The Last Storm

Thunderstorms rolled through Tuesday afternoon, possibly spawning tornados. Strong winds bent and broke healthy trees, sending them careening through powerlines, houses, and even several cars. People died. Because of two trees down on two different streets, I was trapped in my neighborhood and my wife, stranded in Grand Central Station, had a staggering five-hour journey to our area, but not our home. She did not make it to our house until after sunrise the next morning.

My bona fides: We lived through Superstorm Sandy on the south shore of Long Island in 2012, living in our flooded house without electricity for fifteen days. In our new location north of New York City, we lost power for eight days from the second nor’easter of the year to rip through the area and now, we just had four days without power from a line of powerful thunderstorms.

My heightened sense of fear of life without electrics paid off. My house has a built-in generator with its own emergency electrical panel and is powered by a huge propane tank. In the aftermath of Sandy, I had to walk a mile and a half to the closest powered gas station (courtesy of the National Guard) and stand in a long line to get my two gallons of gas for the generator.

My propane generator powers a few things such as the water well, the refrigerator, two outlets, and lights in the kitchen. My stovetop uses the same propane tank, leaving me the ability to cook meals. I can function, even though my cell phone and tablet are poor substitutes for a dedicated desktop connected to the internet.

Still, the loss of electrics throws us into a crisis and overlays our days with an ever-creeping sense of helplessness. Our neighbors are good people at heart and just as helpless. We shared a shot of bourbon as we commiserated over the fallen tree, our cars trapped on both sides. We shook hands with Tony, the contractor working on the house next door, who brought over his chain saws and set his crew to cutting up the tree and moving it out of the road.

The area in which I live is used to trees falling on powerlines. Most of us own generators, which are highly inefficient machines that generate small amounts of electricity while spewing toxic emissions and producing an ear-splitting amount of racket. Our wells require power to bring water into the house. We have temporary measures to ease us through the outages.

My immediate history is not bad luck; it is climate change. Following the science closely because of my job, the models predicted these vicious bouts of weather. Weather events, such as hurricanes hitting Long Island are expected, but the violence of these events is ratcheting up, such as the rain bomb of the Houston hurricane and the wind shears over Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. One hundred and five hundred-year storms are hitting some areas every eighteen months. The most extreme models of climate change are proving to be the most accurate. These events are not my or anyone else’s bad luck; these destructive storms are the outcome of years of spewing carbon into the atmosphere.

I ran into a representative from my local electric utility at a state convention last week, two weeks after the storm. With a brief description, she was able to pinpoint where I lived without me surrendering even a partial address. I asserted, and she confirmed that the present infrastructure was not designed for and had poor resiliency to cope with the climate patterns of the past several years. My experience and the utility’s experience are confirmations that these early effects of climate change are already profound, requiring billions of dollars in infrastructure investment and sweeping changes in human behavior.

I cannot escape these changes. Funny thing about climate: no matter where you are reading this essay, you are experiencing climate change and sometimes, its devasting effects. Like me, you depend upon electricity as an uninterrupted service. When one cell tower goes down, connectivity plummets, bringing work to a stuttering halt. Daily functioning stumbles and work-arounds prove themselves to be fantasies.

This is your life as well; I have a generator at least.

I am Rabbi Glenn Jacob and I am executive director of New York Interfaith Power & Light. Our mission is to inspire and engage people of faith and religious communities to actively steward and sustain our natural environment. In one unified voice of the world’s religions, we lead the battle to bring clean renewable energy to our communities, lobby for energy legislation, and teach others how to bring the many varied voices of our country together to save the planet. Please join us.

First Verse of Genesis

The inability of science and religion to reconcile their points of view occurs in the first verse on the first page of Genesis. “When God began creating the heavens and the earth” is interpreted by literalists as the scientific beginning of the world as if these ancient monotheists were modern scientists publishing their findings. Science as we understand it today was not invented when Genesis was committed to parchment. Debunking their argument, the Bible is not a scientific text and should never be construed as one. Tanakh (Hebrew for “Bible”) is first and foremost, a proudly theological collection of books. The books are about Adonai God and the people of Adonai God, the children of Israel.

Theology and science are disparate disciplines, fundamentally different and incongruous. To read a compromise between theology and scientific inquiry on the first page of Genesis is an act of futility – there is no compromise because theology and science are two divergent disciplines. The battles we witness between the “the Bible is wrong” crowd and the “science is evil” crowd is the continuing failure to find compromise when none is available, plausible, or more to the point, necessary. The battle is the result of a categorical error.

Too many assume that the both approaches are attempting to answer the same question: how was the universe made? Science asks that question and has reams of exciting facts, theories, and emerging hypotheses. Science asks what is the process and how does it work. Science leaves the “why” or more precisely, “why was the universe created?” to philosophy and religion.

The author(s) of Genesis ask a different question: “Does the universe have meaning?” The typical-of-its-time mythology of the Greeks has Zeus chopping off the head of the monster and hoisting it up in the heavens as a bloody trophy called earth. There is no meaning for humans in crawling across the face of rotting skull like maggots. In contrast, the Genesis story argues that if God made the world, then the world has meaning. By being created by God, humans have a meaning for existence as well. To argue that our lives have meaning is a worthwhile theology to hold dear.

Science has nothing to say about the maker of the universe and Genesis has nothing to say about the science of creating universes. They are asking different questions. The fault of our thinking is assuming that science and religion are opposite of each other when they are actually working in two different, though parallel realms, answering different, though both worthy questions.

Got Research?

An NPR story today  tracks the loss of academic jobs in science and medical fields. Only 15% of the PhD’s who have graduated in the past decade will actually get a tenure track job. These fresh PhD’s are working temporary jobs in labs across the country for as little as $40,000 a year. These are some of the best and brightest minds in the United States.

Up until the 1980’s, the U.S. government supported basic research in universities and colleges across the nation. In the 1980’s a new political philosophy emerged and the curtailment of government monies for research began to wane. At times the money has increased temporarily, only to dissipate just as rapidly, further eroding the amount of government sponsored research.

All of this basic research was the genesis for many of the new fields of employment we have today. Biomedical research, pharmaceuticals, energy sources (both repurposed and alternative), computer hardware, software, opticals, nanotechnology, quantum physics, and especially cell phone technology all began with government sponsored research in anonymous college labs.

Private corporations are not going to fund research in any significant manner. They have not done so in the past thirty years.

This report should be a call to arms. We should be having a conversation about how Congress spends our money. However, I fear that our national legislators are unusually nearsighted and are unable to see beyond their next election, which has little to do long term issues and trends of our nation.

We need to get these people to work at their best levels, doing the research they have spent years training to do. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/09/16/343539024/too-few-university-jobs-for-americas-young-scientists&gt;