IBI Watch 5/19/13

19 05 2013

Way up North, Future is Now  //

Climate disruption is nothing like a linear process. It is also nothing like fair.

For its non-linear nature, look at the numbers. Our carbon emissions have managed to raise the world’s average temperature by about one degree Fahrenheit. But in Alaska, it’s a different story – four degrees of warming already. That’s where the “unfair’ comes into view. Warmth is radically and rapidly transforming the landscape, heaping hardship on residents who already live in the harshest of environments. And here is the essence of unfairness – like residents of disappearing islands far to the south, these are some of the people who have done the least to create the climate crisis, but now must pay the dearest price.

Native Alaskans’ story has appeared in media for some time, but a new series in the Guardian brings home both the human side and the science. Suzanne Goldenberg’s insightful writing is paired with a collection of short videos by Richard Sprenger.  You will meet the villagers of Newtok on Alaska’s west coast, whose land is basically sinking all around them as the permafrost melts. This highly interactive, three-part series is one of the best pieces I have seen for learning about the plight of the far north.

If you watch the videos in the Guardian series, you will discover a key theme – the tussle over whether funds are available to move the village’s 350 residents. You will also note that Newtok is merely one of hundreds of doomed settlements in Alaska.

The news often holds ironic twists, and this week we have a particularly fine example. There may not be funds available for emergency evacuations of America’s first climate refugees, but we know of course what there are endless funds available for – sending high US officials off to meetings about the best ways to divvy up the melting Arctic Ocean and exploit the resources soon available under its formerly ice-covered waters. And let’s not think for now about the consequences of burning more and more of the stuff.

“Progress” marches, plunders and spills on.

A Dubious Party

It’s just a number. Atmospheric carbon dioxide touched 400 parts per million last week for the first time is several million years. Because of seasonal fluctuations – basically, the effect of photosynthesis in the northern hemisphere, it will soon slip back below that milestone. But next year, it will climb above that portentous number and stay there. Until it reaches 450, 500, who knows how high? So what is the big deal? See here for Caroline Alden’s excellent, concise explanation from the BURN journal of why we should give a damn and do something about it.

Myth Busting – or the 97% Solution

For anyone who has observed and studied climate disruption the past two decades, it is almost beyond belief that climate change doubt still lingers. But then, powerful interests have stoked that doubt for several decades, following a proud tradition.  One of the most sordid tales of doubt has to be the trumped-up pseudo-scandal known as “Climate gate.”  Read about closing that case right here. Be sure to check the imbedded Mother Jones video.

But what about that magic 97 number? As Skeptical Science reports, a new study shows the consensus that you, I and the rest of the 7 billion of us carbon-based and carbon-spewing life forms are causing climate disruption. Skeptical Science is one of the best baloney busters.

While you are there, check out their explanation about the truth behind your favorite “not our problem” myth. For instance, the idea that any pollution from “little old us” is dwarfed by volcanoes. So that’s a myth that is not just wrong, but 100 times wrong. That’s especially timely right now, with an Alaska volcano currently putting on quite a show. Just remember – that show, plus all the lava and ash acts that Mother Nature stages, are nothing compared to our ingenuity and industry.

Building a Movement

If you care at all about climate disruption, you must check into the May 18 This American Life installment. Ira Glass and team set out to do something different from the usual climate change coverage, and produced something special.

There is a conversion story – Colorado’s state climatologist finally becomes an ex-skeptic and utters the words “climate change” to his constituents after the awful fiery summer of 2012.

There is a quixotic tale of a lonely fellow – former Congressman Bob Inglis, who lost his primary in spectacular fashion, largely because of his heresy. He is a Republican who not only “believes” in climate change, he exhorts others to take action. Good news – he has a growing following. Bad news – most of them are already progressives, not the pignorant holdouts he seeks to influence.

And finally, there is a study of the man who woke us all up, Bill McKibben. A highlight of the McKibben segment – learning just how challenging the hopeful, student-driven university divestment campaign is turning out to be. Well, no one said saving the world was going to be easy. We can learn much from McKibben’s books old and new.

Want to know more about the national movement that McKibben is building? Of course you do.

Precautions for Pollinators, Please

The current bee decline – known as Colony Collapse Disorder – shares much with the climate change “debate.” We have a grave problem with massive consequences whose origin was once mysterious, but has become much clearer.

In a rational system, threats would be recognized, and treasured resources protected. And in fact the European Union has banned nicotinoid pesticides. This is an example of applying the precautionary principle. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? When the risk of losing a particular resource – let’s say a hospitable climate, or is this case, the lion’s share of food crops – you take policy actions before 100 percent rock solid certainty as to the science is established. (Remember that 97 number?) Here is more on the principle and its application in Britain, from George Monbiot.

Let’s face it. Powerful interests who profit from “business as usual” are a bit less precautionary, and may need to be constrained. I think that, after you read William Souder’s excellent Star Tribune article on the pollinator crisis is one situation crying out for precaution. The solution will take more than just planting bee-friendly flowers (one remedy that has been proposed.) It will take tackling a familiar problem. Why does everything seem to come back to this?

The Power Game – Three Views and a Wrapper

An NPR interview with the New Yorker’s George Packer caught my attention. His new book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, looks promising and is on my reading list.  The essential question here of course is – are we a community, or individuals, each out for ourselves, and each outmatched by the decisions of the powerful “individuals” who increasingly control policy – for their own benefit.

The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett visited neighboring territory last week, with a special focus on a perplexing problem. That would be the frustrating lack of progress in creating common-sense, common-good regulation in the years since the 2008 economic collapse. (For more on this, check last week’s IBI Watch, under “Corporatism – Harmful, Heritable, Habitual.”)

And the third power view is about as petty as it gets. But it is just one more reminder that the wealthy and powerful can find ways to get to the front of the line in just about every aspect of life. Somehow I can see a free marketer justifying this as “gainful employment for the disabled.”

Somehow all of this vaguely echoes the words of that great sage who left us too soon, George Carlin. Old George wraps it up nicely in his inimitable, foul-mouthed fashion.

Hypocrisy and Double Standards

This is a guest post from Paul Beckwith. Paul’s work is a regular feature of Boomer Warrior, which also carries my writing from time to time. He also blogs at Sierra Club Canada.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root” -Henry David Thoreau

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN




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