IBI Watch 5/6/12

6 05 2012

Send in the Clouds  //

Isn’t it rich?  It’s magical thinking at its finest.  One of the most prominent of the stalwart climate change denialists, Richard Lindzen, has revealed the phenomenon that will save us from our gases – our greenhouse gases of course.  It’s not firing sulfur into the atmosphere, it’s not gigantic airborne sunshades, it’s not dumping iron into the ocean.  No – it’s simple, it’s natural, and it’s magic.  It’s cirrus clouds, that will, like so many Casper the Friendly Ghosts, start flying away from tropical regions, allowing more heat to radiate into space.  Whew!  That was a close one!  Praise the clouds and pass the coal!

You can learn more about this phenomenal salvation, that’s just around the corner (but before the Rapture) right here in this in-depth New York Times piece by Justin Gillis.  It is important to note that Lindzen is a denialist standard-bearer.  He figures prominently as a foil in James Hansen’s book Storms of My Grandchildren – which I am now reading.  Unlike many other loud denialists, Lindzen is a scientist.  He is also public-minded.  He has lent his voice to previous scientific debates, for example, helping the tobacco companies cast doubt on the evidence linking smoking to disease.  Remember how well that one worked out?  He is also clearly part of the 3 percent of scientists who ‘doubt’ the scientific consensus on climate change shared by the other 97 percent.  That provides the context for a great letter to the editor published soon after the cloud revelation:

Let’s say you had a fire in your house. It is your most important possession, and you feel that it is irreplaceable. You want to find out what caused the fire, so you hire 100 expert fire investigators to investigate and report to you.

Ninety-seven of them tell you virtually the same thing: the fire was caused by faulty wiring, and if you don’t invest in upgrading the wiring you will almost certainly have another fire — and the next one could destroy your house.

Three of the experts tell you that you don’t have to do anything, and you shouldn’t worry about it at all. What would you do?

New York, May 2, 2012


But back to the cloudiness.  Because this is a new ‘theory,’ I could not immediately find a solid scientific explanation.  But here is something almost as good – a debunking of another Lindzen assertion (aka soothsaying).  If you visit that link, check the impressive list of magical-thinking skeptical ideas that are scientifically debunked.


As the Times article points out, fading clouds are the last (at least until the next) refuge of the denialists who have effectively stalled meaningful policy steps to get manmade climate chaos under control.  But here is some much-needed good news. It may have taken 14 billion-dollar-plus weather disasters across America in 2011, but a critical mass of Americans of all parties now recognize that climate chaos is a huge and growing problem, and that our smokestacks and tailpipes are the cause.  As NPR Science Friday reported, that is even true of Republicans, whose party has been taken over by pignorant (pretend-ignorant) plutocrats.  And just to prove that not all Republicans drank the know-nothing Kool-Aid, here is blog post from a Republican who dares to be skeptical of the skeptics who have taken over his party.

A large share of the manufactured skepticism – which I prefer to call denialism – can be credited to Exxon Mobil’s ongoing disinformation campaign.  That oil and gas giant is the subject of a new book, aptly named Private Empire.  Author Steven Coll did two interviews this week – a concise one on Democracy Now and an in-depth on Fresh Air.

To finish, here is a favorite song with animation that spotlights Exxon-Mobil’s achievements.  And even the late great Dr. Seuss gets into the truth-telling act, or at least his Lorax has been brought up to date:


“Lorax Redux” from Wired Magazine, March 2012

“Great to be here on Hardball,” the Lorax said drily.
“Chris, you’re so much more polite than that blowhard O’Reilly.
I am the Lorax, I speak for the climate
which you have been warming, you pale hairless primates!
It’s anthropogenic, this crisis we’ve got!
The carbon you’re burning is making us hot!
This decade was warmer than even the last!
Three eight five parts per million and going up fast!”

“Hush, Lorax!” said Onceler
“You socialist fraud!
Only one guy makes climate,
and His name is God.
This cycle is natural, there’s no need to fret.
It’s your job-killing antics that’ll screw us up yet!
Those quote ‘greenhouse gases’ that have you all bent?
We’ve caused just a fraction – 0.28 percent!”

“You’re a fool!” yelled the Lorax, his anger now showing.
“Once this process speeds up, there’ll be no way of slowing.”
The tragic thing is, it turns out he was right;
too bad for us all that real facts don’t win fights.

. . . But the battle’s not over yet.


Obstructed by Elephants

After magical thinking, I think the thing that annoys me most is false equivalence when it comes to political extremism.  You’ve heard this before – both major parties keep moving to the extremes, there’s no one left in the middle, and on and on.  I have long believed this to be totally untrue.  Now two smart guys – one conservative, one liberal, have joined forces to write a book with a great title – It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. This pair with different political affiliation have arrived at the same conclusion – the problem is really what has happened to the Republican Party – it’s been taken over by extreme right-wing ideologues, and it really is wrecking the country.  No kidding.  No equivalence.  Listen to this brief interview with the authors.  Then try this Daily Kos perspective on the authors’ work.

For analysis of how and why the Republican Party has been taken over by extremists, and how they have succeeded in gaining the support of working people for plutocratic policies, it’s hard to beat Thomas Frank.  His book What’s the Matter with Kansas? provided credible answers to that frequent question, ‘How can they vote against their interests?!’.  And now his brilliantly titled Pity the Billionaire explains what we are well on the way to becoming – one nation, ruled by plutocrats for the sake of plutocrats, to preserve plutocracy for all.  Here is an interview with Frank posted by Thom Hartman.  As you might expect, the interview offers insights on how today’s very wealthy can play the role of put-upon ‘job creators,’ sort of living an Ayn Rand fantasy.  But it also provides some laughs – including yet another tin-eared misappropriation of a song.  You won’t believe how they are trying to twist the Great Depression anthem, ‘Brother Can You Spare a Dime?’

Not all the wealthy are Randians.  Thriller author Stephen King got attention with a potty-mouthed screed this past week that echoes Warren Buffet – asking for higher (i.e. partially restored) taxes on the wealthy.  You have to love a piece that coins the phrase ‘pluted bloatocrats.’

And remember what the Republicans are proposing – austerity.  Just look at Paul Ryan’s budget, and look at what it does to the cost of college.  That, among other problems, has Paul Krugman mighty concerned.

But once again here is a bit of progress.  The national smoke-filled back room known as ALEC is dark no more.  The American Legislative Exchange Council – basically a shadowy (until recently) system for large, powerful corporations to see that cookie-cutter, corporate-friendly ‘model’ legislation is enacted by states across the country – is suddenly shaky.  Some prominent corporations are jumping ship.  You have not met ALEC?  No problem.  This five-minute video catches you up, and points you to a helpful web site.


One Island at a Time

This story about an isolated population of wolves and moose illustrates an increasingly common modern-day environmental quandary.  Buffeted by today’s triple whammy of global warming, invasive species and pollution, those wolves – who came to the island in the 40s on an ice bridge (don’t see those much anymore!) are in danger of disappearing.  So the question is – whether and how to interfere with the ‘natural process?’  And in fact, what is a ‘natural process’ in our times anyway?  The article rightly points out how National Parks increasingly resemble artificial islands – wildlife populations are isolated, and when some event or change happens – natural or otherwise – the creatures can disappear.  This is a specific example of a phenomenon described in depth by one of the best popular science authors you will find, David Quammen.  In The Song of the Dodo, he retraces the steps of Darwin and Wallace, and shows how we are creating artificial islands all over the world, to the great disadvantage of wildlife habitat.  Some care about this issue.  Read here about the wildlife crossings movement – which should become more important with further wildlife fragmentation – if we decide to stop taking pledges to guys like Satan and Grover Norquist.

And for the bigger picture in Minnesota, we just can’t wait to start shooting those damned wolves and those damned moose.  On the other hand. . . and . . .


Three Cities, Three Cycling Worlds

As a committed bicycle commuter, I am glad to say that most of my trips are trouble-free. Sure, there was the jerk in the truck who buzzed me within inches recently, and blasted me with his pseudo-train horn when he was exactly abeam . . . and there was that school bus driver who literally ran me up on the sidewalk, gesturing with a finger to prove his point . . . and there was that cell-phone entranced lady who nearly drove right over me, head-on, until I swerved at the last moment (she never saw me).  But those are exceptions.  Far more common are the drivers who wave me on at four-way stops, give me a safe berth when passing, and generally look out for my safety.  Maybe my gray hair earns me some sympathy.  Anyway, there’s a reason why this cold-weather Twin Cities region is a pretty good place for two-wheeling.  Not so in Toronto, whose mayor is not exactly bike-friendly.  I have written about this guy’s animus towards cyclists before.  See if the imbedded video doesn’t remind you of a certain American radio personality famous for bloviating.  And finally, the Asian city that used to be a bicycle capital has lost that status – but may be gaining it back.


Ten Commandments and Our Father – Updated

This updated version of the Commandments is not at all new . . . but it is the first time I have seen it.  I think Bertrand Russell’s rewrite is great for our times and beyond.  Susan Werner is a terrific singer-songwriter.  My favorite album of hers is The Gospel Truth.  This live performance of Our Father has a lot to say about modern religious hypocrisy.  Deliver us from the creepy preachers, and the politicians . . . Amen.


Funnies – A Fracking Scream

Two cartoons for you.  First – Toles brings the spirit of a certain famous painting to bear on an election season that looms and yet already seems to have been going on forever.  Second – I love it when Edison Lee goes subversive.




“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.

From up and down and still somehow

It’s cloud illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all”

–       Joni Mitchell



Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Michael Dolbow, Glenn Gilbert, Allyson Harper




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