IBI Watch 7/7/13

7 07 2013

The Fiction of Climate Change //

Though the scientific facts of what we are doing to the planet that sustains us are plenty scary, manmade climate change is a bonanza for fiction writers of a certain stripe. They dystopic potential is unparalleled. Just read the forecasts of a conservative assembly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the future emerges. Two degrees of warming? Four? Six? The catastrophic possibilities are endlessly frightful.

The main purpose of the writers whose work is featured in this New Yorker article is not to capitalize on our catastrophic, uncontrolled science experiment. I wager a guess that each would admit to a “wake-up” purpose for their speculative fiction.

Take T. Coraghessan Boyle, whose excellent Friend of the Earth I can strongly recommend. I remember hearing an interview with this California author not long after the 2000 publication of this book, in which he complained that he had come under reader fire. These tone-deaf readers accused Boyle of being anti-environment. His retort – of course he is an environmentalist. All he did to create his fictional world of 25 years into the future (then) was to take current trends (which have only continued and accelerated in the intervening 13 years) and project them into a devastated future.

It is the same with novelist and nonfiction writer Barbara Kingsolver, whose book Flight Behavior takes on climate change as it affects the natural world. Her focus here is on monarch butterflies. Seen any of those this year? Me neither. And no article surveying apocalyptic and dystopic fiction would be worth its time for me unless it launched another book onto my reading list. Check. Nathaniel Rich’s The Odds Against Tomorrow looks very promising.

It was back in high school, in 1970s New York, when I first became enamored with dystopias and apocalyptic literature. I cut my dark-view teeth on A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World and 1984. (Thanks, Dr. Robert Englert!) But who could have foreseen 40 years ago that the reality we are creating, whether by bad choices or by no choices at all (let the markets decide, we are told) would end up as more compelling, more frightening, than the darkest visions of the best fiction writers? If we could only learn from, and not just be enthralled, entertained and shocked by Boyle, Kingsolver, Rich and Co., maybe we could move beyond fighting over the rudder as our planetary ship drifts faster and faster toward the waterfall.

Climate Change is no fiction, friends. How catastrophic will it be? Let’s just say it’s a real page-turner.


It’s Called Global Warming, After All

I rarely use the term “global warming” in my writing and conversation. Though the long-term trend is clearly warming – punctuated by glacier and ice-sheet melting, record-high temperatures overwhelming record lows, and historical evidence linking rising carbon dioxide levels with rising temperatures – the term is too easily manipulated by denialists who spotlight isolated contradictions. (“It’s cold! It’s snowing! Global warming? Al Gore’s fantasy!”) Paradoxically, the term “climate change” coined by right-wing spinmeister Frank Luntz is more accurately descriptive. I say paradoxically because Luntz’s well-paid purpose is not to arouse awareness about the climate crisis, but the contrary – to encourage resignation, lethargy and the like. It’s climate change, it’s natural, the climate is always changing, little ol’ humanity couldn’t be causing this, etc.

But the term global warming does have certain power. I was reminded of that power by some recent research. Since an outsized portion of the earth’s population centers are in the northern hemisphere, we naturally focus on the Arctic, where epochal change is already under way. Hardly a day goes by without more news of new lows in ice volume, storms melting ever more Arctic ice, and the like. Meanwhile, at the other end of the globe, the situation is different. Rather than a frozen ocean, we have ea massive continent, covered by ancient ice. And in fact, one oft-heard denialist cant is “Antarctic ice is increasing.” I found a fine example of this, written by that bastion of brilliant science, the editorial board at Investors’ Business Daily. Ah, but remember, just like old President W, who didn’t like nuance, these sage scientific pundits ignore the much more complex, much more interesting analysis. And it proves that, just like all the other anti-sconce fantasies of the denialists, this canard is empty. Here is the latest inconvenient Antarctic melting truth. And what is more, there is the problem of that warming ocean, or rather oceans. Oops.

So while we are justifiably watching the melting Arctic, and astonished at its immediate disruptive effects on northern hemisphere weather patterns, the sleeping giant to the south is readying a big surprise for us. Arctic ice is already afloat; its melting has little effect on global sea levels. Greenland on the other hand is another story for another time. But Antarctica’s continental ice sheet is the largest storehouse of frozen water on the planet. Remember Hurricane Sandy? Just imagine how much more waterborne fun is in store for us with a 200-foot sea rise. That possibility is dismissed in this piece, but our recent experience argues for caution. The kind of caution that should encourage us to support President Obama’s foray – at long last – into the climate policy debate. And this caution must lead to action to curb greenhouse gases. Two great places to start are the Climate Reality Project and Bill McKibben’s 350.org.

Here is a great Bill Nye video explaining the scientific basics for those whose heads are not under the ground or in other dark places. Have a blast.


Supreme Corporatists

It’s been a long time since the Supreme Court has been so much in the news. Recent rulings on marriage equality and voting rights seem to cut in opposite directions, as this David Gans opinion piece asserts. But I see a broader agenda here, and I have a theory to explain it. My theory is this – though some decisions may complicate the picture – see the DOMA verdict – the right-wing majority will coalesce and hold firm whenever big corporate power is at stake. That is obvious in the infamous Citizens United decision, which allowed vastly expanded political spending by corporations. It is also clear, though a little less obvious to the contrary in Chief Justice Roberts leading a progressive(!) majority upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Why? The conservative chief justice could step out on this legacy-defining issue because no major corporate ox awaited goring. Though health insurance exchanges are anathema to the most extreme right-wingers, the health insurance industry not only escapes this change unscathed – it picks up massive numbers of new customers and therefore heaps of profits for the vaults and the CEO salaries.

The Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act is justly seen in racial terms – it’s mainly the states with a sordid past of racial discrimination which will feel the “liberating” effects. And in fact they are wasting no time. But see how this decision passed the corporatism test. Even with the Voting Rights Act in place, states with GOP-dominated legislatures and statehouses have been pushing the phantasmagorical specter of voter fraud and its remedy – voter ID laws. Guess what more voter ID laws will mean in addition of course to racial discrimination – more Republican victories. And who could argue that the GOP is anything but the promoter and defender of big corporate power.

The biggest test yet is just around the corner. Just wait until the decision on this case arrives.


Pollinator Patrol

I wanted to be wrong back around 1980 when I feared a sweeping change toward virtual corporate rule in this land that we love. I again wanted to be wrong around 1990 when I began educating myself on the looming monster of climate change. I feared this slow-moving crisis would be ignored, at our peril.  Well, we know how both of those turned out.  Here is what I want to be wrong about today. I ask you – visit natural areas, observe your garden if you are lucky and wise enough to have native plants on the premises. See any wild bees? How about butterflies?

Yes, spring was late here in Minnesota this year, mainly due to a climate change phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. But our gardens are largely in bloom, and I have yet to see a single large butterfly. Bees are also almost entirely absent. The neonicotinoid pesticides are the likely culprit in catastrophic bee decline, as I have written about recently, but our corporate-addled government is unconvinced. Now there is news that our “miracle” pesticides may be having a reach even beyond bees.

Here is another theory of mine. Dig into any environmental crisis, however “natural” it may seem, and you will find some example of “manmade progress,” well-meaning or otherwise, at its root. I will leave you to decide whether this example was well-meaning or not. So, we have one more everlasting gift to thank the “pro-bidness” W administration for. Thanks, Mr. Decider, and Happy Birthday!


Lonely at the Top; Sneaky Too

No big news here. Worker pay about stable, CEO pay through the roof. And – all you “future millionaires” out there – get used to a few things. First, your upwardly mobile future would have been more secure if you had been born in Britain rather than our American “land of opportunity.” And if you are still working on the first part of that first million, maybe you are just too damned nice.

In the interest of truly being “fair and balanced,” let’s be clear. You don’t have a be a greed-drunk bully if you are rich. I love this story by Gar Alperovitz (author of a book that just hit my reading list). Positively inspiring.


“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,

For strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain.

America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,

And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.”

― George Carlin


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN



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