Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
McKibben and his crew at the tour's Seattle stop last night.
If there's any good to come out of Hurricane Sandy, it could be that the storm provided a platform for several big-name politicians—Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, and as of Tuesday night President Obama—to finally connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change. But although the polls show extreme weather to be a top motivator for getting folks interested in climate change, the challenge for activists is always how to convert short-term interest in a particular disaster into long-term awareness.
This week environmental activist and author Bill McKibben has set out to do just that, with a wide-ranging bus tour that seeks to use Sandy as fresh ammunition in an ongoing fusillade against Big Oil, principally by urging individuals, universities, and governments to divest from fossil fuel companies.
"I'm as hopeful as I've felt in 25 years of working on climate change," McKibben said Thursday morning from his narrow bunk on the bus, barreling down the open road somewhere south of Tacoma, Wash., en route to a biofuel re-fueling station. He and seven organizers will live on the bus for the next month as it wends its way from the Bay Area to New York and back to Salt Lake City. "At least it feels now like we're fighting back, and we've found the right people to fight back against."
The tour has been in the works for some time, and was crafted as a vehicle for the statistics-based "Do The Math" campaign that has been McKibben's primary shtick since his July article in Rolling Stone. Among the chief numbers:
2°C: the amount of warming the world can safely handle—already, humans have raised the earth's temperature by 0.8°C.
565 gigatons: the amount of carbon dioxide we can put in the atmosphere before we reach that level of warming—which, at our current rate could happen in just the next 16 years.
2,795 gigatons: the amount of carbon we'd release if we burned all the world's fossil fuel reserves, worth some $27 trillion.
The tour will also be a chance for green-minded policy wonks to start putting their heads together for the big challenges of a second Obama presidency, starting with what promises to be a heated re-launching of the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, which the president will likely make a final call on in the coming months.
For now, McKibben wants to get as much mileage as possible out of Hurricane Sandy, which showed "there's no way to escape climate change," he said. "The most powerful island on earth was overwhelmed, and everyone knew it."
Oceanside High School in Oceanside, Long Island, has long played host to national elections. But this morning, it opened its doors to a whole new raft of voters: Those whose original polling places nearby had been disabled by Hurricane Sandy.
Even as intersections remained without traffic lights, and piles of water-destroyed household furnishings lined the streets, many in the steady stream of voters here made it clear that weighing in on our next president was still a priority. They were also adamant that in this traditionally Republican-leaning neighborhood, President Obama's efforts to address the storm wouldn't be enough to pull votes away from Mitt Romney.
Closer to the water's edge, where ocean debris still litters sidewalks and many remain without food or heat, the polling station seemed a lot further off. "I've been living in the cold," Kathleen Basler says. "There is no way, shape, or form that I could even get to a voting booth."
Hurricane Sandy took away a lot of things: power, homes, even lives. For residents of Moonachie, New Jersey, a small town just across the Hudson River from New York City, the storm took a stab at their basic right to vote. After severe flooding here, much of the town remains without power, which led local election officials to decide over the weekend to close all the polling places and redirect residents to consolidated locations nearby.
It's the same story all across the state: Some 300 polling places shut down or moved, according to the governor's office, creating a logistical nightmare for election planners and a headache for voters (for what it's worth, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to allow votes to be emailed or faxed in). And while New Jersey, a solidly blue state, has never seen less than 70 percent turnout for a presidential election, residents here say until the lights come back on, casting a vote is the last thing on their minds.
One of the first confirmed victims of Hurricane Sandy was Angela Dresch, 13, who was killed Monday night by a massive storm surge that swept through her home just behind the beach in Tottenville, Staten Island. All told, Staten Island saw more deaths than any other borough, and took some of the storm's worst beatings. With destroyed houses and a rising body count, residents here say they felt ignored by FEMA and the Red Cross, despite desperately wanting and needing their help.
By Friday morning, FEMA officials were in Tottenville, helping residents apply for disaster compensation. But they were already behind the Tottenville community itself, which had rolled out scores of volunteers armed with shovels and wheelbarrows (and a boatload of doughnuts) to help those who lost their homes sort through the rubble.
"Our gas crisis should end shortly." Those words of reassurance, issued this morning from New York Senator Charles Schumer, might not be enough for swarms of drivers in Brooklyn.
Limited bus and subway service returned to New York City Thursday morning, but cars remained one of the only options for moving between boroughs. As a result, the streets of Brooklyn—which normally depends heavily on public transit—were overwhelmed with drivers, and they were all looking for one thing: gas. But the city's main artery for this staple, the Port of New York, was closed during Hurricane Sandy and only just re-opened, leading to massive shortages, closed stations, and excruciating—and tense—lines for the pump.