A job plan that works

Here’s a message for Congress and the President both need to hear now: Americans are done with the politics of mean. They want to put people back to work solving our nation’s problems. We’ve rebuilt enough countries halfway round the globe. Let’s bring the troops home, and let’s get to work rebuilding our own nation.

Let’s also put a kibosh on all the useless squabbling about climate change. With science and spin tied in knots, it seems unlikely people will ever agree on future climate trends. But the present is something everyone can agree upon.

This year the weather has been horrific and it is worthy of a presidential declaration of a national weather and infrastructure repair emergency. Roads, bridges, cities, and crops across the country have been savaged by deluge and drought and demand action now.

The statistics are staggering. In 2011, we’ve seen ten $1 billion-plus weather disasters, with losses topping $35 billion – a record. We’ve seen unprecedented drought in Texas and across the southern tier of states, with wildfires consuming 10.4 million acres – an area the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Massive floods along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers have brought misery and ruin. And flooding has hit other parts of the northern tier. My town of Montpelier, Vermont, saw two 100-year floods in the last four months, severely hurting downtown businesses.

Killer tornadoes flattened Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and a record number of twisters spread mayhem through 21 states.

Is climate change causing all this? Who cares! For millions of Americans the question is irrelevant. Now it’s personal, with weird weather disrupting their lives, destroying their homes, crippling their businesses, devastating their crops and pushing taxes and food prices higher at a time they can’t afford the added expense.

In Vermont, a good friend’s family barely escaped their home before it was demolished by a raging river, and our own Blue Ridge Press editor took a total loss on property – all courtesy of Hurricane Irene. In Texas this week, 500 homes were engulfed by wildfires.

The insurance company Munich Re calculates that the U.S. endured 98 natural disasters in the first half of 2011, double the average of the 1990s. The long term trend hammers home one obvious message: things are likely to get worse, and we better be ready.

So let’s adapt. Let’s rebuild in a new, sustainable way. Let’s create a jobs program that teams our military with our unemployed to rebuild roads, bridges, homes and businesses wrecked this year. Let’s also assess and strengthen levees and sea walls, and fortify power plants, dams, and other valuable infrastructure. Let’s make our water systems more efficient and flexible for dealing with future droughts.

And while we make repairs and harden infrastructure, let’s stop doing the same stupid things over and over again. Japan’s Fukushima disaster and the near flooding of a Nebraska nuclear plant this summer, are writing on the wall. You’d have to be a hell of a flimflam man to sell the nuclear turkey to the American people.

Our leaders need to stop protecting their own jobs and special interests, and create a government-corporate partnership – not privatization – that puts people to work to repair and protect commerce and communities against wild weather. This is a time of environmental emergency and economic crisis when large corporations, who have been heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, need to give back freely to their country.

The American people are tired. We’re tired of politicians fighting over abstract ideas, like debt ceilings, while people suffer. We want to benefit from the technological advances of the 21st Century – in engineering, in clean energy technology, in environmental science. So let’s put people to work making this a better, safer, wealthier country for everyone.

Karen O’Leary is a writer, amateur naturalist, and former farmer. A Boston, MA native, she lives in Montpelier, VT. ©2011