IBI Watch 1/6/13

6 01 2013

Forced Choices, Real and Imagined //

As a summer sub letter carrier in 1970s New York, I got a close-up look at popular anti-environmentalism. The union rep’s job was to update the workers on labor talk progress, but he could not resist mounting the anti-green soapbox. “Men,” he intoned, “You got a choice. Jobs . . . or a stinkin’ little fish.”

This was one of my first tastes of a forced choice of the imagined variety. In selling his opinion on a red-hot environmental issue of the day, the Tellico Dam snail darter controversy. He was also teaching me a valuable lesson – on environmental forced choices that are imagined or concocted for a political or monetary purpose. There are many of these around, and they generally share a common theme – you can either have a thriving economy, or you can have environmental protection, not both. Here are a few more phony forced choices. You can either have reasonably priced energy, or you can radically reduce mercury pollution from coal plants. You can have safe, reasonably priced motor vehicles, or you can have dramatically higher fuel efficiency standards with no games or loopholes. And – most pernicious of all – you can either have a healthy economy and job creation, or you can drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, some forced environmental choices are the real deal. You cannot have both a perpetually growing human population (seven billion and ever rising) and enough preserved wild lands to support large fauna. You cannot have both unfettered exploitation of fossil fuels and a planet that keeps temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And most important of all, you cannot have ever-rising growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide and a planet that supports life as we know it.

Fortunately, we do have choices beyond heads in the sand – enact policies that drastically cut greenhouse emissions to keep the planet from warming beyond that two-degree threshold identified by most experts as the number beyond which lie catastrophic consequences. That’s not to say that we have not already seen our share of catastrophe with not quite one degree of warming.

The challenge is mustering enough political will in the US for overcoming the formidable power of the fossil fuel industry, and enacting policies that sharply reduce carbon emissions. That is no small challenge, thanks to a long-running propaganda effort funded by – you guessed it. Fox News is no help, but they at least provide some forehead-slapping comic relief. Here are ten of their stupidest contributions – most with video for maximum laughs.  To get an idea of the bill we are running up as we, thanks to Fox, Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, etc., continue delaying climate-saving action, check this piece from Reuters.  And, sad to say, human nature itself makes confronting and solving the problem a special challenge. We have evolved to handle immediate risks effectively, but risks that appear distant, diffuse, impersonal, well, we’ll take the Scarlet O’Hara cue and think about it tomorrow. And AlterNet’s Maggie Klein argues that our emotions are keeping us from confronting and managing the threat.

One of the best, comprehensive yet concise, presentations of the case for action was offered on Moyers and Company this week. Anthony Leiserowitz presents climate change as a problem uniquely designed to challenge human nature. He also offers useful insights as well as an analogy that was new to me. I found one of his pronouncements a bit baffling – 40 percent of people in the world have not heard about human-caused climate change. But the analysis of the US public is oddly encouraging. Leiserowitz, a research scientist and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, splits America into six groups. Those groups divide according to their perception, ranging from fully informed and taking action, all the way to the denialist crowd. Here is the encouraging bit – the dismissive, “not happening,” conspiracy-theory crowd is only 8 percent of the public. That leaves many who are open to persuasion by facts and of course emotional appeals. And that is where his analogy might be helpful.  When doubters hear warnings about rises of two, three, even four degrees, those numbers seem trivial. And some of us in northern climes say, heh, heh, bring on the warmth. But if we can get doubters to consider what even a one or two degree rise in a human’s temperature means, and make the valid comparison between the finely tuned human system and the finely tuned climate system, maybe more doubters can see that one or two degrees is really a major change. The Yale expert closes with an exhortation – meaningful change on this vital issue cannot be strictly a top-down phenomenon.  It has to be a grass-roots effort. Sign a petition right here to tax carbon now. You’ll be glad you did. It’s just one of many steps that can help us avoid the very real forced choice – we can’t have both a life-sustaining planet and business-as-usual with burning fossil fuels. And if you need more encouragement, I strongly recommend this excellent and inspiring piece that Rebecca Solnit wrote for the Common Dreams site. 2013 = Year Zero for the climate crisis. I like that.


Climate Consequences Near and Far

I live in the coldest major metro area in the US. And until recently, winters here were very cold indeed. Though the Twin Cities are still cold compared to other US cities, the change in our temps and weather patterns has been profound. This chart published in the Star Tribune succinctly tells the tale of the warming trend. And of course the warming trend is not limited to winter. Conventional wisdom says a dramatic decline in Minnesota’s moose population is related to hotter summers. A major new research project aims to nail down the causes. Irony note here – we are spending all this money – justifiably – in an effort to save the huge, iconic beast – just months after a legal hunt on them. Want more irony? You won’t believe what they have to do now in northern Canada to guarantee frozen outdoor hockey rinks. And moving further north, we switch from irony to hubris and blind greed.


Apologies to Mother, and a Warning

From two major voices in the environmental movement, confessions of collective wrongdoing. First, David Suzuki acknowledges that we have spent 25 years pretty much not giving a damn about the natural world. George Monbiot zeroes in on 2012 when, with the effects of climate change all around us, we did a pretty good job of ignoring the natural world.  And finally a warning. Dave Gardner focuses on unfettered growth and its consequences. Though his article appeared in a British publication, Gardner’s movie Growthbusters really deserves a wider audience right here in the US.


A Violence Campaign

The pattern repeats. A horrific mass murder happens, and for a time it is omnipresent in the media. Then a few weeks pass, and it is back to business as usual. But business as usual itself is the problem. Several news organizations launched efforts in the wake of the Newtown massacre to track the daily tally of murders across the country in the days immediately following. In any rational place, a toll like this would prompt drastic action – as has happened in other countries. But the US, aka Wayne’s World, is something other than a rational place. I like Bill Moyers’ essay on the topic. It includes a cameo by a fictional expert on all manner of social issues. And though it is not directly related, the issue of “stand-your-ground” laws is covered in this NPR story. Sold as one way to do what the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre prescribes, to “put more guns in the hands of good guys,” these laws appear, based on research, to have some contrary results.


Looming Battles in the Class War

Twice in the past week, newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner acted in the public interest – first by allowing a vote on the “fiscal cliff” compromise without first requiring (as is his custom) support from the “majority of the majority,” and second by allowing a vote on relief for the states the bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. (The second vote came only after a blistering denunciation by fellow Republican, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.) But if you think we can expect this kind of collaboration as a new way of doing business, think again. Says who? Says Paul Krugman.


Sustainable Cities for a Better Future

I am happy to say that Minneapolis made this list of American cities cited for big steps in building a sustainable future. Many good ideas here, and many reasons for the honor. This slide show is worth a look.


“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” – Ronald Reagan


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Hilary Ziols


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN




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