IBI Watch 6/10/12

10 06 2012

Stepping on the Gas  //

Careful observers of the weather around the world can’t help but notice how much more often a certain word appears.  That word – ‘unprecedented.’  Whether it’s floods or droughts, temperature extremes (mostly hot, but some cold in the winter), extremes are on a dramatic increase.  Here in Minnesota, I have noticed an increasing tendency for weather systems to stall, giving us the same unsettled weather for days on end as a front sits in one place, with storms forming and reforming along the line.  And of course this is not happening just in Minnesota.

A two-part video explains how scientists are figuring out the causes of the rising instability (also called ‘global weirding’).  These two videos, out for about two months, last a total of about 20 minutes, and feature key weather and climate experts.  That includes Jeff Masters, creator of the Wunderground blog, and Twin Cities meteorologist (and truth teller) Paul Douglas.  Watch the videos here and here.  It’s one of the most efficient time investments you can make in helping to understand our unfolding climate crisis.

But what of that unprecedented instability?  If you watched the previously linked videos, you know that this past winter and spring, warm temperature records across most of the US were not just broken, but smashed, obliterated.  And the dramatically shrunken Arctic ice (which the oil industry prays for, every damned day) paradoxically has created conditions for a much colder winter somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  During 2012, that somewhere was in parts of Europe.  The two previous winters, it was right here in the science-denyin’ USA.  (Remember Inhofe and Co.  mocking Al Gore with snow sculptures?  Read about the big melt right here.  And then there’s Greenland, with its massive and threatened ice sheet.  Hard to believe how warm it has been up there.  Yep, there’s that ‘unprecedented’ word again.

It’s pretty easy to see where this is going, absent some massive collective wake-up coupled with technological miracles.  Of course, denialists and magic purveyors still have their snake oil and prophecies to sell.  There is Richard Lindzen and his cloud saviors.  And one of the most commonly heard denialist cants is this – carbon dioxide is plant food.  More food, more plants, better agriculture, etc.  But think again.  That story details new research showing that our carbon emissions are changing things faster than anyone expected.

With every week bringing new discoveries and revelations about the accelerating, uncontrolled experiment we are unwittingly conducting with the planetary systems that nurture us, a question arises.  What will it take for us to muster enough political courage to take the world in a sustainable direction?  Though this video is over a year old, Naomi Klein’s ideas are always worth considering.  In this TED Talk, she ties up so many trends in the theme ‘we are addicted to risk.’  If you watch, pay attention to the ‘precautionary principle,’ which would surely be fundamental in a rational society.

When it comes to the climate, we seem to be insisting on maintaining our comfort, pushing things to and beyond the limit, just to see how far we can go.  These issues will be front and center in the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development.  Not that anything substantial will emerge from that confab, mind you.

In the meantime, we at least can be entertained by our greed-addled folly.  If I were presenting a Pignorance (Pretend ignorance) Purveyance award, surely this month’s honoree would be North Carolina.  Read more here at Scientific American.  Scientists predict rising sea levels, threatening the state’s fragile coastal wetlands, and priceless seaside human development?  Damn the scientists, deny the science, business as usual!  Stephen Colbert had a party with this one.

As for me, North Carolina’s futile attempt to deny scientific reality, and institutionalize that denial, had a whiff of the past to it.  It echoed an illustrative joke from Soviet days.  And we remember what happened to that empire, don’t we?

“Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are traveling by train.  Suddenly, the train stops.

Lenin says:

‘Comrades, let’s call a day of compulsory labor and the workers and peasants will come and fix it.’

Stalin says:

‘Let’s shoot the conductor.’

Khrushchev says:

‘Let’s move the engine to the caboose and see if that helps.’

Finally, Brezhnev says:

‘Let’s just pull down the curtains and pretend we’re still moving!’”


Ben, You Shoulda Listened

In the iconic film, The Graduate, the protagonist gets some prophetic advice about a miracle substance.  It’s plastics of course, and it really was the word of the future.  And that future is now.  Plastics have taken over the world, especially the world’s oceans.  As we learn more about our plastic waste that circulates endlessly in the seas, breaking down into ever smaller (ingestible) pieces, it’s becoming clearer how profoundly this unforeseen consequence is affecting the planet’s ability to support life.  A new video looks to be a new frontier on understanding plastics’ impact.  Here is the trailer for that movie, Plastic Paradise.  And this adds to a body of knowledge on plastics and myriad other impacts on the earth wrought by humanity documented in fascinating fashion by Alan Weisman in his The World Without Us.  I cannot recommend that book highly enough.


Foreign Adventures

Guatemala in the 1980s is a dark tale.  This was the height of a civil conflict that actually lasted from 1960-96.  All told, 200,000 people died.  Massacres of entire villages were a common occurrence.  This American Life ran a harrowing episode a few weeks back, detailing convictions, decades after the fact, some of those carrying out the massacres.  The amazing thing – these were the first convictions.  The show is simultaneously grim and gripping.  If there is one disappointment, it is this – it spends little attention to the US role in the lengthy conflict.  For that angle, on Guatemala and dozens of other foreign adventures, I recommend Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow.


Americans’ Short Memories – GOP Success Plan?

Just a few years ago, Republicans scored big points attacking Senator John Kerry with pancake flippers.  Remember?  The flip-flop charge stuck, and helped make that election close enough for Shenanigans 2004-Ohio.  But if that ‘flip-flop’ charge (related mainly to Bush’s war of choice in Iraq) was so powerful, doesn’t it pale in comparison to the song and dance that Willard Mitt Romney is treating us to right now?  Conservative Republicans’ war cry is ‘Repeal Obamacare.’  But the Affordable Care Act is modeled on nothing more than Romney’s successful plan in Massachusetts.  That was then, this is now.

The gamble, of course, is that massive, unlimited attacks spending on attack ads will divert attention from Romney’s bald hypocrisy.  And recently, we have a major spectacle – Republicans lionizing Bill Clinton.  Fortunately, certain prominent pundits do not suffer from willful amnesia.  One of the funniest is Jon Stewart.  Hard to beat this Stewart quote – “Every four years, history has a piano dropped on its head.”


Supremes Falling on the Charts

Though, like many progressives, I am quite disappointed with the achievements of the Obama presidency, I support him for re-election.  One issue trumps all – the probability that the next president will affect the makeup of the Supreme Court.  The current corporatist club, who gave us the outrageous Citizens United decision, is poised to wreak havoc with the baby step towards a rational health care system represented by the Affordable Care Act.  Could people finally be ‘getting it’ regarding this Supreme Court?  Maybe.  If you agree with me that politics is trumping justice on the high court these days, check out this site.


Courageous Commentary – Three Views

Here are three commentaries I have found recently.  Not directly connected, but each will get you thinking.

First, Paul Krugman continues to tell it like it is.  In this piece, he defines the economy the Republicans will build if they capture the White House and Senate, and he details the outrageous lies they continue to repeat about Obama.  As he points out, Obama is nothing like a socialist, not a big spender, and taxes are already low, lower than anytime in the vaunted Reagan presidency in fact.

Second, Jonathan Haidt suggests provocatively in The Guardian that progressives have it wrong when they wring their hands, demanding to know why ‘values voters’ undermine their financial interests by supporting corporatist Republicans who pay lip service to social issues.  I still prefer Thomas Frank’s thinking, here and elsewhere, but Haidt’s commentary is worth considering, as is the values quiz linked in his article.

Finally, I believe the fundamental problem undermining what is left of our American democracy is the ever-growing power of the large corporations.  I have a thoughtful, articulate ally on that point.  Bonnie Blodgett’s commentary in today’s StarTribune calls out the real elite in our country and the world today, the ‘predator elite.’


Defending the Downtrodden

This piece spotlights the work of Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.  She has been a champion of the disadvantaged, fighting to keep society from disposing people, and blaming victims.  You might say she is concerned about the rate at which we imprison people, especially minorities.


“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”

– Wangari Maathai – Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, 2004


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Tess Galati, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Lucinda Plaisance



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