ON THE FAULT LINE Finnegan.
There’s a sea breeze whipping through the Ocean Mist in Matunuck on Friday afternoon, but the place is still sweltering. The patrons — and the beers that they clutch — are sweating. On the sound system, James Brown is screaming. On the walls are bumper stickers (“U [Heart] NY? Then Stay There!”), blinking KENO screens, and a whiteboard with handwritten items like “Scallop + Bacon Chowda” and “Reconstructed Lazy Man’s Lobster.”
Amidst it all, Kate Coyne-McCoy is explaining today’s specialty cocktail: the Climate Cooler. “First we thought [of] something that would light on fire,” she says. “But it’s 109,000 degrees out, so something that lights on fire? Not so cooling and refreshing.”
“Then [we] decided, well, maybe we’ll make something blue . . . like the ocean,” she continues. “But blue cocktails are just not that appetizing. Ohhh, yucko, right? And so they finally settled on this really lovely refreshing pineapple-Sprite-vodka concoction that’s delicious and refreshing.”
The Climate Cooler is an integral piece of “Cocktails and Climate Change,” today’s event which Coyne-McCoy helped arrange along with the RI Sierra Club. This afternoon, Rhode Island’s iconic seaside reggae shack is morphing, albeit briefly, into a political rallying hall. Red, white and blue signs reading “CLIMATE ACTION: IT’S OUR OBLIGATION” have been tacked up near the neon beer signs that normally adorn the stage. At around 2:30, the music dies and patrons whip out their cameras and smartphones and begins snapping away.
Onstage, local college students, business owners, employees of the Ocean Mist, and the EPA’s regional administrator Curt Spalding make their case for why rising seas and shifting weather patterns demand immediate action and attention. Eventually, the anchor of the event (and likely the only man within a mile wearing a suit and tie), US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, takes the microphone.
Whitehouse is no stranger to climate speeches. Since the spring of 2012, he’s been delivering them once a week on the Senate floor in Washington. Two days before this appearance at the Ocean Mist he said to his colleagues “It is simply not credible any longer to just deny climate change.” This was speech number 39. The week before, on July 9, he rhetorically asked whether the “cynical polluter-driven propaganda campaign” that’s spurred indecision or outright climate change denial among Republican senators was “one of the biggest and most successful frauds ever perpetrated on the public.”
Today in Matunuck, the message is much the same. “There are rules to this world. There are the laws of physics. There are the laws of chemistry,” he says. “We can’t repeal those in Congress. Those are real laws. We’ve got to abide by them and we’ve got to behave within them. And Mother Nature is telling us some really important things here in Rhode Island.”
He cites a 10-inch rise in sea levels and a 90 percent drop in Narragansett Bay’s winter flounder stock due to a four-degree increase in water temperature. He rings off companies and organizations that have recognized the urgency of the global climate change: GM, Ford, Coke, Pepsi, NASA.