IBI Watch 8/26/12

26 08 2012

Climate Leadership   //

I am proud to say that I am now a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project.  I returned Friday from three days of training, the middle day of which was taught by former Vice President Al Gore.  (Here is what Gore wrote about our conference.  His comments are brief and positive, but of course generated a mile-long list of responses.)  The instruction was first-rate, the networking even better.  I was one of about 1000 new climate leaders certified in the conference.  We represented 47 states and 56 countries from around the world.  Meet a few of my new colleagues here.  Also – read the excellent blog by Julie Johnston, my friend and fellow presenter from British Columbia, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the conference.

One of the most moving segments for me was hearing and meeting singer Kathy Mattea, a trained presenter for the project.  She told and sang of her native West Virginia’s complicated relationship with coal – simultaneously the source of the region’s livelihood and its shocking environmental destruction.

I have some prep work to do before taking my show on the road.  I hope you will come back to read more here in coming weeks.

On Climate, We are the Laggards

At the Climate Reality conference, one topic of conversation recurred, over and over again.  That is, how to deal with science deniers.  I can imagine that presenters coming from most every country aside from the US would become discouraged at the amount of time dedicated to this angle.  You see, we in the land of Rush Limbaugh, Richard Lindzen and James Inhofe have a virtual lock on denialism.  That’s right, it has come to this.  The country that once dominated the world in so many productive endeavors now is tops in heads thrust deeply into the sand.  But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Maybe we need more proof of global warming’s creeping chaos.  This NPR story details the cascading, carbon-releasing effects of the persistent drought in the American southwest.  Then there is that great Greenland ice melt.  Here is a recent article detailing drought predictions from global warming. And just for good measure, here is a set of charts detailing the continuing and accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Now that I am certified by the Climate Reality Project, I expect to hear more variants of the following.  “Global warming?  Climate change?  That’s a fantasy cooked up by that big blowhard algore.”  In response, I could hand you a stack of books on the topic that I have read.  You will search the indexes in vain for Gore’s name.  Why?  It’s not about him – he is just one of the most prominent messengers.  And for that, he deserves heaps of credit, not scorn.

To my mind, one of the experts most worth watching and heeding these days is NASA meteorologist James Hansen.  He has emerged from the ranks of scientists to become one of the clearest sources of information for us non-scientists.  His concept of climate dice – which we have loaded with our greenhouse gases – brings home an important point.  It is explained very well here and here.  But Hansen’s most valuable idea is one that should form the basis of policy.  No, not cap and trade, which is widely discredited.  Try fee and dividend – very promising, and sorely needed, in my opinion.

Convenient Cover

Let’s say you have a problem and you know it.  You stand for reinstituting policies that were discredited in the recent past.  Those would be – massive cuts for the wealthy, coupled with steady increases in military spending.  Those policies contributed to a dramatic increase in inequality in both income and wealth, and are tied to a yet-to-be-proven notion that putting more and more money in the hands of ‘job creators’ will create a vigorous prosperity that will ‘trickle down’ to the masses.  (See more here.)  You know at some level that your policies will further accelerate income inequality, but you know that naked greed, fully understood, won’t sell.  You need a legitimate cover, a philosophy.

That’s the role that Ayn Rand’s fiction and essays play for an alarming number of modern conservatives, most prominently running mate Paul Ryan.  His recent denials notwithstanding, Ryan points to the Russian expat proponent of Objectivism as his main influence.  Though I must confess that I have never suffered through Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, Rand’s ideas and their prominence in the current election cycle have spawned a broad discussion of what policies motivated by that philosophy might mean for the nation.

You don’t find David Brooks and Paul Krugman agreeing on too much, but the Ryan/Rand connection is a rare exception.  I agree.  No ideology – socialism, communism, free-market capitalism, libertarianism (including its Randian brand, Objectivism) – can work in the real world in its purest form. Even Alan Greenspan, that devoted acolyte of Milton Friedman, admitted his surprise that big investors would make wildly speculative decisions in an unregulated environment, bringing harm to all.  And yet, that’s exactly the system Romney and Rand want to throw us back into.  Commentator Michael Kinsley could not resist a little satirical fun at the notion of implementing Rand’s philosophy as policy.

This Star Tribune commentary by Imara Jones says that Ryan’s financial ideas potentially put us back into a prior era.  Gilded Age?  Robber barons?  Feudalism?      George Lakoff – arguably progressives’ answer to conservative propaganda minister Frank Luntz – agrees that implementing such policies has serious implications for what kind of country we want to be.

But wait – Paul Ryan is not running for president.  For all the fire and fury around Ryan’s connection with Rand and glorified selfishness, we really should be paying attention to what Romney wants to do.  As I have written previously (see the Mitt/Re-Mitt piece), a President Romney consistent with Governor Romney of Massachusetts would be far from disastrous.  But this Economist piece points out that Romney is making it mighty difficult to know where he would lead us.  Deliberate ambiguity, ya think?

Woody’s Legacy of Protest

Back in the August 2001, I was visiting with old friends on the East Coast.  I let fly – as I am wont to do – a negative comment on President W.  Now remember, he had not yet found the ‘organizing theme’ for his presidency – that was a few weeks off.  Several of my compadres (most were inexplicably sympathetic to the great Decider) responded to my barb with good-natured criticism – I had lived too long in that ‘Communist hotbed,’ (Madison WI), and I had spent too much time singing Woody Guthrie songs.  As for that latter charge, well, to quote my look-alike hero, Groucho, ‘I resemble that remark.’  I was reminded of that party when I read this commentary on the value of Guthrie’s work.

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”     -Neil Armstrong

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Lee Ann Groppoli Lehner, Allyson Harper

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