Jersey Shore: Still Standing Strong?

Standing StrongYou want to believe it, and on our recent visit to Long Beach Island, NJ, the signs of apparent recovery were everywhere.  Gov. Chris Christie makes regular reassuring visits, and in truth, the affluent summer residents — LBI swells in season to a population of 100,000 with the influx of second-home owners from New Jersey and neighboring states — have already rebuilt or are well on their way to restoring properties.  It’s salad days for the contractors and landscapers of LBI, though how many of them are locals is uncertain.  Areas with protective dune systems built in a controversial U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, have been the fastest to return to normal.

In August, at the height of season, normalcy means beaches thronged with bright umbrellas and excited children, packed shops and restaurants, and bumper to bumper traffic on State Route 72, the only way in and out, and therefore the great leveler in times good or bad. On the South end of the island where Hurricane Sandy brought  nine-foot storm surge and 18-foot seas an open field marks the place where a trailer park once stood; dumpsters filled with debris; and many homes are, well, barely standing.  Although everyone with a stake in Long Beach Island felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy, property damage, like wealth, is unevenly distributed.  It’s no mystery why those who have want to keep what they believe is rightfully  theirs.  The puzzle is why those to whom the economic system has been less munificent — the Abandonedretired teachers, fire fighters and police, the small business owners, the middle managers, who built the modest dreams and modest homes in this little piece of paradise — aren’t taking to the streets like their cohort in Brazil, Spain, and Greece, to protest our deepening inequities.  Or not in any significant numbers.  Yet.

Media scholar, Marty Kaplan, blames “weapons of mass distraction,” the fact that we the people have allowed ourself to become addicted to a state of constant arousal about all the wrong things, things we can do little about and are, in many instances, utterly meaningless to our daily lives and our future and that of our children.  Meanwhile, the democratic process atrophies.  Here’s Kaplan in a recent interview on Moyers & Company:

[T}he stuff that is being reported on the news tends not to be the kind of stuff that we need to know about in order to be outraged. Climate change is one of the great tests of journalism…There was “The New York Times” headline about the first time that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. Which “The Times” said that carbon dioxide had reached a level not seen in “millions of years.” My jaw fell. You would think that that would cause a worldwide stir. And instead, it was a one-day story, onto the next thing.

“We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system. Why are we not also taking to the streets is the question. And I want us to…”  

Me, too, Marty.  That would be a ‘standing strong’ one could believe in and act on before the next Katrina or Sandy arrives.

The Seat is Going Anyway…

This summer, I want to be in the Northeast for about a month, to visit family and friends, give my yoga practice a boost with a few days at Kripalu Center in The Berkshires, and slake my thirst for art and culture in New York City.

Along with millions of other Americans, I hear the siren call of summer ‘elsewhere.’ Except that I am trying to figure out how to travel with the smallest possible carbon impact. I share my dilemma with a friend who is bemused that I am considering taking a train (awful food, noisy) because I believe flying takes the biggest toll on the environment. Yes, I know the seat is going anyway.

Probably driving is the least bad way to haul me, spouse and stuff some 1,600 miles in one direction and back. I have driven up and down the East Coast enough times to own a dog-eared Road Atlas with notes about interesting food stops (Gulf oysters at St. Augustine Beach), good radio stations, clean toilets, as well as places to avoid. When planes were temporarily grounded after 9/11, we drove from California to New York, four nights, five days on the road. I’ve never added up all the miles, but the call of the open road is pretty well out of my system. Anyway, driving a fuel-efficient car even with two passengers doesn’t beat traveling by bus — hands-down the most energy-efficient, least carbon-loaded way to get anywhere. Hey, rock stars do it, albeit in luxurious coach-style.

Truth is I’m more of a homebody than I used to be, even before I began to be alarmed about the environment enough to do something personally. Come to find out that when you add up heating/cooling, washing and drying clothes (a biggie) and even computer usage, our homes are where we burn through the most energy. Yikes!

If you find yourself agreeing that it’s our obligation as world citizens to take our contributions to climate change personally, you’ll find a lot of helpful calculators on the Internet. Here’s a gem I just stumbled upon which handily compares itself to other popular ones:

You may be surprised as I was to discover that you can do more good by giving up meat and walking and/or biking more than you drive, than by swearing off flying (obviously, frequent flyers were not included in the tally). Another nugget that I am definitely tucking into my toolkit for future reference: traveling by cargo ship across the Atlantic, then using train and bus to get around.

You might want to poke around some of Michael Bluejay’s other sites as I did. In fact, I was having so much fun, I had to remind myself that I was in the midst of a blog post about my travel dilemma for this summer!

I’ve got my sights on The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, one couple’s answer to saving the planet,, in a future post.