Melissa Spear, Executive Director

Melissa Spear is Executive Director at Common Ground.

It has been a remarkably eventful month since my last posting. Sandy, a late-season hurricane, battered the Northeast. Late-season hurricanes have been on the increase over the past couple of decades, most likely due to warming sea temperatures. According to meteorologist Jeff Masters of www.wundergrond.com it used to be that late-season hurricanes were a relative rarity–in the 140-year period from 1851 – 1990, only 30 hurricanes formed in the Atlantic on or after October 30th, an average of one every five years. But in the past twenty-two years, late-season hurricanes have become almost 4 times more frequent – sixteen late-season hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic since 1991, an average of one every 1.375 years, and the last three years have each tied the record for third most active season.

After Sandy hit I waited and watched to see whether climate change would be mentioned in the popular media as a potential underlying factor in the increase in late hurricane activity as well as the record flooding that has hit the Northeast coast the past two years. Over the past few years it seems to me that weather forecasters and the news media have scrupulously avoided mention of climate change even as they report on shrinking sea ice, receding glaciers, record droughts, super tornadoes, and even rising global temperatures. Given this trend I was thrilled when two days into Sandy, some discussion of climate change began to enter into coverage of the storm. Finally! Billions of dollars of destruction affecting millions of people is a real motivator – not to be too cynical. But my hope is that, with Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg and our own Governor Malloy leading the way we may actually see a real public discourse begin on a topic we can no longer afford to ignore. Perhaps climate change will even become a serious topic of the next election cycle – who knows?

Speaking of election cycles, the November 6 election was a second remarkable event that occurred since my last posting. One notable aspect of this election is the amount of money spent on it. According to the New York Times “the final price tag from all levels of voting was estimated at more than $6 billion. ..And the scale of outside spending [by Super PACs] was similarly staggering: more than $1 billion, about triple the amount in 2010.” In the Connecticut race for senate Linda McMahon spent $100 million of her own money while Chris Murphy, who won the election, spent $10 million (3 times as much as in his prior candidacies). I certainly saw the result of this spending in the number of campaign ads I was forced to endure – and I am sure it was nothing compared to what people in swing states like Ohio experienced where every minute of air time was purchased by one or the other of the presidential campaigns.

This week as I followed my normal routine of reviewing bills, signing checks, approving payroll, forecasting cash flow and carefully watching the budget, I could not help thinking about what impact the $110 million spent on the Connecticut senate campaign might have had were it available to non-profits serving our communities. If even $5 million per candidate had been spent on the senate campaign – which by the way is well above the historic norm – that would have left $100 million to invest in our non-profits and the communities they serve. That could provide up to a $50,000 grant to as many as 2000 non-profits in Connecticut – more than a quarter of 7000 plus non-profits registered in the state. For Common Ground, I know that $50,000 would deliver a lot of program impact and I think there is little doubt that $100 million in the hands of our non-profit community would have delivered much more direct benefit to the residents of Connecticut than the political campaign itself has. It is hard for me not to think of the $100 million spent on our senate campaign as wasted, which leads me to hope that we can find a more effective and efficient way to run our elections – not to mention fund our non-profits.

I feel fortunate that the day to day routine of Common Ground continued unabated, even in the face of the “notable events” that took place over the past month. I also appreciate that these events have served to provoke deeper thinking about the big picture, forcing many of us into awareness of the context within which we operate and, hopefully, helping ensure we are not missing important opportunities or ignoring key challenges. Meanwhile, here at Common Ground people show up to work, students come to school, yellow buses bring classes to our site from other public schools for field trips to the farm. The bills still need to be paid. And our annual appeal will go out on schedule this month. Whether in spite of or because of these “notable events” and their longer term implications, I hope you will consider a donation this year.

Here’s to a joyful and not TOO remarkable or eventful Thanksgiving for all of us!