A New Semester: Teaching Environmentalism and Living Through Irene the Hurricane

So you think it only takes place in books and movies?

Two books I teach regularly deal with post-Apocalyptic narratives--Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler) and Into the Forest (Jean Hegland).  I spent the summer weeding through a few more: Kunstler's The Long Emergency, The World Made By Hand, and Atwood's Year of the Flood.  I also spend much of my time contemplating nuclear disaster, climate change scenerios, and dire water predictions.

So, when a week ago my house rocked back and forth from the earthquake, and a few days later a tornado and hurricane struck my neighborhood-- and, in the middle of the night there was a large blast of sound and red in the trees behind my house that signalled "fire"--I fearfully wondered: what if?

What if? 

I know one thing; I have no ability to survive in a world made by hand.   I have no survival skills.   If "it" happened right now-- my little family would be the first to go.  I can't build a windmill, a generator, a house, or grow food.  I don't recognize wild edible plants.  I can't make fire.  I am not prepared.

So, here I am.  Long Island: 2011.  In the first day post- storm, driving was risky.  Many trees and electrical wires were down.  They still are.  The streets were pretty empty and there was/is no word about when the lights will come back on.  Gas was scarce for a few days, so I stayed put.  What was the point of leaving?  After the storm ended, I charged my cell phone in my car and listened to the radio there.  Most of the world seemed to be carrying on, and there was no information about our burn-out or predictions about when stuff would come back on.  It's four days into post-Irene: and many of us still have no electricity, no internet, no landline phones, no warm water.  Laundry is piling up.  Our refrigerators are full of rotting food.  Nobody seems to know when things will return to normal.


The libraries (the ones that are open) are jam packed with folks trying to work.  I'm huddled in one now.

My university, where I teach, was open for business yesterday, though.  So, while I might be camping at home,  I needed to get there to teach my first class.

I left bright and early, hoping to get my syllabi printed out for my students and accomplish other work on my office computer.  Plans thwarted:  I got a flat on the way.   The local tire stores didn't have electricity, so I had to drive quite a distance to get help on a lousy spare.  It was nerve racking.  Would I find something on time?  Would I have a second flat?  It took several hours to fix things, which meant that I arrived on campus with only five minutes to find my new classroom.

It isn't the end of the world.  Not yet.  So, I  arrived with no syllabi to hand out.  So what?  I managed to text a student to ask her to pick up some films from the library I wanted to show.  That worked.  The students will get their syllabi copies in the next few days.

Still, it makes you think.

This event is a perfect one for our class topic of Environmental Literature and Film.

What if?  And, why?  And, how might we do things differently to prevent the worst from happening?  How must we change the way we live and what we call "normal"?

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So here is something you can do right now:

Join the campaign to write a million letters to Governor Cuomo of NY to Ban Fracking (hard copies).  Enlist others to do the same.  All the information you need is at this link. Tomorrow, there will be a great film you can watch there, too:

www.amillionfrackingletters.com