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This Juneteenth

By Lydia Holt 

You can’t talk about Juneteenth without first talking about the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln was primarily looking to “stick it” to the South by signing this document. It proclaimed all slaves in the rebelling states free. Read more...

Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Government's Response

By Sheryl Wright

Bradley Manning, the army private accused of releasing government documents to WikiLeaks, is facing 22 additional charges, including "aiding the enemy...through indirect means.” I agree with those quoted in the article who believe that this particular charge is setting up a dangerous precedent.

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Roundtable: America—Sweden’s Sweatshop

Sheryl: In a bit of irony, the U.S. is developing an unexpected reputation within the corporate world. Recent stories about an Ikea plant in Virginia indicate the United States—much like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Honduras—is now seen as a preferred destination for corporations in search of lower production costs. Read more...

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Entries in climate change (1)

Sunday
Nov042012

Climate Change: One Disaster at a Time

 

Hess Station on 4th Ave between Union and Sackett, Brookly, NY. Craig Ruttle/AP PhotoBy Lucinda Holt 

The Pickaninnies in the Northeast weathered Hurricane Sandy—the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. When I say “weathered,” I mean some of us were hold up inside, while heavy rains and winds up to 80 miles per hour raged outside. We then spent days without power, Internet or other modern-day amenities. I feel lucky to have spent a few nights without power, having long conversations with my seven-year-old daughter and reading with her by candlelight. There was a pleasant simplicity to those days without power that we seldom experience in our modern lives. All in all, the storm could have been much worse for us, and I get that we were very fortunate, especially when I see and hear the stories of devastation caused by downed trees and flooding. 

 I was one of the lucky ones; I experienced none of the loss that so many people are reeling from. But in the days following the storm, I experienced a kind of scarcity that I have only known from images flickering across a screen. I don’t mean the dire scarcity of waiting for hours or days for U.N. trucks to deliver food, but a 70s style gas scarcity. Until I’d spent hours and hours and hours waiting for gasoline post-Hurricane Sandy, scarcity had just been an abstraction to me. This experience has given me an unsettling glimpse of the future—a future where “once in a century” storms come more and more frequently and we end up dealing with this kind of destruction and lack more and more often.

Scarcity in the Land of Plenty

My quest for gas started when the quarter of a tank of gas in my compact car, which can get just about 40 miles per gallon on the highway, only went so far after Hurricane Sandy. My car sips gas! But by the time I had driven around looking for some place with power to charge my phone and computer and then driven from New Jersey to New York to be surrounded by the love and comfort of my Brooklyn crew, my gas gauge was on empty. Normally this wouldn't have been a cause for alarm, but there was no gas to be found.

All but two gas stations I passed were closed. The two gas stations that were open had lines that seemed to be a mile long. I thought hopefully to myself, By the time we get to Brooklyn, we’ll be able to find gas. Once in Brooklyn, I didn’t see one open gas station. Orange cones sat in front of pumps, and yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape roped off the periphery of gas station after gas station. 

I heard from several people that by Sunday things should be back to normal in terms of getting gas. Someone else said, “Well, this isn’t really about a shortage. There’s plenty of gas, but they couldn’t get the gas here during the hurricane with the harbors closed.” Yes, and yes, but the fact that there is plenty of gas waiting to get into a New Jersey harbor didn't change the fact that so little of it was at the pumps. 

I did eventually find an open Hess station in my sister's neighborhood in Brooklyn. Gas was flowing again! I decided then that I would come back later when the lines had died down. On Friday at 4 a.m., I couldn't sleep and had the brilliant idea to go get gas, assuming the line would be shorter. With my gas gauge on E and that glowing, angry orange gas-pump icon telling me I had a limited number of miles to drive, I drove by the Hess station. It was already packed, which seemed like a good sign. People were getting gas, and I wanted to be one of those people. I drove down in search of the end of the line of cars leading to the gas station. Google Maps told me the distance from the end of the line to the gas station was .7 miles to be precise. 

I didn’t have anything else to do at 4:30 a.m. in the morning, so I parked behind the last car in the line. Every 10 to 20 minutes, we would all start up our cars and drive 10 feet. That’s how quickly the line was moving. By the time I was two blocks from the gas station, one of those little police vehicles came down the line, stopping briefly to tell each driver something. When I rolled my window down, the officer stopped just long enough to say, “They’ve run out of gas.” It was 8:45 a.m. I was exhausted. My little car was going to run out of gas, and I was ready to cry. 

Three Cheers for Gas

After dinner on Friday, my sister and I went back to the Hess station to find out when they were expecting the next tanker full of gasoline. Two hours. That's what the the sign on the gas station's convenience store window said. According to some people waiting with their empty plastic gasoline containers, the sign had been up for an hour, and the woman in the convenience store said she had spoken with the driver of the tanker and he was on his way from New Jersey. This made me hopeful. 

The line of people waiting was shorter than the car line. Knowing that standing in line to get gas in a container would be my best bet, I parked near the gas station. I could wait an hour in a line in 44-degree temperatures for a tanker to arrive. I could wait however long it took to move up the line and fill a container with five gallons of gas. I’d done it before and had to do it again. Besides, this line of a hundred people seemed more manageable than the line I'd waited in earlier that morning.

It was a long few hours, chatting with strangers, exchanging stories and moving around to stay warm. By 9:30 p.m. we heard police sirens. New York’s finest barreled into the gas station, escorting the first of three fuel tankers that showed up that night. The line of people erupted into cheers as the tanker pulled into the gas station. When the truck driver got out, you would have thought he had come to personally pump gas into our cars the way we screamed and clapped for him. 

I was at a gas station cheering for a tanker of gasoline—a tanker full of the same fossil fuels responsible for warming temperatures and more powerful hurricanes later in the year. The irony of cheering for gasoline was not lost on me, but I cheered with the best of them. By 3 a.m., I had gotten gas and filled my car with five gallons of gas. 

Voting for a Hospitable Planet

As I type this with the smell of gas wafting up from my hands that I’ve washed over and over and over again and the fatigue of a combined 12 hours spent waiting for gas, I am clear that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is just a taste of what the future might look like if we don’t change course now. It's one thing to spend time feeling bad about deforestation or polar bears swimming for miles and miles because the ice caps are melting, and quite another to realize that “saving the planet” isn’t about saving Mother Earth. The planet will be fine if massive hurricanes rage or sea levels rise significantly. The Earth will go on, but we are the ones who suffer in great and small ways when every year there is a “storm of the century” and severe drought affects 80 percent of the country. The apocalypse the world has been expecting for millennia may not be one global event, but the accretion of one massive disaster after another—tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, drought.

On Tuesday, I’ll be voting for Barack Obama—the man who announced new stricter fuel efficiency standards back in August. By 2025, cars are supposed to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon. This is a step in the right direction when it comes to reducing fuel emissions, but it’s not nearly as ambitious as standards in other countries. But I can’t expect President Obama to wave his magic wand and fix everything. It’s taken a long time for us to warm up the climate, and it will take some time—which we don’t have much of—and concerted effort on all of our parts to reduce the gases that contribute to climate change. If we’re lucky, we’ll have an opportunity to hold our dear president’s and Congress’ feet to the fire and push them all to make significant changes—changes that can make the Earth a more liveable and verdant place for our children and future generations.