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Elephant in the Room

In my recent blog post Weather Report, I wrote that climate change is upon us. We have to admit it, face it and take it on. One person who commented asked what that meant. Another asked how do we deal with climate scientists who are convinced that catastrophic outcomes, including human extinction, are now inevitable.

I reject the word “inevitable.” We have entered uncharted climate territory. We can’t be certain of the projections made even by the best science-based models because the circumstances are unprecedented. However, so far, their projections have been nearly on target.

Although not certain, we have to start by admitting that the window for preventing globe-spanning, climate change-generated, catastrophe is at best, almost closed. Many scientists already know this, but are too distressed to speak it. It is very hard to admit that our civilization will collapse within the lifetimes of children alive today. It is close to unbearable, so we continue as if it is not about to happen.

This raises extremely difficult questions. How to maintain hope and carry on when faced with the near certainty of disaster? How can we maximize the likelihood of increasing the small chance we have of avoiding the worst case scenario?

We must also face that our current economic system is the driving force behind the growing climate chaos. International neoliberal capitalism and the current set of world leaders will only make matters worse. Their priorities are slamming the window shut. An answer to the second question is to defang them as quickly as possible.

Many in leadership positions of organizations fighting climate change avoid facing it by downplaying how dire it is. After all, energetic mass action presents the only glimmer of hope and leaders fear the truth will cause people to give up. But how can a movement succeed if it sugarcoats the truth? A realistic assessment of the situation gives us a better chance than wishful thinking. That’s why I ended Weather Report by writing, “Humanity, Redwings and fruit blossoms are all worth fighting for no matter the final outcome.” We need to tell it like it is AND STILL refuse to go quietly into the night.

How do we take it on? We must make strategic attacks against the fossil fuel industry, their symbiotic relationship with the military industrial complex, and runaway consumerism. How we act as individuals depends upon our capabilities. Some will put their bodies on the line, others will write and talk. Some will do a lot, others less. But the more people who do something based upon an informed understanding of the situation, the better.

We must do more than attack. We must also promote a way to live in tune with the planet. If our only chance of survival is to engineer a worldwide shift to societies organized around, equalitarianism, cooperation and sustainability, then we must articulate that. The fact that it doesn’t appear politically feasible is irrelevant if natural reality commands that this is our only chance.

It is probably too late, but since we don’t know everything, we might have a little more time, or we’ve missed a factor or an invention will give us breathing space. Slim reeds, but hopeless passivity guarantees disaster. Finally, I admit that even if I thought it was hopeless, I am of, by and for life on earth, and will never give up advocating for its survival. Read More 
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Strange Fruit for Young Readers

Being a son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg presented challenges when I became a parent. My wife Elli and I decided not to hide my parents’ story from our children. When our daughters were young, we were in the midst of what we called “the reopening effort,” so my parents’ case was in the news. We didn’t sit our kids down to discuss it formally; we talked about what was going on over dinner, just as we commented on other news. It worked out. My kids say they can no more remember when they learned about their grandparents than they can tell you when they first knew their own names. It was who they were, rather than a deep, dark secret.

Our daughter Rachel acted similarly with her children. In response to a question from our granddaughter when she was five, Elli wrote a picture book for Josie titled A Girl Named Ethel. An age-appropriate book about her great-grandmother seemed a good way to provide information. Now that Josie’s younger brother Abel is four, I hope he’ll be interested as well.

But we had another family challenge of a somewhat similar nature. My adoptive father, Abel Meeropol, wrote the words and music to what became Billie Holiday’s signature song, Strange Fruit. When I was growing up, Abel and I never talked about the powerfully evocative words and haunting music of his anti-lynching anthem. I didn’t fully understand the song’s meaning until I was a young adult. Abel died 30 years ago, and I still regret not talking more with him about this.

Today, Strange Fruit is everywhere. It is intimately connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, covered by dozens of singers, performed live in theater productions nationally, and played on television and in movies. There are dances, exhibits and books based upon it. How do you explain the brutal meaning and power of this song to children?

Gary Golio’s new book, Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, takes this challenge on and nails it. Gary is a noted children’s book author. He has a Masters Degree in Social Work and has worked as a child therapist. I had the opportunity to talk with the author as he was writing the book and am pleased with his accomplishment.

The book is written for 8 to 12-year-olds, and is gorgeously illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. It confronts segregation, racism, censorship, lynching and resistance in a sensitive manner that most “tweens” can digest. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus gave it “starred” reviews. The Kirkus review concludes: “A must-read, must-discuss that will speak to children and linger with adults.” With racism running rampant, this book will make a valuable addition to any child’s library.

Gary told me, before the book came out, that he thought it would not be too intense for my granddaughter. Josie doesn’t have a copy yet because I’m planning to make it a birthday present when she turns nine at the end of the month. I may have to wait a couple of years to read it to Abel, but I’m already looking forward to sharing his great-grandfather’s work with his namesake.  Read More 
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Weather Report

Last week most of the East Coast had an extraordinary warm spell. In interior Southern New England, we had four very warm days in a row. On Feb 23 and 24 it reached 72 degrees at our local official recording station, the highest temperatures ever recorded here in the month of February. The spell broke on the evening of the 25th with a tornado in the Berkshires. Unbelievable, a tornado in the hills of Western Massachusetts in February. I wouldn’t be surprised if that has not happened in hundreds of thousands of years.

We opened windows at our house because the outside temperature was warmer than the air inside. But it wasn't only humans who reacted to the freakish weather. A flock of Red-wing Blackbirds descended on my backyard bird feeders. Since Robins now are year-round residents in our area, the Red-wing’s arrival has become the new harbinger of spring. Usually they show up at the end of March, but not this year. A few flies and other insects were also out and about.

I know the difference between weather (the conditions at any given place at a given time) and climate (the range of conditions you can expect in your region over an annual cycle). No single weather event proves climate change, let alone the extent of that change. But this year’s winter season, sprinkled throughout with region-wide record warmth, appears to be a preview of what will become common in the near future.

This year’s winter at my house was milder than those I experienced as a teenager in the New York City area. I know this is true because I kept daily weather records for many years. This winter’s local climate approximated that found in the Washington, DC area in the 1960’s. That’s a 400 mile shift northward in 50 years. Intellectually, we can extrapolate that another 50 years (years we hope today’s children will live to see), and factor in the accelerating rate of change, but can we wrap our brains around a Florida-like winter in New England by 2067?

Our concerns should be even more immediate. New England is still subject to polar out-breaks. It can be warmer than average most of the time, but we remain vulnerable to short, but brutal, cold-snaps. We face unusual warmth, coupled with more erratic conditions. For instance, last winter was also very mild. It featured an early spring, but an April cold-snap destroyed the region’s peach crop because it killed the blossoms that had opened too early. I hope the premature return of the Red-wings does not mean their fledgelings will be born too soon and suffer a similar fate this spring.

Scientists have been saying for decades that we are running out of time. That has happened. Four beautifully warm days in February may seem benign (except for the tornado), but they are a sign that climate chaos is upon us. We have to admit it, face it and take it on. Humanity, Red-wings and fruit blossoms are all worth fighting for no matter the final outcome.  Read More 
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