Robert Meeropol

Robby, Abel, Michael and trains

my perennial chaos

"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

Robby and Cory work on the blog.

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Should Have Been Snow

January 20, 2016

Tags: January rain, climate change

Weather forecasters are all a-dither about the “massive” snowstorm predicted for the Northeast this Saturday. Actually, one group of predictive models indicates the storm will pass far enough south to spare much of Southern New England, while a second model predicts it will wallop the entire region. Naturally, the media is hyping the latter, but as I write this it is even possible that for us it could blow harmlessly out to sea.

If the brewing storm strikes, it really should be the second of a one-two punch. That’s because last weekend’s rainstorm should have been a snowstorm. For those unfamiliar with Southern New England weather, we get lots of snow, but also plenty of rain in January. A rainstorm at my house at this time of year is far from extraordinary. To oversimplify the situation, that is because storm centers either pass to the north or south of us. If the center passes to our north, the counter-clockwise winds that circulate around low pressure draw warmer wet air from the Altantic over our region resulting in rain. When the center passes to the south, as in the classic Nor’easter, the same circulation draws in colder air from the Gulf of Maine and Quebec. In mid-winter this causes snowstorms.

In over fifty years of following weather, this is the first time I’ve seen what just happened late last week. A powerful storm developed off the mid Atlantic Coast and the storm center passed to the south of us. The winds shifted to the Northeast and North, but rain, not snow, fell the entire time. That’s because the temperatures over land were so mild and the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine was unusually warm. In fact, the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean is now 6 degrees warmer than it usually is at this time of year. I can’t imagine the amount of additional energy that has to be absorbed by sea waters to elevate the temperature that much over a thousand-mile stretch of ocean. That is a sobering indicator of global warming induced climate change.

Twenty, even ten years ago, what happened last weekend would have buried my house under a foot or more of snow. Now, we’d be bracing for another foot or two on top of that. Dealing with it would be rough, but such double-barreled snow dumps happen around here most winters, so we know how to cope.

Whenever such storms hit, they are a giant pain in the ass and last weekend’s rainstorm was easier to deal with than snow would have been. But as a weather nerd who understands its implications for our future, I find last weekend’s cold nasty rain much more worrisome than a massive snowstorm on the horizon.

Climate Change: Adaptation or Prevention

October 21, 2013

Tags: climate change, global warming, class, climate justice conference

Elli and I attended the Western Massachusetts Climate Justice Conference last month. It was designed to bridge the class divide between those working to stop global warming, and those struggling for economic justice. I was impressed with the age, race and class diversity of the more than 250 participants who included both middle-class professionals and college students who live in the smaller towns of our area, and poorer people, many of color, concentrated in the cities of Springfield and Holyoke. It was a very encouraging start to what hopefully will be a region-wide alliance of people who realize that health, environment, climate and economic justice are inextricably entwined.

But bridging class and race gaps is neither simple nor easy. Before the conference one of the organizers contacted the director of a local group that is focused on protecting the water quality of the Connecticut River. The organizer wanted to discuss participation in the conference. She was told that this group had decided not to work on issues around preventing climate change, but instead would focus their energies on mitigating the damage caused by - and adapting to - global warming.

It turns out that the Keystone Pipeline’s owner, TransCanada, provides some of that group’s funds. I don’t know how much impact this funding has had on the organization’s decision not to work directly against climate change, but I’m concerned that this environmental group is avoiding work on climate change prevention because it would force them to take a strong position against the pipeline.

This interaction got me thinking more generally about climate change “prevention” strategies verses “mitigation” or “adaptation.” (Perhaps “adaptation” is a better word than “mitigation.” The latter is ambiguous. Efforts focused on mitigating global warming can contribute to its prevention, but efforts designed only to lessen the damage merely try to adjust to climate change.)

There is a strong class bias built into strategies that primarily promote adaptation. Adaptation is expensive. The Netherlands is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Much of their country lies below sea level and global warming is causing sea level to rise. They have committed to spending 140 billion dollars to raise the gargantuan levies that protect them. Many millions more are threatened by rising sea levels in Bangladesh, but they can’t afford such public works. That nation’s entire Gross Domestic Product in 2012 was only 115.6 billion dollars.

Those of us who live in wealthier communities have more resources to help us adapt: to clean up rivers or toxic waste sites or set aside nature preserves. But adaptation is at best a short term and piece-meal approach. It will protect some people and some resources, but it is more likely to bypass the most vulnerable, and will never solve a planetary problem. This is not to say we should ignore the threats to residents of the Netherlands, Bangladesh, or Staten Island for that matter, but efforts to protect them must complement rather than compete with prevention work.

We’ve reached the point where we must always take the big picture into account. To adjust the phrase, we must act both locally and globally. And that means, among other things, that overcoming our class differences has become essential. That’s why the Springfield Conference was so important.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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