Climate challenges By Shea Howell – Week 59 of the occupation

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Climate challenges

Week 59 of the occupation

May 20, 2014


sheaAs the economic, political, and media elite prepare for their annual gathering on Mackinac Island, they should stop and take a close look at the water. Coast Guard cutters only recently freed it from ice three feet deep. Tim Hygh, the Director of the Mackinac Island Convention Bureau said he had never seen anything like the ice encasing the island this winter. “Some of the locals,” he said,  “will tell you they haven’t seen anything like this since 1972.”


This extreme winter cold and snow is but one more sign that our climate is shifting. Excessive heat and drought ravage most of Africa and now Russia. California is experiencing the worst drought in 100 years and wildfires are commonplace.


The right wing ideologues, many of whom are friends and financiers of those gathering on Mackinac, still deny what many of us recognize as the most serious crisis to face any generation of human beings. We are bringing the planet to the breaking point of its capacity to sustain human life.


Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the planet is warming rapidly, that humans are primarily responsible for this, and that we are not prepared for the dire consequences.


These conclusions were echoed by the report from the Obama Administration, The National Climate Assessment, released in early May. It warns that our current energy production system depends on a stable and predictable water supply. That supply is increasing in flux, pitting demands for electricity and fuel against the water needed for irrigation and drinking.


Large coal burning and nuclear plants are especially vulnerable. Generally located on water sources for cooling, they are subject to flooding, as happened in Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun nuclear station in 2011.


Last week the Christian Science Monitor reported that our “global food system is growing more fragile.” They said volatile weather patterns threaten global food production and could reduce food production “by two percent each decade for the rest of this century.”


As the elite gather to enjoy the ample food and drink of the Mackinac Grand Hotel, they have little appreciation for the profound challenges we are facing. Their thinking about the future is as frozen as the ice around Mackinac. They imagine a future that will look much like the past.


Most of them think the recent declaration of bankruptcy and the imposition of an Emergency Manager is an opportunity for unconstrained reconstruction of the city along the lines they have long advocated. They hail the Detroit Future City report as an example of how “greening” strategies are now an accepted part of urban redevelopment.


This limited thinking mocks the seriousness of what we face.


For example, days before the National Climate Assessment was released, DTE Energy asked for a 20-year extension on the operating license for their nuclear power plant, Fermi 2 in Monroe. This would allow the plant to operate until 2045. Supporters of the move say this is just “procedural” and will position the plant to continue to operate until it is 60 years old.


Fermi 2 is the same model plant Japan’s Fukushima plant that was devastated following the earthquake. Critics call it a plant with a “dismal safety record.”


Joining DTE on Mackinac will be the recipients the Detroit Free Press Michigan Green Leader Awards. The Free Press handed out these awards to demonstrate “the importance of environmentally sound approaches in turning around a distressed city.”


One of the recipients was John Hantz. The Free Press said he shows the way to “repurpose Detroit’s vacant districts.” Hantz’s controversial development depended on getting land from the city at bargain basement prices. He used the guise of urban agriculture to increase land scarcity and speculation.


These are not the strategies and values for creating a sustainable future.