Extreme weather could be catalyst for change

Hearing what Mayor Michael Bloomberg is planning to dump into New York over the next 10 years to fortify it from the ever increasing threat of another superstorm made me wonder: Do you think the sight of BMWs and Mercedes and Lexus vehicles floating down Wall Street last fall in the midst of superstorm Sandy made for a holy floating car-Batman moment among Wall Street’s math wizards, as it seems to have for the mayor?

 And after having to sandbag their famous (or is it infamous?) place of work, Goldman Sachs, think some of its hot-shot employees might have felt entitled, afterward, to an additional million dollar bonus for their physical exertions come Christmas time? Or do you think having to sandbag the fabled corporate headquarters from the East River something might have really clicked in them?  

Might the screaming high stock prices today of alternative energy companies like Tesla Motors, First Solar and Solar City, in the midst of our new found bounty of fossil fuel, particularly tar-sand-oil, be indicative of something profoundly significant going on in the bowels of the market place … or maybe, just maybe, a shift in what we value is taking place? 

I’ve been chewing hard lately over what Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, had to say, recently, at Bard College in Massachusetts. Delivering its commencement speech he said: “Both humanity’s capacity to innovate and the incentives to innovate are greater today than at any other time in history.”

I got a sense from him that he may be sensing that it may be later than it seems.

With carbon dioxide, the biggest contributor to climate change, measured recently at 400 parts per million in the atmosphere, a level that last occurred a couple of million years ago, we’re in extremely problematic terrain. I believe the unfolding of what’s getting to be consistently violent weather, is what Bernanke was referring to.     

As never before there’s looming an existential imperative to innovate. Some sectors of our society are really rising to the occasion, beginning with some people putting money where their mouth is. For who’d have ever thought we’d see the day an electric car company like Tesla Motors would command a stock price of around a $100 a share. That’s more than the mighty ExxonMobil’s stock price, and this past week when the market went down over 500 points Tesla still hovered just under $100 a share.With domestic oil not being anymore plentiful, and looking to remain so onwards into the future, that an electric car company could mushroom into such a phenomenal investment is just extraordinary.

Who would have ever thought a solar company’s valuation like First Solar would be more than the Coca-Cola Company’s, the standard bearer of business itself?

Truly, there’s something afoot here. On the scale of significance it’s one gigantic leap beyond Solyndra to be sure. Solyndra is the solar energy company that went bankrupt and whose demise today’s Banana Republican-types derive such great pleasure from as talking points for the unfeasibility of alternative energy. Today’s Banana Republicans would rather have us commit ourselves to tar-sand-oil by building the Keystone XL Pipeline, because, to them, despite carbon dioxide levels and extreme weather manifesting itself with an unnerving frequency, that’s where the big bucks are.

However, Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement calls into question the actual reward to be found in the Keystone Pipeline and, for that matter, in the future of fossil fuels themselves. Despite the bounty of fossil fuels, just how much longer can we really continue on them, especially at the level we are dependent on them, without destroying ourselves? We better start asking ourselves  that question. 

Last fall, in the aftermath of Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg observed: “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

It’s not about whether the risk of climate change may or may not be causing the violent weather the nation has experienced this past decade. Even Banana Republicans know climate change is responsible. The risk is whether fossil fuels are what are causing the weather change. The risk that it might be, especially given the supporting science it is, should compel us all into immediate action. 

And, alas, President Obama this is the last chance for you to finally find some backbone and lean us hard into the light by coming out and saying no to the Keystone XL Pipeline and to point us into a new energy direction. 

Good luck, Mayor Bloomberg and, for that matter, all Gulf and East Coast folks. I hear it’s going to be a difficult hurricane season. Meanwhile, go, Tesla Motors and First Solar, go. And way to go our own community in its attempts to rise to today’s energy challenge.

We can change. We have to.

Tim O’Leary is a longtime Homer resident and
observer of the political scene.