IBI Watch 1/1/12

1 01 2012


An End to Pretending //

That is my hope for 2012.

With Minnesota dealing with yet another extended broken winter (temperatures way above long-term averages, snow unreliable or totally absent, misadventurers crashing through lake ice), I have tired of people denying reality.  So I do my part to wake up many.  Recently, I encountered a frequent crowd at the grocery store – fundraisers for a school youth activity, offering to bag groceries for some green.  (The fact that so many groups have to raise funds this way is another story for another post.)  Anyway – this was special – it was a Nordic ski team.  No snow, no Nordic.  So I chatted up the group leaders as I threw a few bucks in their kitty.  I offered condolences for their brown wreckage of a ski season.  One flashed a chipper smile, spouting the usual happy talk – “It could change next week, this is Minnesota!”  I demurred – this modern melted winter happens most years, and for longer stretches.  The other leader agreed – “You are right.  This stuff happens more each year – more frequent, more severe.”  Thank you.  Precisely.

In my mind, an end to pretending about the climate crisis means three things:

  • Acknowledge that the climate is changing radically, and our pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is the main cause
  • Heed the scientists and sharply reduce our greenhouse gas emissions
  • Redouble efforts to mitigate consequences, promote conservation, and develop clean energy alternatives

Fortunately, there are experts out there who are already doing all three of these.  It is long past time for us to get with the program.

Kenny Blumenfeld is a geography professor at the University of Minnesota, who has a strong interest in severe weather.  He provides a tremendous public service, writing witty, in-depth forecasts as storm systems approach – and placing weather patterns in a climate context.  He explains weather models for the masses.  I have learned a lot from his posts.  Here are two paragraphs from his latest message (foretelling a New Year’s storm that pretty much fizzled).

“December has been a freakish month.  The first ten days were actually colder than normal, and even a little bit snowy. It didn’t exactly look like last December, but it did have some elements of a typical winter.  And then it turned.  The run of outrageous warmth since that point has been of the one-in-100+ variety, matched or topped only by a December when Rutherford B. Hayes was president (in 1877), and another from when Andrew Jackson was president and Minnesota was 25 years from becoming a state.

A lot of readers have commented to me in person about this warm spell, noting that it’s been anything from excellent for biking, to downright disturbing.  Whatever it is, it’s what the future looks like, barring either a geological cataclysm or an absurd human intervention.  Will it still get “cold”?  Yes, but you will notice that our standards for employing that term are getting lower, which is to say that warmer and warmer temperatures count as “cold.”  Will it still snow?  Yes.  Even the most dire-looking and not-trustworthy climate prediction models have Minnesota and the Upper Midwest experiencing some kind of winter, even at the end of this century.  Granted, that winter would be much shorter and warmer than the ones we grew up with, but we’d still have a good two months of potential snowcover.”

Another important truth-teller amid the sea of pignorance (pretend-ignorance)  is Star Tribune meteorologist Paul Douglas.  In stark contrast to so many local head-in-the-sand substitutes, Douglas pulls no punches in his blog.

Here is a recent entry

“’May you live in interesting times.’ No kidding. Yesterday would have been mild for Halloween but 52 F. on Dec. 26? Warm enough for grilling in my back yard; gazing out at a partially-frozen lake. In late December. Nice on one level, but a bit disturbing too.

 You just endured/enjoyed the warmest Christmas since 1999, only the 4th time since 1905 we’ve been 42 F. or warmer. Neighbors seemed dazed, in a deer-in-the-headlights way. 52 F broke the old record, set in ’36, during the Dust Bowl!

 We seem to be experiencing what I call “all or nothing” winters. Either we get socked with snow, like last year, or we limp into January with precious little powder. More winters than not Minnesota’s snowcover is fickle, unpredictable, unreliable for those of us who want to get out and enjoy it.

 What is remarkable about this pattern is the sheer persistence of unseasonably mild, Pacific winds. Almost like a perpetual January Thaw (which usually lasts a few days after Jan 1). we’ll see 30s/40s into the first half of January – allegedly the coldest, snowiest month of the year. Expect a cooling trend today, a slushy coating Thursday; low 40s New Year’s Eve?

 Welcome to another ‘Winter Lite.’”

For a broader scope on the manmade climate crisis, check these links.  First, watch this 10-minute PBS video that neatly sums up the incredible weather chaos that defined 2011 across America.  Twelve different billion-dollar disasters, smashing old records.  It features interviews with Katherine Sullivan, NOAA Deputy Administrator, and Jeff Masters – truth-telling meteorologist and Weather Underground.  I particularly like Masters’ characterization of the year.  He uses a baseball image – supercharging the atmosphere with greenhouse gases is like a home run hitter on steroids.  While you are there, view this slide show – with more in-depth links – that offers visuals of all twelve billion-dollar bashes for the year.

At long last, scientists are being pressured to speak out.  Cautious by nature, they have, with a few exceptions, been reluctant to link their research findings with policy implications.  A notable longstanding exception to that rule is NASA’s James Hansen, who is featured in this article from Inside Climate News.  Fortunately, he is not the only one.  Benjamin Santer, atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says “The scientific community has to make it very clear that we can’t burn all the fossil fuels—but governments are going ahead and setting up the infrastructure for unconventional fuels—tar sands and tar shale,”  And of course Santer is warning about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline – which will pump the dirtiest oil on the planet from Alberta to refineries in Texas.  This piece from Think Progress shows the global implications of that monstrosity.

For the biggest picture of all, we go to James Lovelock – the inventor of the Gaia hypothesis.  That postulates the earth as a self-regulating system.  That is, it self-regulates regardless of what we pump into its respiratory and circulatory systems.  If Lovelock is right, we should be anything but complacent about consequences and outcomes.  Before anyone dismisses Lovelock as a woo-woo crank, they should read one or more of his books.  From my reading, I can recommend The Revenge of Gaia.  His warnings – outlined concisely in this 10-minute video interview– should be all we really need to carry out my New Year’s wish – An end to pretending.

A Self-Serving Congress

Remember those quaint lessons from civics class?  Government of the people, for the people, by the people?  Much has been made of the tremendous and ever-growing power of corporations over American politics.  But members of Congress have been taking care of themselves very well over the years, thanks very much.  Read about some of the greediest and most self –serving kleptocrats right here.  Read more here.  Though the pigs at the trough are definitely not only Republicans, the modern Republican Party, with its allegiance to Grover Norquist, has virtually sold its soul to greed.  And until we wake up and wise up, and stop electing demagogues, we can expect lots more of the same.  Read about how their initiatives to fight ‘voter fraud’ are actually thinly-disguised efforts to suppress the Democratic vote, and continue to cement plutocracy as the defining character of our system.

So what is really going on, and what can we do about it?  A new book by Thomas Frank looks very promising.  Just the title of Frank’s Pity the Poor Billionaire speaks volumes.  Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? analyzed in fine detail the brilliant success of the right in using social issues to enlist masses of one-issue or low-info voters to support policies that decimate their own fortunes.  Now, he explores yet another brilliant success – how the lords of finance have turned the disaster they created – the 2008 financial collapse – into an opportunity to twist the system even more dramatically in their favor.  How do they do it?  Amazing, and not in a good way.  Frank’s new book is at the top of my reading list.

Want to fight Congressional trough-feeding?  Support Tim Walz’s STOCK Act.  Scroll down at this Daily Kos link for a petition to make your voice heard.

Toxics and Factory Farms

Here are two pieces that connect nicely.  First, Paul Krugman tells us how his holiday wish – cleaner air and water through more effective regulation – was met (but maybe not for long). And next, how factory farms – with their heavy use of chemicals and soil wasting practices – are a major contributor to climate change.  Yes, it’s not just the cow farts – one of the ridiculous canards that denialists have used to poke fun at climate science.

Climate Change Solutions Grand and Mundane

First, a catalog of measures enacted by smart world cities, on the cheap.  And next – would you believe hot showers powered by compost compost?  Believe.

Fewer Suckers?  That Would be Good!

This short video – from 1947! – is worth your attention.  It nicely puts today’s scapegoating efforts into a historical context.  Though it certainly has a serious and timely message, it reminded me of one of my favorite bands, the Austin Lounge Lizards, who have a decidedly less serious, though just as pointed, take on the same topic.

New Year’s Blessing

I have seen many prayers posted to ring in the New Year.  Here is my favorite.  It’s actually the lyrics of a song that I strongly recommend.  It comes from Susan Werner’s excellent agnostic gospel album, The Gospel Truth

Our Father (The New, Revised Edition)


Thy kingdom come to every nation

Thy will be done in everything we do

Lord, lead us not into temptation

And deliver us

from those who think they’re You


Lord send us forth to be of service

To build the schools and dig the wells

And deliver us from the creepy preachers

With their narrow minds and very wide lapels


Lord give us strength to bring compassion

to every corner of the world

And please allow for women in the Catholic priesthood

And remind the pope that he coulda been a girl


Lord deliver us from politicians

Who drop Your name in every speech

As if they’re Your best friend from high school

As if they practice what they preach

And one parting prayer – May the Lord forgive me for NOT praising those exalted Job Creators!

Happy New Year!

Be always at war with  your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.”

-Benjamin Franklin

Contributed links to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Meredith Goehring, Allyson Harper, Killian O’Brien




3 responses

1 01 2012

Nicely done, as always. I appreciate your weekly synopses so much! Thank you for taking the time to do this. I know we’re all hoping, and maybe even working, for a better 2012.

2 01 2012
Mary Hauser

You’re a wealth of information for us, who don’t do our homework, to parrot to others what we should be figuring out for ourselves. I’m sure there are many of us who appreciate the time that people like you do to form your opinions, do your homework, and cite your analogies. We may not believe in your opinions always, but appreciate the work you put in to scope out what’s goinhg on in the world and tell us about it … in your opinion.

21 03 2012

Thanks, Michael. It’s frightening to think we are incinerating ourselves in our addiction to fossil fuels.

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