IBI Watch 12/2/12

2 12 2012

Twin Cliffs //

Here in America these days, you can’t turn on a news show – radio or TV – without hearing of the so-called fiscal cliff. That’s the package of steep, formulaic tax hikes and spending cuts ready to strike if Democrats and Republicans can’t find some way to agree in the next four weeks. Granted, this “cliff” warrants attention (though David Lightman reminds us of its plutocrat-protecting origins). But a far steeper cliff confronts the world – a physical rather than fiscal cliff. This of course is the planet’s carrying capacity. We test that capacity more all the time, with our 7 billion humans and counting, and our relentlessly growing greenhouse gas emissions – currently 90 million tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere every day. That has CO2 sitting at

391 parts per million, compared to 280 ppm before we started madly burning every carboniferous energy source in sight. This is too much, and growing all the time. Mother Nature tells us more firmly each day that this is too much. All the talking and posturing in Qatar right now is not going to change that one bit. Only individual action and popular pressure on the decision-makers holds any hope of heading off further catastrophe.

It appears that Hurricane Sandy may be a tipping point, at least in terms of media attention. Check this effective three-minute video posted this week on NBC News, reporting new scientific studies showing just how fast polar ice is becoming polar water. Those same new reports showed up on HuffPost as well. The Washington Post ran a story that sums up the issues nicely. It’s especially useful in that it shows that it’s not just those alarmist environmental chicken littles waving their arms around. This is the World Bank. Reality check. This article notes a common prediction of four degrees C. of warming; all our current climate chaos – extreme weather events like supercharged Hurricane Sandy, record Arctic ice melting – it is all happening with 0.8 degrees C. rise in global temperatures. I also like the way the article talks about non-linear climate change – because that is the territory we are now traversing. In other words, many surprises, just ahead.

So what are we doing about all this? Well, there is the business-as-usual crowd, who sadly have too much power in this country of ours. And then there is that pignorant power base – welcome to the pretend-ignorant club, Marco Rubio!

But all is not wanton, phony stupidity and blind greed, I am very glad to say. This video is making the rounds. A former climate denier all but breaks down in tears after viewing a new documentary on polar melting. The movie she has just seen? Chasing Ice, which I think everyone who cares even a little about this accelerating disaster should see. And at long last, offshore wind farms are making huge inroads, especially along the East Coast. Could this also be the time James Hansen starts making traction with his idea of a carbon price? If only all the lip service being offered at Doha were this substantive!

In the meantime, we always need to learn more. Here is an excerpt from a promising new book, Carbon Zero by Alex Steffen.

 

Mercury: Home of Durable Ice

While more stories of Earth’s disappearing ice flash before us by the day, scientists this week announced a surprising discovery. Significant quantities of water ice exist on torrid Mercury.  While all the stories I have seen – including this one – explain that perpetual shadows at the poles protect that Mercurian ice from the sun’s rays, you still have to wonder about the connection to our human-engineered climate crisis. How is that? Well, in addition to the shadows at Mercury’s poles, Mercury’s nearly nonexistent atmosphere allows all that scorching heat from the nearby sun to radiate out from the planet. Here on Earth, things were in balance until we went on our burning binge. Now, we ‘thicken’ our atmosphere every time our smokestacks belch and our tailpipes spew.  Here is the irony of all ironies. If we don’t turn this rolling catastrophe around, and decades or centuries from now we have liquefied all the ice – Greenland, Antarctica, all of it – we out here in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of our solar system will have a completely flooded planet. Our future followers can train their high-tech telescopes on Mercury and see ice so close to the sun.

 

Minnesota Winter: Endangered Species

It’s cheap entertainment for me. I am traveling on the East or West coast, and someone learns I live in Minnesota.  So they say, “Hey, it’s August. Snowing already, right?” I tell them no, in fact, it doesn’t snow in August here. In fact it doesn’t snow in December. It hardly snows in freaking January. And when we do get snow, it doesn’t stay as it used to. How can it stay? Heck, today, December 2(!), temperatures will approach 60! And yet we keep pretending that nothing has changed. Yes, pignorance is pervasive – especially when drastic human-caused climate change is disguised as relief from numb hands and snow shovels. There is no better source for the reality of how dramatically we are changing Minnesota’s climate than Paul Douglas. And he is not afraid to deploy a useful tool – sarcasm. “Lo and behold, long-range models hint at “accumulating snow” a week from today; maybe a couple inches? Time to call out the National Guard.” Indeed.

 

An Entire Hurricane Season in Four Minutes

At long last, the Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on November 30.  It was an active one – the third most active in history.  Watch this video to see the paths of all the named storms. This one builds of course – see the sudden expansion of Sandy, and its bizarre left turn into the mainland of North America.

 

Attention All Rats: Prepare to Abandon Ship

Of all the welcome outcomes of dealing with the “fiscal cliff,” this one has to be my favorite – the impending fall from unelected power of Grover Norquist.  The number of House members and Senators renouncing the no tax raise, no how, not ever pledge appears to be growing. And it is not just Saxby Chambliss. And anyone who says Republicans are not creative needs to meet this guy. Could Grover Norquist soon be knocked from his power perch into exile as a right-wing pundit? Let’s hope.

 

Not All Billionaires are Plutocrats

I maintain that Republicans – pending the nascent Norquist mutiny– are holding the country hostage in the name of doing their lords’ bidding. That is, protecting the very top of our income scale from tax restoration (the proper name for allowing the W tax cuts to expire). But not all the wealthy are overcome by self-centered greed. Warren Buffett for one. I like the fact that this particular wealthy investor looks at the big picture rather than simply demanding to keep more of his income, damn the common good. His commentary reminded me of another, related article from Hedrick Smith. He is also the author of Who Stole the American Dream?

 

Who Will Kill the Last Moose?

Moose are in decline, big time, here in Minnesota. The main culprit? What else, climate change.  Summers are just getting too damned hot here in the upper Midwest for this iconic beast’s liking. Don’t take my word for it – it’s what scientists say. And yet, as this recent article by Doug Smith in the Star Tribune demonstrates, hunters keep shooting them, patting themselves on the back for being environmentally responsible all the while. Why? Well, you see, they shoot only males – that preserves the population. And hey, the surviving Mr. Moose is happy – he just gets to chase more of those big ladies through the woods. I am sure that is true for a healthy population. But when the beasts are in a well-documented disappearing act, why in the world would we keep pretending that the old rules apply? Seems to me that lessons from the past relate. History is full of humanity devastating and even extinguishing entire species, based on false assumptions of inexhaustible abundance. Here are two for you – the Atlantic cod fishery, and the passenger pigeon. But hey, it sure is fun to shoot those big boys. Just do it soon. Time is running out.

Sexiest Man Alive

It’s Kim Jong Un, or so says the Onion. And who can doubt that reliable source? Not the China Daily, which devoted 55 pages to the feature on this great, dear friend of the people, according to the Guardian. Now, if China Daily really was punked, that is hilarious. But NPR’s Scott Simon had an interesting take – he smells satire here.

 

“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.” – Mark Twain

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

 

Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, David Oertel

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One response

8 12 2012
Karly Corinthos

Today is the first day of snow we have had and it won’t last! I am wondering how much further North I will have to move as I already live in Michigan, to have a white Christmas? The Greatt Lakes are at record lowes and although this in itself does not seem to be so catastrophic, when you stop to consider not only are the great lakes the biggest mass of fresh water in the country, Michigan is known for her Shipping indusrty. When the water levels get too low, the ships can’t move imporatant things to consumers around the world: Like produce, wheat, meat, and dairy products. Michigan is still a huge farming state, along with Wisconsin who also shares a Lake with us. What the droubt didn’t take away the loss of our shipping abilities will make up for.

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