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Notes from a Small Planet, May 25th: The Tornado and the Children

Basia Yoffe
May 24, 2013

by Basia Yoffe

AfricaIN MAY OF 1999, I received a "get well" card from my nephew as I lay in bed recovering from being hit by a car. He lived in Moore, Oklahoma at the time, and he described it as a quiet town where not much happened. The day I received that card, the New York Times had a picture of Moore, Oklahoma devastated by a tornado. Apparently, my nephew had forgotten to spit three times before writing his message.

Thirty-six people were killed by tornadoes across the state of Oklahoma fourteen years ago this month, according to the Tulsa World. This blog post is dedicated to them, and to the twenty-four people who died this week, including two infants and the seven school children whose Plaza Towers Elementary School did not have a safe room or storm shelter. The victims of 1999 would have been honored if their deaths had inspired storm shelters for schools. (The town had also suffered tornadoes in 2003.)

We have clearly entered the age of climate turmoil, and it is a moral imperative that we prepare for and make efforts to mitigate climate change. My first blog post mentioned the connection between climate change and extreme weather — which displaced more than 32 million worldwide last year, with India, Nigeria, and other parts of west and central Africa enduring the worst of it. It should be noted that the link between tornadoes and climate change is not as clear as with other extreme weather events. However, it is a link that should not be ignored while exploring the reasons for increased tornado activity since 1950. Joe Romm’s ThinkProgress blog covers this in detail.

tornado2The data does clearly show tornado activity increasing. If Oklahoma can provide $200 million in tax breaks for energy companies, it can build storm shelters to protect its children! Blogger "Manny Shewitz" writes: "Certainly Oklahoma, which boasts the 5th largest oil production in the United States, could afford to do it... there’s no excuse why they couldn’t supply every school and government building with a shelter that could survive the worst of twisters. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that lobbyist money has bought and paid for legislators who will advance the profits of the 1 percent over the lives of the residents of Oklahoma and their children. Forcing these companies off corporate welfare isn’t going to cause them to pack up and leave. You can’t pick up an oil field and move it to a state with a lower tax rate."

Dan Sieradski of Occupy Judaism extends the criticism to U.S. Senators James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans — as well as one of their major Jewish funders: "Jewish philanthropist, Oklahoma resident and hydrofracking empire heiress Lynn Schusterman gave the maximum to James Inhofe in the last cycle, and Tom Coburn the cycle before that," Sieradski writes.

Inhofe and Coburn are among the leading climate change deniers in the Senate. They are also both staunch opponents of disaster relief funding, and Coburn's office has already confirmed he won't approve any relief to his own state without cuts to the budget elsewhere. Rest assured that money won't come from oil industry subsidies but from education and social service spending. Schusterman is also the primary funder of Repair the World (where I worked from 2009-2011), which first thing tomorrow will snap into action trying to mobilize American Jews to volunteer to undo the damage her industry and her personal campaign spending has inflicted. Is there not something severely wrong with this picture?

Global climate change is happening and 97 percent of scientists think that we are the cause. Click here for a great and witty resource with which to educate yourself about climate change and be able to take on the arguments of climate deniers.

Basia Yoffe conducts the "Notes from a Small Planet" column in Jewish Currents and is a member of our magazine's editorial board.