IBI Watch 7/8/12

8 07 2012

Trends 101 //

If discussions or media coverage of the obviously increasing extreme weather events mention climate change at all, you are likely to hear the term ‘the new normal.’  To my mind, that term is at once a misconception, a flimsy crutch and potentially, one more excuse for inaction on the climate crisis.

What we have seen in the past few months here in the US – off-the-chart spring warmth, clusters of tornadoes, flooding, droughts, catastrophic wildfires and unrelenting nation-spanning heat in early summer – is unprecedented when taken as a whole.  Sure, for most individual phenomena, some historical precedent can be found.  But not for a pattern like this.  That said, this is a ‘new normal’ only in the sense of exploding chaos.  Thinking that all this will settle into some kind of ‘normal’ – weeklong periodic heat waves, temps peaking in the 100s (but not 110s), rainstorms that last a couple of days and drop a few inches to a foot of water – is a fallacy.  Taken together, these are obvious manifestations of planetary systems knocked off balance by our incessant and increasing release of greenhouse gases.  This ‘normal’ is actually a troubling trend – a rapidly moving target that cannot be described except in terms of increasing extremes, with general warming.

So – here are a few questions we will have to ponder in the coming months, years or decades:

  • What will happen when a drought goes on for a decade, and destroys agriculture in an entire region?
  • What will happen when one of these ever-more-frequent tropical weather patterns, with stalled fronts and reforming storms, settles into an area and drops two, three, four feet of flooding rain?
  • What will happen when a triple-digit heat wave with overnight temps of 80-90 hits major American cities, and lasts not a week, but a month or more?

These are important questions, because it is very easy to extrapolate from today’s events.  That is, we are on the way right now to phenomena just like those described – plus many more we can’t even imagine.  Meanwhile, all we can think about, it seems, is making it easier for Shell to drill in the Arctic – melted by our fossil fuel burning – so that we can get more fossil fuels to burn.  Seeing a pattern here?

And yet, there is hope.  More people ‘get it.’  Our political system – largely controlled by oily oligarchs backed in their ‘$peech’ by a corporatist Supreme Court – lags behind the public.  Just look at those numbers – which are bound to go up in the next few months as increasingly chaotic weather affects more and more people directly.  And media commentators do connect chaotic weather patterns, global warming and policy implications.  You just have to know where to look.  No, not on Fox News.  Try this terrific set of interviews and videos on Democracy Now! – here and here.  Featured are Christian Parenti – author of The Tropic of Chaos, Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, and The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg.  See Goldenberg’s latest report, describing scientists’ comments linking the chaos with man-made global warming.  Parenti’s comments reminded me of the old adage – ‘The government is the enemy (as our right-wingers constantly preach) until you need a friend.’  Masters has long been a source of facts and common sense on the climate crisis.  He points out that warming-enhanced weather phenomena – say, killer heat waves – that used to occur in 20-year cycles are predicted to occur on two-year cycles by 2100.  But there’s that trend thing again.  One (of many) errors in judging that prediction would be to think that we would stay on the 20-year cycle until some sudden change to rapid cycling.  Sorry, no.  We are already moving in that direction, quickly.

And then, 2100 seems far off, and many of us Baby Boomers can just dismiss that, waving our hands and assuming tech will save our keisters in the long run.  But NASA’s James Hansen has another idea.  Babies born around now – including his grandchildren – will be living through the hellish future we are building right now, coal plant by coal plant.  That’s the focus of his concise and informative book.  Hansen –committed activist as well as scientist – also has a web site dedicated to waking up the masses and encouraging reasonable policy to preserve the climate.

 

Fight the Switch

One prediction that I made back in the early 90s – when I began following the global warming debate carefully, and quickly spotted the well-funded denialist doubt mongers – was this.  Those smoke screeners would use every tool in their propaganda kit to confuse, starting with ‘there’s nothing happening – global warming is a hoax, so we don’t need to change anything. Now shut up and drill.’  Then, one day, they would flip a propaganda switch, and the message would whipsaw to ‘Yep, global warming is real, we caused it, and now it’s too late to change anything. Now shut up and drill.’

You can almost hear that switch reversing right about now.  Here is hoping we refuse to believe their self-serving (they make billion$, win, lose or draw) hogwash this time, and finally wrest control of our energy production and environmental protection from the corporatists, oligarchs and bought-out, pignorant members of Congress.  (Can you say ‘Inhofe’?)

Star Tribune commentator Bonnie Blodgett has a provocative, thorough take on this ‘course change.’

Just as business as usual was folly when the problem was first becoming clear, it is even more so now that the predicted climate chaos has begun.  Here are several organizations working to educate, inform and institute rational energy and climate policies.  They are all worthy of support.

Bill McKibben’s 350.org

Climate Reality Project

Climate Progress

Real Climate

 

Dark – An Endangered ‘Species’

If there ever was a no-brainer in terms of conservation, it’s this – cut light pollution.  That’s right.  While water and air pollution get all the notoriety, we are mindlessly sending light into areas where it is not needed – even into space.  Turning night into day may seem a technological marvel, but it has costs both obvious – all the coal and its carbon emissions that lights the globe – and less obvious.  Those would be damage to wildlife and, it’s becoming clearer all the time, human health and well-being as well.  This is the subject of a new documentary that hit my Netflix wait list – The City Dark.  Watch the trailer to Ian Cheney’s fascinating documentary right here. And for good measure, visit this like-minded organization.

 

Better Late Than Never

A crowd of legislators were sent packing in November 2010, and their support of a radical idea was a major contributor to their demise.  The radical idea?  Why, universal health care, that disgusting, over-the-top exercise in Soviet-style, nanny-state socialism!  (The Tea Party told me to say that.)  Here is to their vindication.

 

Rebuilding Those Good Old Days

Erik Loomis’ AlterNet commentary lists eight ways we are bringing back the days of the robber barons.  Only this time, they have ever more powerful propaganda tools to keep people from realizing what they are doing.  Wonder what Frank Luntz (The ‘death tax’) will think of next?

 

How Are You?  No, All of You

All I can say about this story is that the great intelligent designer must have been a micro-manager.

 

“There are a lot of people who go straight from denial to despair, without pausing on the intermediate step of actually doing something about the problem.”

– Al Gore

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

 

Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper

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