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Notes from a Small Planet: April 17th

Basia Yoffe
April 16, 2013

Africaby Basia Yoffe

TRUTH HAS POWER. This is especially so when it is difficult but necessary for us to be told, to hear it, to understand it.

Unfortunately, the truth about Climate Change has largely been missing from the pronouncements of the Obama Administration. Truth about Climate Change has, in fact, generally not been enunciated by prominent politicians, at least until New York Governor Cuomo began to use those words, “Climate Change,” in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Cuomo was soon followed by New York City Mayor Bloomberg. But from the Obama Administration, there is still little heard.

This causes me to be plagued by self-doubt. If Climate Change is the global crisis that all of my research for the past four years indicates it to be, why is not there more coverage of it in the mainstream media? Why was it eerily absent from the presidential debates? Why do environmental groups even seem to not have a sense of urgency?

This question was answered in a 2012 Guardian article by Suzanne Goldenberg. In March of 2009, she writes, in the middle of the financial industry's meltdown, environmentalists were summoned to the White House and told by the president's Green Team to soft-pedal the Climate Change message. Goldbenberg quotes Betsy Taylor, an activist who attended that meeting: "With everyone struggling," Taylor said, "how do we connect with the public and build political support when everyone's mind was on the very scary economy? ... What was communicated in the presentation was: 'This is what you talk about, and don't talk about climate change. I took away an absolutely clear understanding that we should focus on clean energy jobs and the potential of a clean energy economy rather than the threat of climate change."

Bill McKibben thought this was a very bad idea. McKibben, a writer and Methodist Sunday school teacher, has been among the few people who seem to understand that telling the truth about the Earth being in imminent danger is VERY important. Another is Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, who has been the loudest and most creative voice on climate change in the Jewish community — and has been urging his supporters to involve themselves with Bill McKibben and his organization 350.org. We should all be very grateful to these two leaders; if humanity makes it into the 22nd Century without drought, chaos, mass die-offs, and Climate-caused wars, it will be people like Waskow and McKibben who will have gotten us there by telling the truth early and loud.

Opposing heroes like them are a variety of wealthy scoundrels and their hirelings. Another Guardian article reveals that from 2002 to 2010, several billionaires funneled $120 million to more than a hundred think tanks and activist groups that have challenged the science behind Climate Change and sought to turn its reality into a "matter of opinion." Obama's muting of the Climate Change message has served to help these groups sow doubt about the urgency of the situation in the minds of the public. It is another example of how the president, rather than helping progressive activists do their work, has neutralized them with his caution.

When I was in the depths of my self-doubt I traveled to Philadelphia to visit the Wise Oracle, my father-in-law Noah Yucht. "Zayde," I asked, "what is your take on climate change?" Zayde had been well-read and aware of the world his whole life. Together with luck, which everybody needs, he was able to survive after being born a Jew in Poland in 1920. Zayde said, "Oh, it's going to be a catastrophe."

"Then what?" I asked.

"Then they will do something" he said.

Zayde died a month before hurricane Sandy. During the whole disaster, his words were ringing in my ears. The question now is: How much disaster will humanity accept before we demand action?

Links of interest:

• Bill McKibben’s latest article in Rolling Stone.

• Help us stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is important your voice is heard by the White House. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 after you send your comments and tell President Obama to act with a sense of urgency about Climate Change. You have access to the president. Why not use it?

• A 2007 study [PDF] by the Center for Strategic and International studies lays out the danger of climate change. The authors include a former CIA director. Go to page 104 to view a chart that sums it up in one page.

• A former Kinderland camper (2001-2005) reports on President Obama's plans to privatize the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). The potential for environmental disaster goes beyond what is noted by Nathan Tankus. Coal plants need to be shut down and nuclear power plants need to be phased out. That will be much more difficult to do if they are in private hands. Currently the TVA has 11 coal plants and 3 nuclear plants.

• Last year Jewcology, an online Jewish environmental resource, put together a curriculum for Jewish Environmental study. Evonne Marzouk and others do an excellent job with the website and their blog. There is also an interesting blog on renewable energy in Israel.

• Here's a video of Obama speaking about climate change on Senate floor in 2007. He clearly has understood the urgency all along. Is it leadership to wait for polling numbers to be favorable in order to act?

Basia Yoffe conducts the “Notes from a Small Planet” column in Jewish Currents and is a member of our magazine’s editorial board — and a very active activist.