Climate Change and the Sleeping Point

Remember that old saw about investing? An investor confesses to a millionaire that his investments are keeping him awake at night and he’s told to “sell down to the sleeping point.” Well, lately—for the past nine months or so—climate change has me awake at night. I am not sure why and it’s a frustrating problem. After all, I have no expertise at all that can help prevent the next superstorm or reduce carbon emissions.

Still, every time someone says, “Boy, it’s such a hot summer!” or “Wow, I have never seen the river so low,” I feel a tightness in my gut that doesn’t go away. I am worried and I am not sure what to do. I know that my lying awake for hours doesn’t actually reduce my consumption of fossil fuel nor does it move us closer to being prepared for the next disaster.

Sandy and its aftermath have only made that anxiety worse. For my own mental health, then, I signed up for updates at Bill McKibben’s 350.org and was momentarily cheered by the sense, there, that there is some hope for our poor, bruised and ailing planet.

But last night’s cri de coeur had me writing to my legislators. I’m worried that New Jersey in particular is not thinking about rebuilding in the best way. Doing this, I hope, might help me feel like I’ve done my bit this month and I can get back to the sleeping point.

It’s not the greatest document I’ve ever penned, but here it is. And, since this is the 21st century, I made it into a petition at change.org. Here it is:

As the state continues to move toward recovery from Superstorm Sandy, I am writing to urge you to include action on climate change in plans for rebuilding.

Like many New Jersey residents, I am grieving for all the state lost. But we cannot rebuild without rethinking.

I am alarmed to hear that the state government has waived permitting requirements, “allowing for the immediate reconstruction of the same public infrastructure that failed during Sandy” (WNYC.org) and “The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has waived permitting requirements for the next six months for public infrastructure damaged during the storm” (WNYC.org).

I understand the desire to get back to normal: I was impatient when my train line from South Orange to New York was inaccessible. However, when every passing storm brings down overhead wires and a major storm takes train lines out for weeks, it is clear that we need to take serious preventive action to secure our transportation and infrastructure against next year’s storm.

Waiving an already imperfect permitting process is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing. Instead, we should be rewarding districts and municipalities for planning against future storms by thinking about how to prevent such damage next time.

Moreover, we need to encourage individuals and corporations to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel so that we stand a chance of slowing, if not reversing, the alarming rate of global warming.

Former New Jersey Governors Florio and Kean have called for a kind of “Marshall Plan” for rebuilding New Jersey, a plan that would look to global leaders in engineering, design, and architecture, consulting with them on how best to restore our coastline, protect our power, and strengthen our transportation networks. Two great New Jersey universities, Rutgers and Princeton, already have climate change institutes that can serve as resources for all who need to rebuild and plan.

If we don’t take careful action, both to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and to rebuild in ways that protect us from the next storm (burying power lines, trimming trees, strengthening incentives for those who reduce carbon emissions, securing and expanding our transportation and power infrastructure), we will not only be grieving again next year, but we will be billions more in the hole from foolish, hasty projects.

Please provide incentives for smart rebuilding and prevention. We cannot afford to be stupid about this.

Maybe you want to sign this and pass it on?