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Thursday, March 5, 2015

VIDEO: Winter woes

Fulminations on our frozen tundra
By Will Collette

Another day, another snow storm.

As we prepare the daily chore of digging out from yet another of the endless stream of storms that have hit us since January 19, a number of thoughts come to mind. Like the need to be careful, the costs we are incurring and how it ties in with our attitudes and policies toward taxes and climate change.

Among the consequences of our historic winter is that the unforeseen demands of plowing, shoveling, pickaxing ice, clearing decks and roofs, making sure the birds are fed, etc. is the crimp it has put in my ability to write and research. I’m sure that’s just fine with the CCA Party and others, such as our nomadic state Rep Flip Filippi. But I do feel some sense of failed responsibility to Progressive Charlestown readers.

I’m also concerned that we don’t get so numb or blasé about the weather that we fail to be careful. There’s a keen risk of heart attack among those vulnerable and injury from falls. I already took one hard spill. I suggest taking a look at the storm advice we ran a few weeks ago in Progressive Charlestown (click here).

Also, I highly recommend Yak-Trax as a way to avoid falls. These are ice cleats – rubber chords covered with steel springs – that slip over your boots or shoes. They are available from Amazon and elsewhere and work great. There are other slip-on ice cleats on the market – they probably work too, but I can give my personal endorsement to Yak-Trax.

Remember to keep good records of your storm-related damages and losses in case there is a federal emergency declaration that includes some possibility of reimbursement. The state will reimburse you if DOT plows destroy your mailbox (click here to find out how). If the town DPW caused you damage, lots of luck unless you are a major CCA Party supporter.

The state may also reimburse you for damage to your vehicle from the amazing new collection of potholes we’re seeing all over our state roads. Even the new stretch of pavement in and out of Wakefield took a hit with frost heaves that made driving feel like negotiating the moguls in a free-style skiing course.

The weather has also triggered more esoteric political thinking, such as the upcoming debate over Rep. Bob Craven’s Democratic leadership bill to eliminate state income tax on retirement income.

Even though Cathy and I have virtually no other income other than retirement and Social Security and we stand to gain a lot from this, I am unconvinced it is in the public interest, especially with the state facing another large deficit.

The idea given by Craven, as well as by the Republican backers (including Flip Filippi) of the Republican version, is that cutting taxes on retirement income will stop older people from moving out of Rhode Island to, for example, Florida. Really? I think the best counter-argument to that is to look out the window.

In study after study, affordable housing and climate are the top reasons why retirees move South, not taxes, and this winter makes the case as strongly as it can possibly be made. I suspect that this proposed tax cut won’t make it, especially when the General Assembly starts to grapple with the real budget numbers.

Further, the elderly who need the most relief – those whose only income is Social Security – already have incomes that are too low to tax. It’s the upper bracket retirees – those with pensions, IRAs and 401(k) plans plus Social Security – who would see the benefit but need it the least.

And besides, this is not an election year and the shrewder of the General Assembly members will recognize that if they pass it this year, voters (especially the older voters who are the intended beneficiaries) may not remember it next year. Unless, of course, the tax cuts cause chaos that carries over into 2016. Next year, the chances for adoption of a retirement income tax cut are much likelier.

Finally, this awful weather makes me think of the missed opportunities we have had as a society and as a local community to fully embrace the necessary changeover to a low carbon energy culture.
Ignorant people like Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) see this horrible winter as evidence that climate change is a hoax when in fact the opposite is true.

Watch here to see Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse take Inhofe's silly arguments apart: 

Our winter storms are due to a shift in the jet stream caused by the fast-paced warming of the Arctic region. The so-called “polar vortex” usually spins tightly around the pole, but as the polar region warms faster than in our mid-latitudes, the vortex churns south and sends storm after storm barreling along the dip in the jet stream, hammering us with record snow and cold.

We must stop making this problem worse by drastically cutting our carbon emissions through conservation and to a rapid and wholesale switch to green energy.

Every community must do its share. On that score, I am ashamed that Charlestown, despite all its claims of environmental conscience, has done so poorly. It’s not just the NIMBY fight against the Whalerock wind project but our official town policies that make the shift to renewable energy so difficult. It’s our dreadful recycling efforts. It’s our lack of public transportation that forces a total reliance on private vehicles.

Obviously this bad winter and the bad winters to come are not all Charlestown’s (or even the CCA Party’s) fault – that’s an overreach that even I will not attempt. But we have failed to do our fair share.

But, on the other hand, we know we can do better. I am hopeful that this town, as it tallies up the costs we have incurred in over-time, road treatment, broken plows, property damage and general weariness, will think seriously about the practical things we can do now so that we indeed do our fair share to deal with climate change.

Otherwise, what right do we have to complain?