IBI Watch 3/18/12

18 03 2012

Gas Prices Climbing – Tough!  (As in Tough Oil) //

Gasoline prices in the US are on the rise again, as is public consternation over the issue.  Radio stations broadcast tips on where to save a few pennies. Never mind that drivers give up the savings and more traipsing across town for bargains.  And the gasoline prices will undoubtedly be a factor in the presidential election this year.  All the Republican candidates say they will do a better job at controlling fuel costs than the current occupant of the White House.  Never mind that President Obama – or any other president for that matter – has little real control over the price.  And while it is fashionable to blame costly fuel on speculators, the biggest ‘never mind’ of all is this – what does the higher price mean in terms of world oil supplies, and where our insatiable addiction to fossil fuel is taking us?


As he often does, Paul Krugman cut to the chase this week, disproving  Republican dogma – that further tax cuts for the wealthy and unrestricted drilling for oil and gas, damn the environment anyway, are the two most important things we can do to solve all America’s economic problems.  His article is called ‘Natural-Born Drillers.’


And of course there is a lot more at play here than (incessant) election politics.  Back in the day, I naively believed that increasingly expensive oil would push us, kicking and screaming, into rapid development of alternative energy.  My reading around peak oil bolstered that view.  But a look at tar sands, deep water drilling and fracking is all you need to see how wrong I was.  Michael Klare has written several books on peak oil and related topics.  He has a very insightful piece posted on AlterNet that looks into what ‘tough oil,’ i.e., fossil fuel that exacts high environmental and financial costs, means for people and the planet.  It’s about as pretty as an Alberta oil-waste pond.  Klare’s latest book – The Race for What’s Left – has also hit my reading list.


While we are on the subject of tough oil, about the toughest oil on the planet these days is Alberta’s tar sands.  For several years, the heavy bitumen – that comes at a heavy cost (think strip mining on a massive scale) – has been offered to us car-loving Americans as ‘friendly’ oil.  After oil, it’s not controlled by some crazy dictator in a far-off place.  But the word is out on its tremendous environmental cost.  And the Canadian government has taken notice.  And, maybe not coincidentally, the Canadian government recently announced the closure of an important Arctic environmental monitoring station, on Ellesmere Island.  It’s amazing what we think we can’t afford.


One final note. A Canadian friend and fellow blogger took me to task last week.  She suggested that I clarify that not all Canadians are hell-bent on destroying the boreal forest in the name of bitumen bucks (i.e. tar-sands oil revenue).  Julie Diane Johnston’s blog – Compassionate Climate Action – is high-quality and well worth a visit.


Historic Winter Heat

The most frequently heard word over the past few weeks here in the Twin Cities – and throughout much of America – has to be ‘wonderful.’  Yes, it’s ‘wonderful.’  Everyone hates winter, right?  Who needs the cold?  Bring on spring – weeks early!  Wonderful!  We have had a string of record highs, with new temperatures obliterating 130-year-old records.  Those new warmth records include daytime highs and nighttime lows.  Take today just for one example.  Our high for St. Patrick’s Day was 79 degrees, and the predicted low for the overnight – 63.  Compare those numbers with average March high and low of 41 and 24 – and you will see something is afoot, and maybe not so ‘wonderful.’  A day or two like this happens now and then.  But a switch flipped a little over a week ago.  And the winter that wasn’t suddenly morphed into summer in March, with daytime highs 25 to 38 degrees above long-term averages. And here is the most remarkable thing – there is no end to this in sight.  And this is statistically significant.  Paul Douglas explains in a blog entry:


“What’s 40 Degrees Among Friends? High temperatures today will run roughly 40 degrees above average. To put that into context, a 20 degree temperature anomaly is fairly significant. +40 F. is off the charts. If the sun is out for a few hours today and Sunday highs should reach, or even top, the 80-degree mark. If we hit 80 it will be the earliest 80-degree high in Twin Cities recorded history. After another record-setting day on Monday (mid 70s) a little rain cools us off Tuesday – you may even need a (light) jacket the latter half of next week. Highs in the 50s? We can handle that.”


And note those ‘cool’ temperatures – still about 10-15 degrees above average. Douglas has an excellent chart in his blog, showing recent record events. You will be seeing red.  (Note – you may have to scroll down to the national map, as his site is not broken down by dates.)


Thinking people and careful observers – anyone who considers something beyond ‘wonderful’ – have to ask, ‘What is going on?’  As I see it, there are three possibilities:

  • A ‘wonderful fluke’
  • ‘Random variation’ caused by natural forces
  • Symptoms of massive climate change, as predicted, only faster and more chaotic than anyone imagined


First – what about this ‘wonderful fluke?’  Magical thinking.  Plain and simple.


Second – random, natural variation.  Maybe, and in fact you can find experts talking about the Arctic Oscillation.  Here is an example.  Others want to blame La Niña.  But wait – wasn’t that phenomenon supposed to mean colder, snowier winters for most of the US?  Oops.  Maybe it’s the sunspots.  Oh, never mind.


Third – though few want to consider it, maybe, just maybe, this could be a symptom of rapid climate change.  Tim Flannery, in his excellent book The Weather Makers, talked a lot about climate gates.  That is, change that works like a portal – once you go through, you don’t ever (at least in human terms) go back.  He was talking mostly about ocean temperature measurements, but what if this off-the-charts summer-in-winter is the result of man-made phenomena?  Such as atmospheric carbon dioxide, which now stands at 393 parts per million, and rapidly climbing?  Such as the dramatically reduced Arctic ice cap, which some scientists implicate in the bouts of record cold and snow experienced by large parts of Europe within the last few months.  What if this really is an ever clearer example of rapid climate change, as explained here by Jeff Masters.  Dig further into Masters’ Wunderground blog here.


Each time crazy weather phenomena occur, you hear predictable caveats like ‘It has been this warm before,’ or ‘This is hardly unprecedented,’ or ‘My, this is unusual – but back in 1931 . . .’ I hope that increasing weather chaos will wake up a critical mass in support of sustainable climate and energy policies.  If that should happen, it will be in no small part to actions of activists and their organizations.  Here are just a few of the best examples, and these really are ‘wonderful!’





And here is a video from Bill McKibben’s 350.org site.  Help make it go viral.


Moral Crises – Real and Manufactured

Rush Limbaugh may have stepped too far with his personal attacks recently.  Here is a video update on his advertiser flight.  But when he verbally attacked Harvard student, he was really just doing what he does best – stir up the culture war by suggesting that somehow American morals are under attack.  But this of course is just part of the masterful plan conservatives have pushed for the last three decades.  That would be – enroll one-issue and low-information voters into the ‘cause,’ which they believe to be protecting family values.  But the real program is this – plutocracy.  I think Robert Reich says it well in this piece.


Quivering, Quaking Ignorance

I actually found hope in this story.  The Quiverful Society is on a collision course with sustainability.  Its mission – to help their ‘faithful families’ produce as many conservative Christian culture warriors as possible – is one of the finest examples of total disregard for protecting the planet.  We are talking families of 10, 12, 16 kids.  This story features a monologue by a member of the committed faithful.  The main message in the story is this – surprise, surprise their home schooling does not exactly maximize the young ones’ learning.  But here is the hopeful part.  It’s possible for even Quiverful offspring to think for themselves, and choose another path.


Truthiness in Theater

Michael Daisey has gained much media attention these past few months – all of it positive, until the last few days.  Since I linked to his story  a couple of months ago, I think it only air to link to link to This American Life’s retraction of the story, which aired this weekend.  In fact, host Ira Glass dedicated the entire show to the controversy, which focused on this problem – Daisey fabricated some of the encounters he had reported his trip to China to investigate Apple factories.  The last quarter of the show was a fact-based update on Apple’s factory conditions and protocols, focusing on an interview with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg.  I really liked one reason Duhigg offered for why we should care – in America, we decided to do away with inhumane factory conditions in the early part of the 20th century.  Then, instead of exporting our more comfortable environment, we exported the inhumane system.


Poaching and What to Do

One of the most ghastly stories of poaching elephants for their tusks surfaced this week.  Ivory poachers are employing brutally efficient means to destroy ever larger numbers of individuals, and, more important, higher percentages of remaining populations.  Other than not buying ivory, it’s hard to know what people in the West can do to help.  Of course, supporting sustainable population is helpful – human encroachment is a huge problem.  Here are some organizations working to protect elephants.





Woody’s Hundredth on the Horizon

He hailed from what has become one of the most conservative states in the country.  He wrote hundreds of songs still played today, and in fact new songs of his appear from time to time.  At the time of his death in 1967, he had written lyrics for many hundreds more; the Guthrie family releases some periodically to musicians who write music to accompany.  As Jim Hightower points out, the spirit of Woody Guthrie is more needed than ever today – in the era of ‘tinkle-down economics.’


Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.

-Pete Seeger





Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper




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