of living reef. We can soften the waterfront with wetter and more absorptive environments. And we might have to stop living on the barrier islands, at least on a permanent year-round basis. That might make for cleaner water and beaches.

According to a widely-quoted geologist named Robert Young, however, in the United States:

Retreat is a dirty word.

Why designate a sensible life-protecting and ecological decision as a retreat? Why make the urban decision into a war?

In a long piece in today’s New York Times, the architecture critic Michael Kimmelman offers storm-destroyed communities a choice of futures but also unspecified responsibilities. It’s hard to see what this means in practice, as the costs involved in restoring services and roads are far beyond the reach of increases in local taxation, which is what I take “responsibilities” to mean.

As he thinks this through, Kimmelman gets more and more concerned. He starts thinking about Robert Moses, whose brutalizing pro-auto policies did so much to damage New York and against whom Jane Jacobs campaigned. Kimmelman notes:

His biographer Robert Caro wrote in the 1970s that Moses “bent the democratic processes of the city to his own ends to build public works,” albeit “left to themselves, these processes proved unequal to the building required.”

“The problem of constructing large-scale public works in a crowded urban setting,” Mr. Caro added, “is one which democracy has not yet solved.”

And it still hasn’t.

And out of the eye of the storm, which we were told so often did not discriminate, returns the spectre of Plato and his hatred of democracy.

In fact, the storm has mixed things up in an interesting way. Occupiers have been in discussion with cops and firefighters in Staten Island. National Guard have worked alongside community groups and FEMA has been notably receptive to comment. A democracy is happening. People haven’t had time to get to what’s next. I’ve heard every kind of idea from rebuild to retire or restart the urban idea altogether. There’s no consensus yet. Anyone looked at our supposed leaders, unable to agree on what day it is?

And yet for some, the new normal is just like the old normal, the white guys get to call the shots, pretend its a war and declare themselves winners. What do you expect from a country that still has gladiators?


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.



Back to the Autocracy of Austerity

The post-Sandy crisis can be understood as an intensification of austerity. The result of the storm has been to render New York into a version of Madrid or Athens (with no disrespect to the citizens of those great cities). Increasingly, debt is the means of eliminating what little democracy there is within the representative system, even more than it is the agent of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.” What Europe has discovered is that you can’t vote out the debt system. Call it the autocracy of austerity.

And so, we kept the insane misogynists and climate deniers out, which was a necessary and good thing to do. But after the consultation with the state of Ohio as to who is in charge of austerity, the US establishment has returned to its favorite game of cutting benefits and programs to service sovereign debt, as if no interruption had occurred. In Athens yesterday, yet more cuts were voted in against the popular will. The European and Mediterranean social movements are unifying around a platform of resistance. We should join them: ¡No Debemos, no pagamos!

Today in New York: 15,000 school children sat in buildings without heat in 40 degree weather. Gas was rationed, because even though the entire planet is run for the benefit of the fossil fuel companies, they can’t get it together to deliver their product. Only 25% of the city’s gas stations are open in the largest city in America. 100 city housing projects out of a total of 400 still have no power. Up to 40,000 are homeless. FEMA is currently proposing to pay for only 75% of storm-related damage to utilities, leaving householders to make up the rest on increased bills. And on and on.

Athens 11 7 12

In Greece yesterday, the Troika got their tame coalition to pass tax increases, cuts in benefits and so-called “labor reforms,” meaning a reduction in workers’ rights. The Greek left, which is now working together in a bloc, reacted furiously calling a two-day general strike and Athens became a battleground. I wonder which US manufacturer made the tear gas?

Across Europe, this policy of co-ordinated resistance is growing. There will be a general strike across national borders on November 14. At the 99 Agora meeting held in Madrid from November 1-4, the conclusion was clear:

Debt is the major domination tool of the system.

This key axiom was developed into a statement as follows [translation slightly modified]:

Lack of democracy in Europe has allowed that, under the threat of debt, people’s basic rights are being violated. We denounce the agents responsible for emptying democratic institutions of popular sovereignty. We point to transnational corporations, especially international banks, for grabbing wealth through the payment of interest and the privatization of public companies in strategic sectors.

We already know that government debt was not acquired for the benefit of the people. We therefore consider it illegitimate debt and will not pay. The link between debt, austerity and privatization 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. We call on social movements working on protection of these rights to coordinate protest actions and build alternatives together.

We know that the EU economic policies being implemented are not intended to improve the welfare of the people, neither in mid or long term, and we look at our sisters in the South, whose suffering must serve as a lesson.

Debt abolition requires transnational popular mobilization around a common agenda, just as capital has its transnational agenda. 99 Agora proposed an international agenda of action, education and networking. It’ll be developed in Florence in the days to come at the Firenze 10+10 conference. A calendar of days of action has been suggested, from the G8 meeting in London to the World Social Forum in Tunisia.

In this country, Strike Debt affiliates are active nationwide and the People’s Bailout is almost here. Small traces of resistance against the behemoth of global capital: yes. Isolated and without possible future: no.

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.



Are We Awake Yet?

For many years we have been living in a dream. In that dream, we have been told there is no alternative to the financialization of everything; that shareholder returns and growth were more important than considerations like sustainability or resilience; and that climate change was a long term issue or not true. In the dream, we didn’t agree but we couldn’t seem to disagree. Are we awake yet?

It’s been known for some time that New York was a hurricane disaster waiting to happen. Now that it has happened the response has been so familiar. Too slow from officials, except where wealth is concentrated. Amazing from individuals and organizations locally, wherever there is need. The trick this time is to make sure that the energy and connectedness does not dissipate once the dryout is over and the power is back on. It’s still too soon to say we woke up but we are waking.

Here was one of the many wake up calls. It came last February from Nature, the top science journal, written by MIT and Princeton scientists:

NYC is highly vulnerable to storm surges. We show that the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs [Global Climate Model] show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1 m SLR may cause the present NYC 100-yr surge flooding to occur every 3–20 yr and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25–240 yr by the end of the century.

Like I’ve been saying, like so many climate Cassandras have been saying, but with the data for New York, what just happened can happen every three years or so now. It might not happen for another 20. But they are using a very conservative model of sea-level rise. And you might have heard, the Greenland ice sheet melted over 90% of its surface this year, which is the primary source for sea-level rise.

Courtesy Occupy Sandy

Signs that perhaps we are now waking up: the amazing and beautiful response to people’s need in NYC. I was down at the Occupy Sandy center in Brooklyn today at 520 Clinton Avenue, just off Atlantic near the Barclays Center. Special needs for:

  • heavy outdoor cleaning stuff and contractor-style clean up bags
  • diapers, wipes and all infant stuff/twine, rope and other such.

Open tomorrow, closes at 4pm). There was just a torrent of people volunteering and bringing the things needed. They have so many clothes they don’t need any more.

As I walked back over this evening, I saw a smaller, although decent sized, group of people doing a call center for Obama. In 2008, those centers were so packed you could hardly get in or find something to do. That’s exactly how the mutual aid project was today, perhaps some of the same people. Many were young but people with vehicles were at a premium to get out to the Rockaways and Staten Island.

Back in the day in the park, Occupy became NYC social services, providing food, clothing and bedding for those who had nothing. It’s happened again and it shows that there really is something to be said for the idea that Occupy is in itself a disaster response, as Rebecca Solnit has suggested. Its issue last time was how to connect to communities. Done this time. Now how do we build that?

Sign number two: people don’t want the financialized “aid” being offered by FEMA, a.k.a. more loans. In Red Hook last night, CNN reports that local businesses had no use for the long-term 4-8% loans being touted by FEMA:

“Most of us are deeply overextended as it is,” said Monica Byrne, the co-owner of local restaurant Home/Made. “We’re all shut down. We have staff we can’t pay. We really need some support that’s not about loans.

Because loans require repayments, and an 8% interest rate is a lot, as any student can tell you. Federal loans can’t be bankrupted or negotiated. It’s time for debt abolition after Sandy.

Although we’re not going to be able to target individual loans because of the weird way the defaulted debt market works, The People’s Bailout will do just that: buy medical and educational debt that people have had to default and abolish it. Please come! The financialized world is broken. The future is ours together: we are drowning in debt and we need to bail each other out, just as we are rescuing each other from the storm.


Touring the Zone

This is my diary of touring the disaster zone yesterday (November 3) that I could not post because of continued Internet outage in Manhattan. I traveled across Connecticut, Long Island and Manhattan. Here’s the diary:

Left Connecticut early this morning and saw man electric utility trucks from Detroit on I95. Ironic, that a city famed for being ruined is in a position to help us out. The ferry to Long Island was mostly carrying tree and garden company vans. When we got over there, you could easily see why. Trees and plants are down everywhere, in wild tangles with phone, cable and electricity cables, which hang heavily from the utility poles here, like over-ripe fruit. All the Internet, HD cable, fax machines and the other wired devices of our time have been suspended above the streets on these poles, waiting for a wind to blow them down. Sandy obliged, just like Irene before her. The hurricane swung right around New York City and landed a haymaker on Long Island.

At our own little house, a hundred-year oak had split down the middle and blown against the way its branches used to hang right onto the house. This bad luck was offset by the fact that a huge oak branch that snapped off at the front of the house blew clean away from it and landed harmlessly in the bushes. The tree at the back gave the house a thump, cracked the sheetrock and some rafters but the wooden frame absorbed the shock. We’re looking at persuading the insurance to pay–and talk to people from New Orleans about that–or a FEMA loan. Whatever happens, it’s more debt, as the insurance never fully covers it. Others were not so lucky. There are apparently over 100,000 buildings severely damaged or destroyed on the island. So no complaints.

As we drove back to NYC, the trail of damage was palpable. Human needs were most visible for gasoline. As has been widely reported, there were very long queues, including hundreds at one station trying to fill gas cans to keep generators running. Police were out to keep crowds under control. The irony that the one product that’s done more than any other to cause all this should be in short supply is palpable. Even more, between the generators, the leaf blowers and the wood chippers, and all the other improvised means of staying warm, keeping things frozen and so on, Long Island has used its carbon emissions for years to come.

Back in the city, recovery was underway in Manhattan, despite the still visible signs of duress downtown. The lobby of our building was filled with bottles of water and Meals Ready to Eat, the rations issued to military personnel in the field. Apparently our local Congress person Jerry Nadler had them delivered by the Navy. Where, we might ask, were our wealthy landlords NYU in all this?

The Ramones “Rockaway Beach”

We have power but no Internet/phone/TV like many others. Looking at the devastation in the Rockaways, it’s no hardship. When I was about fifteen I loved the Ramones song “Rockaway Beach.” To me in London,it seemed brilliantly inventive to imagine a beach called Rockaway, setting up the chorus “Rock-Rock-Rockaway Beach.” I was even more delighted to realize some time in the late ’90s that the beach was real. Maybe not so much any more.