IBI Watch 4/29/12

29 04 2012

The Real Conspiracy   //

When President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, I remember saying, “The game starts today.”  The ‘game,’ as I saw it, was to pin all the devastating problems of the Bush era – endless wars, ballooning deficits, collapsed economy, unsustainable tax cuts, etc. – on the new guy.  That is, get a critical mass of low-info voters to believe that Obama caused all these problems.  But it was way worse than that.  On that very day, a critical cabal of Congressional Republican leaders – including Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich (maybe he invited himself) –coached by GOP propagandist Frank Luntz, plotted to undermine anything the new president would attempt.  If you think back to what the country was like three years ago, with the economy on its knees, it is easy to see that this meeting – held during Obama’s inauguration – was virtually criminal in nature.  These guys were willing to destroy the country’s well-being – and still are of course – in order to score political points and bring down the Obama administration. Surprised?  Me neither

Read about it in this Daily Kos commentary that tells the story of the meeting, as described in Robert Draper’s new book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.”  Note the about-face on using economic tools – namely stimulus and bailouts – that were A-OK under their guy, and suddenly became ‘job-killers’ under Obama.  Can you say ‘politically convenient hypocrisy?’

And since there is no richer hypocrisy than the religious variety, and since the good Wisconsin ‘reasonable’ Congressman Paul Ryan, that rising star, was there at the birth of the plot, how about some coverage of his fact- challenged Biblical inspiration?  The Washington Post’s Dana Millbank has the godly goods on Ryan, who claims that Catholic theology fits nicely with his greed-based, poor-squeezing budget strategy.  Try this quote from that article:

“Your budget,” a group of Jesuit scholars and other Georgetown University faculty members wrote to Ryan last week, “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.

And while we are on Ayn Rand, I could not resist this briefest of nuggets from Paul Krugman.  Do you know the difference between ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged?’

Whether this particular anti-Obama lie was hatched at that conspiratorial confab or not matters little. It is one of the most bogus fairy tales repeated daily by Fox News and its allies – that President Obama has radically grown the government.  Even if you don’t read this Krugman commentary, at least look at the imbedded chart.  It tells a very different story.


And if that canard about Obama supersizing the government doesn’t give you your daily allotment of baloney, check this storyteller – Congressman Allen West of California. His recent call for a witch hunt reminded Bill Moyers of a certain Wisconsin member of Congress from the past – actually a Senator.  Here’s hoping that, in the long term, Rep. Ryan is about as successful as his Wisconsin predecessor, and remembered even more fondly.


The Next Straw

Look out.  Climate change denialists have a new ‘controversy’ to stoke, and some new ‘uncertainty’ to teach.  James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis – that the earth is a self-regulating system, not unlike a massive organism – is apparently rethinking his direst predictions of man-made climate chaos.  Note that he is not saying that global warming is not happening, but that it may not be as bad or fast as he and other scientists have predicted.  Also note that the famous chemist and author is just one expert – albeit an important one – and is 92 years old.  But if you think those denialists will pounce, you are right.  Try this link, this, and this.  And you can bet they are only getting started.  A veritable anti-science obfuscation frenzy!


‘Not too Bad,’ eh?

I am not a scientist, just a careful observer of weather and climate, and an avid reader of popular, fact-based science.  We can delude ourselves, trumpet the climate uncertainty – of course it’s uncertain, the system is so complex! – and exploit that uncertainty as our strongest argument for ‘business as usual.’ That is, maintain an energy policy that can be summarized as: Find lots more fossil fuel, drill it, frack it and burn it all up, fast!  I maintain that is the road to climate disaster, and most experts agree

Paul Douglas – recently revealed to be a Republican – is one of my favorite experts.  And I just love it when  a trained scientist like Douglas reports in detail on a phenomenon that this careful observer has noted for years.  Here is a recent Douglas post in the Star Tribune, called ‘Getting Stuck.

“One of the trends we’re seeing on the weather maps in recent years: weather systems are moving slower, with a greater tendency for the pattern to become “stuck”. Heat waves are hotter; storms move slower, increasing the potential for flooding. Why? Recent research shows the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of North America. This “Arctic Amplification” has caused the north-south temperature/pressure gradient to weaken by 10 percent since the late 80s; jet stream winds have weakened by 14 percent.

Who cares? The jet elongates, crazy dips and bulges, making drought worse and prolonging storms. The weather, increasingly, is getting “stuck”. That may be one reason why the models we use have become even more unreliable. Predicting weather has never been more challenging.

Note the increasingly chaotic weather and climate.  And note especially his comment about weather systems moving slower.  He did not report on a resulting phenomenon.  When fronts stall, storms keep forming on the front, and sometimes race along the front, resulting in repeat bouts of severe weather in the same area on successive days.  And Douglas is a persistent truth teller.  His blog has been full lately of entries explaining the various ways we will experience the chaos we are building with our relentless changing of the chemical content of the atmosphere.  Here is an extended sample, full of great links and charts:



Global Warming Makes It Rain More, Except Where It Makes It Drier. New research suggests that the water cycle is intensifying the rate of evaporation, sparking heavier rains, accelerating the drying out regions that are dry to begin with. Here’s an excerpt from an important story at The Atlantic Wire: “The news from a new study on the earth’s rainfall isn’t the fact that global warming is making it rain more in wet areas and less in dry ones, it’s how much scientists had previously underestimated that trend: By half. The finding, published in the latest issue of Science but available without a subscription in Scientific American, means global warming’s impact on the earth’s water cycle is a lot more pronounced than we’d thought. In short, as research leader Paul Durack, of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Science, “wet regions will get wetter and dry regions drier.”

Photo credit above: Reuters.


Where It Rains It Will Pour, Otherwise Tough Luck. More on the new findings about the acceleration and amplification of the water cycle at Scientific American: “Warmer air allows for more water vapor. So scientists have long predicted that global warming will result in a more intense water cycle—the process by which water evaporates from the oceans, travels through the atmosphere and then falls as rain. Now new measurements of the ocean’s salinity prove that prediction—and suggest that global warming strengthens the water cycle even more than anticipated. “What we found is that regions that are salty in the main are becoming saltier” and areas that boast more rainfall are getting fresher, explains oceanographer Paul Durack of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the research to be published in Science on April 27. “It’s another independent estimate of how the climate is changing as we pump out CO2.”

Photo credit above: “READING THE OCEAN: Around 3,500 robotic buoys have been deployed throughout the world’s oceans, delivering unprecedented data on temperature, salinity and other measures. Image: CSIRO: Alicia Navidad.”


Changing Ocean Chemistry. As much as 90% of the warming witnessed in the last 30-50 years may be absorbed by the world’s oceans, impacting salinity (salt) levels around the planet. Another perspective on changes in the water cycle at Climate Central.

Map credit above: “Surface salinity changes for 1950 to 2000. Red indicates regions becoming saltier, and blue regions becoming fresher. Credit: Paul Durack.” Map courtesy of Climate Central.


Study Indicates A Greater Threat Of Severe Weather. The New York Times has more: “New research suggests that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify more than scientists had expected, an ominous finding that may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in coming decades.  By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate. If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.”


But just as climate chaos is not all about Al Gore, nor is it all about Paul Douglas.  Check this piece on hydrological changes in the oceans, and this one on methane from the steadily melting Arctic.


NIMBY on Small and Large Scale

Marketplace’s David Brancaccio did a thoughtful, informative piece on rich, poor and garbage this week.  Just a few NYC subway stops separate the richest from the poorest.  Guess who gets the benefit of everyone’s rubbish?  And it turns out that those benefits include four years less of life expectancy.  Brancaccio’s story made me think of an activist in the Bronx who works tirelessly on issues just like this – what you might call environmental justice.  Majora Carter is a visionary in environmentally responsible urban redevelopment.

And what about the bigger picture?  That is, how much garbage we produce in this great country?  A new book, Garbology, tells the dirty tale.  And the author, made a very interesting interview when he appeared on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air this week.  One tidbit – What is the tallest structure in Los Angeles?  It is a 500-foot- tall landfill.

You may be inspired to toss away less after exploring these links.  If so, read on.  This HowCast is surprisingly helpful.  And while that video offered five tips, this article goes a bit further – 42.  And it turns out that a major American city has plans to be zero-waste by 2020.  One more reason to love San Francisco.


Sustainability – More to Learn

I cling to the idea that more people would ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to preserving the environment, and creating an equitable economy for that matter, if only they had the right information.  And of course the fact that all that information is available in plain sight runs up against a key modern problem – info overload.


This AlterNet article lists a group of nine recent non-fiction movies and documentaries that inform and motivate.  Just try to sell that ‘climate change won’t be so bad after all’ fantasy to the ‘island president.’  And for readers in the Twin Cities, the Science Museum of Minnesota has a new permanent exhibit covering human impacts on the environment.  Worth the trip (on bus, bike or shoe leather of course).  This also reminded me of a favorite book that is really an extended thought experiment.  Called ‘The World Without Us,’ it answers the question “What changes have we made to Earth, and what would happen if we all vanished tomorrow, without a trace?”  The answers are fascinating and thought-provoking.  If you won’t take time for the book, have a look at this interactive time line.  And by the way, though you have heard this before in other contexts, this book is WAY better than its documentary film counterpart.


“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”

~ Gregory Bateson



Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN



Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper




One response

30 04 2012

Hi Michael,
re The Real Conspiracy: It was *so* obvious to those of us north of your border that Obama was allowed to be elected (with the support of Big Money and Big Coal) because the Republicans didn’t want to take the rap for all the crap Dubya left in his wake. It was obvious because McCain “chose” (ahem) whazhername as his running mate. What I wish is that Obama had called their bluff, offering those ginormous bail-outs only to companies who retooled (just as in WWII) to start manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, and other enviro-necessary stuff — and only to those banks that supported the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Wouldn’t that have been neato? 😉

(Watch Lester Brown describe the U.S. war-time mobilization in the video at this blog post: http://blog.greenhearted.org/2009/09/84-days-left-and-our-economic-paradigm.html)

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