Escape to Where?

15 09 2019

Great Escape           For the better part of five decades now, a small club of wealthy special interests has deliberately stirred enough public confusion on the issue of human-caused climate disruption to hold back necessary change. Yes, we have had well-intentioned international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions, most notably the 2016 Paris Climate Accord. But the nations of the world most responsible for the problem struggle to meet their commitments.  And the United States, the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter overall, is in the Trump-led process of abandoning its commitments altogether.

It’s easy to see the United States leading the way in the wrong direction on the crisis.  Almost daily, you can read about new cuts in environmental protections.  A few recent examples include these:

  • Reductions in projected fuel efficiency improvements for passenger vehicles sold in the United States – improvements that the auto industry had been already primed to achieve – are being rolled back. This one leads to a Supreme Court showdown, since California and a consortium of automakers are poised to fight for the stricter standards.
  • Trump’s polluter-friendly Interior Department is in the latter stages of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil. That was an area set aside during the Carter Administration for protection, in exchange for allowing exploration and drilling outside its boundaries. No more, if Trump gets his way.
  • The Obama-era expansion of water protection under the Clean Water Act is in danger. That well-meaning change restricted pollution of waters that connect with and flow into “navigable” waters – which were the bodies covered by the Clean Water Act in the first place.
  • Trump is in the process of rolling back recent protections against emissions of raw methane from oil extraction, production and transport. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and much more dangerous when vented in its original form than when burned. Those new protections had support from portions of the oil and gas industry, and promised significant greenhouse gas emissions cuts as well as cost savings. But those benefits matter little to the trash-and-burn Trump administration, hell-bent on removing all protections, everywhere.
  • Lest you think the damage wrought by Trump and his pollution-enabling band is limited to our homeland, look at the latest from Brazil. It has been hard to avoid recent news of the destructive fires in the Brazilian Amazon.  Those fires are lit with impunity, by and large, by farmers and developers, and they endanger a vast region that supports a huge diversity of wildlife, plus communities of indigenous people. Oh and, the planet depends on that rainforest for a portion of its oxygen. It’s not as much as an oft-quoted statistic, but still significant. But don’t worry.  The Trump administration is on the case, agreeing to help Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro (“Trump of the Tropics”) expand development of the Amazon rainforest. The explanation?  In short, developing large portions of the rainforest will help save the remainder. Uh huh.  Remember that old explanation from the Vietnam war? Reading that brought me back to an explanation from the Vietnam War.  Maybe you remember it.  “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

How is the planet responding to all this acceleration of pollution?  Too many ways to count or list, but here are a few.

With all the mounting evidence of climate disruption resulting from our greenhouse gas emissions, it is easy at the superficial level to explain away policies like Trump’s.  “They’re only in it for the money.”  That of course is true.

I believe that the proudly ignorant, greed-oozing, corruption-enabling Trump is a destructive demon in his own right.  But the key to all his damage is that he repeatedly appoints cabinet officials hostile to the protections their departments are charged with. Just look at Interior, led by David Bernhardt, former oil and gas lobbyist and attorney.  Look at EPA, headed by Andrew Wheeler, career coal lobbyist. Both Bernhardt and Wheeler’s predecessors resigned in disgrace, under the weight of multiple investigations.  Likewise, both are pursuing – more successfully for now – the enviro-destructive policies of their predecessors.

You must wonder – what future do these agents of devastation see for themselves, and more important, their grandchildren?  We have all heard them joke about how any problems that occur will be long after their watch.  Heck, I have heard ordinary people in my Boomer generation say things along the lines of, “What do I care?  I’ll be long gone when it all happens.”

So yes, greed blinds. Inertia prevails. And on we go.

But it is deeper than that. These powerful people somehow see themselves as immune from the worst effects of our dismantling the natural systems that humans, like it or not, depend on for our existence. They can build walls as protection from those who will suffer the consequences – climate refugees. It is already happening, as this concise article from New Internationalist points out. The author, Tom Whyman, runs down the ways the super-rich expect to ride out the storm of our own making. He even visits the most ludicrous examples – how the likes of Elon Musk plan to colonize Mars.  Right.

All this fantastical, escapist nonsense instead of the wisest course of all – reining in our appetites and getting to work cleaning up our planetary mess and preserving the future.

We all have stories from our early schooling that stay with us.  With my dystopian nature, I count Orwell’s 1984 as the most memorable novel from my schooldays.  But recently, I dipped back into a short story that has similarly haunted me. I was pleased to see that my long memory is accurate.  In the story, a rich and powerful leader gathers a group of his friends to celebrate during the time of a great plague. They wall themselves off from those less fortunate – those who are exposed to the plague. They have a grand old time until their rude awakening. Awakening is the wrong word for the climax of this brilliant story that runs all of seven pages.  Whether you remember it or not, I encourage you to read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death right here.  It’s a fitting allegory for our climate-denying times.

The nations of the global north, be they nations like Germany, Denmark, even China, that are doing their best to mitigate and even reverse climate disruption, or rogue nations like the United States, who seem to think it’s a lark to elect a mindless, regressive wrecking-team captain like Trump, may indeed avoid the nastiest effects. But only for a time.

Mother Nature bats last. And she gives not a damn who is pitching the final innings.

Let’s change the game. Either we send Trump packing, or we face the consequences. No escape.

Elections and Consequences

8 09 2019

McCon Enviro            We have been told that “Elections have consequences.” Forgive me for starting with that quote from the powerful Kentucky politician who is – at long last – receiving well-deserved credit for the immense and lasting damage he has been doing to American democracy in his six terms in the US Senate. Long lionized in some circles as the keeper of Senate rules, Mitch McConnell has revealed his true colors as a cynical, hypocritical hyper-partisan manipulator over the past few years in ever-expanding ways.  Though his successful blocking of President Obama’s moderate Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, was far from his first cynical maneuver, it was one that got much attention.  This grew when he recently joked about filling a vacancy on the Court, should one occur in the waning months of Trump’s current term.  And now McConnell is doing everything possible to block efforts to shield the US election system from foreign hacking.

So, what of those electoral consequences?

Earlier this year, Australia held national elections that were heralded as a possible climate game changer. Australia has already suffered serious, well-publicized damage from climate disruption in recent years.  Think of the steady destruction of the Great Barrier Reef from warming ocean waters, plus repeated off-the-charts summer heat waves and persistent droughts.  So what did voters do? For the most part, they were swayed by that tired old argument about it being too costly to stop climate disruption. The forces of denial, though strongest in the United States, have a foothold elsewhere as well. Sadly.

And then there is Brazil. Elected last October, President Jair Bolsonaro has been busy showing the world how much he deserves his nickname as “the Trump of the Tropics.” Promising development, he has been looking the other way as the Amazon – the planet’s lungs – burns away in fires set by farmers and developers. And as concern has grown, he has shifted gears, maybe – saying he would stem the destruction. Bolsonaro has been holding meaningful protection efforts hostage to a personal feud with French President Macron. And he promises to make any international efforts subordinate to his staunch defense of Brazilian sovereignty. (I wonder if he holds perpetual campaign rallies featuring “Make Brazil Great Again” hats and chants of “Brazil first!”)

Now, to be fair, one reason why the Amazon has become so crucial to the planet’s health is that so much forest land throughout the rest of the planet has already been burned, bulldozed or built up.  So nations in the wealthy, developed world should be doing a lot more to support Brazil in maintaining its share of the Amazon rainforest. Good luck with that.  The paltry 40 million dollars promised by G7 countries is merely a down payment.  The rest is coming. Later. Much later.

And what of the actual Trump, from the great north of America?  Listing all the consequences of Trump’s election would take days. Long, painful days. But here are just a few of recent prominence. Trump has been pretending to care about the impact of Hurricane Dorian on the southern US, igniting yet another falsehood freak fest with his Sharpie-altered map of the storm’s path. I don’t know how many false statements this fiasco added to his Marley’s-ghost-length lie chain, but the Washington Post puts the total at over 12,000. Here are a few recent highlights from Politico.

Trump’s biggest “success,” his tax “reform,” was ballyhooed by the Donald himself and his allies, then House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell as a boon to the US economy.  This “achievement” has turned out to be just what critics predicted. That is, a massive, unnecessary gift to big corporations and the uber-rich. And, oh yes, it adds up to 2 trillion dollars to the already colossal national debt. (Remember when Republicans railed against deficit spending?  That will return, but only when a Democrat is in the Oval Office. Count on it.)

The nation’s shakier financial stance comes into play here in hurricane season for two reasons.  The first was on display when Dorian seemed to threaten Puerto Rico. That US territory has not yet fully recovered from the ravages of Hurricane Maria.  Trump was heard publicly griping about the US having to pony up more recovery spending for that ungrateful island – which is, we remember because Trump told us – completely surrounded by water. What, are we short on paper towels now?

Of course, Puerto Rico was fortunately spared Dorian’s fury. Not so the Bahamas.  The island nation is in dire need of assistance, which, under normal circumstances, i.e., under an administration not consumed by greed and corruption, the US could supply in a big way. Considering the Trump-reduced financial footing of our nation right now, a very costly recovery program for the Bahamas would be a hard sell. However, another great power, seeking influence on this side of the world, is ready to step in to help.  China’s largesse won’t sit well with the other adversary in the current escalating trade war, namely Trump’s America.  This puts the US in a quandary – challenged to rescue at the needed level, but looking askance at and even opposing the chief rescuer.  How will this play out? As Trump likes to say, “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.” But one thing is clear – this is a consequence of an election that granted great power to a totally undeserving, proudly ignorant, endlessly self-serving demagogue.

And here is one more consequence of the election of Trump. A battle looms over auto fuel economy and pollution control standards. California has long led the way, with Congress’s permission, toward a future of cleaner passenger vehicles.  They even have agreed with a consortium of major carmakers to adhere to stricter standards passed in the latter days of the Obama administration.  But Trump’s environmental wrecking team has launched a battle to end that deal.  This will undoubtedly end up in the Supreme Court – which is already unfairly, even unconstitutionally, tilted to right-wing, corporate interests. That’s another consequence of elections, fair and just. Or not.

In case you haven’t heard, a national election with potentially serious consequences is already in its early stages here in our nation.  I know who I am supporting, but I will save that for another time.  But a recent piece on Alternet caught my eye.  It tells of an election now fading into the past, but one that put us on our current path.  Why?  Because it defied the public will, by means of lies, dirty tricks, a phony grass-roots (“Astroturf”) uprising, a ridiculously confusing Florida – naturally – election system, and a disastrous Supreme Court decision that the deciding justice later admitted was a mistake. Yes, I am talking about the extremely consequential 2000 presidential election. This Alternet piece – “America owes Al Gore an apology” – tells this sad tale well.  Whoever “rslack” is, write on, brother or sister!

So you see, Senator McConnell, elections do have consequences. As long as those who win the public trust go on to respect the system, fulfill their oaths of office and protect it all from undue influence foreign and domestic. A shaky proposition at best, but what else to we have to go on?

My fading hope is that we choose wisely in November 2020, and the result, this time, truly reflects the public will.

Blogger’s note – I still lack Internet service at my new location. Installation at long last will come on Tuesday 9/10.  Thanks to Groundswell Coffee Shop for a very reliable WiFi!

Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN

Our Bleak Reality

25 08 2019

Bleak            Yes, human-caused climate disruption really is as bad as scientists and activists say, in multifarious ways, and is getting steadily worse. At an accelerating pace. We have solutions at hand to mitigate and, over the long term, reverse some of its devastating impacts on human and other life. So, what is stopping us?

That’s the briefest summary of a terrific book I finished reading the other day. I heartily recommend The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. David Wallace-Wells has written one of the best of the many books I have read on this subject. He covers the climate science, the denials, the politics, the collective inaction, the psychology, and also the solutions and the slim hopes we have of heading off or, more accurately, limiting this unfolding disaster. Best of all, he does all this in just 228 pages of text, along with 65(!) pages of accompanying notes documenting his research and offering new avenues of learning for us readers.

As I am right now in the midst of a move to new digs, and doing several improvement projects prior to the actual move, I am quite short of time.  With that in mind, I offer to save you some time, dear reader.  I will share with you some of the key things I learned from this comprehensive work, so you won’t have to read it yourself.  In truth, I hope to pique your interest so that you get a copy yourself, especially if you sometimes wonder: “Climate disruption can’t really be all that bad, can it?” Oh yes, it can, and Wallace-Wells thoroughly yet concisely covers pretty much the whole range of effects.  And know this – while it is quite smooth reading, it is tough to ponder if you have any empathy at all.  The author recognizes this, and in fact congratulates us about two-thirds of the way through for hanging in there.  He goes so far as to survey the “near-term human extinction” school of thought and its most prominent voice – Guy McPherson. But Wallace-Wells suggests we don’t need to go there – not yet anyway – if we would just get our damned act together. And I welcomed his ridiculing the various “escape-earth” responses that have emerged, mostly among certain technology-worshipping elites.  No, this is the only planet we will ever have, and it’s about time we take proper care of it.

To start, here are a few science tidbits, some of which were new to me.

  • Fifty percent of all human carbon dioxide emissions on history have been since 1988, and 85 percent since World War II.
  • Each year, each American (with an overall average carbon footprint) emits enough CO2 to melt enough polar ice into 10,000 cubic meters of ocean water. Each minute, each of us adds five more gallons. Fill’er up!
  • As bad as the observed effects of the current 1.1-degree Celsius rise are, they could be worse. That’s mainly because of two factors: the oceans absorb about 25 percent of human emissions, and aerosols (airborne solids released during fuel combustion) shield the earth from additional warning, estimated at least 50 percent higher than what has already occurred. Now there’s a devil’s bargain for you – reduce solids pollution, increase global heating. (That scientific fact has spawned the absolutely insane idea of geoengineering the atmosphere with sulfur pollution to further “cool” the planet. But that’s another story for another time.)
  • Various projections estimate the average temperature rise by the year 2100. The most likely outcome with something like “business-as-usual” is 3-4 degrees Celsius. With each degree of warming, overall grain yields decline by 10 percent, and weeds benefit much more from increased carbon than food crops. Just plot those numbers against projected 30 percent human population increase by 2100 (about 10 or so billion compared to today’s 7.7 billion), and you get some sense of the looming disaster.
  • The richest 10 percent of the world’s population (that includes this blogger and probably anyone reading this) accounts for 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Twenty-two percent of earth’s land was altered – to create housing and industry, but mostly to create farms to feed the burgeoning population – just between 1992 and 2015.
  • Think of all the weight of all the mammals on the planet. Of all that weight, or biomass, the percent that is NOT us humans and our pets and livestock is shocking. Just four percent represents wild mammals.

That’s just a sampling of the science that Wallace-Wells reports on.  Here are some specific impacts on humans of what has happened so far and what is in store for us.

  • Since 2008, about 22 million people have had to leave their homes, becoming climate refugees.
  • The United Nations estimates anywhere from 100 million to one billion will have to flee flooded or parched homelands by 2100.
  • Social scientists have established an optimal global temperature for human productivity – 13 degrees Celsius, or 55.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Productivity declines rapidly as temps rise. But strife grows – for every 0.5-degree rise, conflict (arguments, fights, violent attacks and even war) increases 10 to 20 percent.
  • About one in six deaths globally is related to air pollution.
  • The rapidly melting Arctic (our doing) has altered wind patterns and caused a steep increase in air pollution in China, causing an estimated total over many years of 1.3 million deaths.
  • Ninety-five percent of the world’s population breathes dangerously polluted air.

The author discusses the various psychological factors that have combined, with help from greedy corporate interests, to hinder sufficient collective action to halt the climate crisis.  And the United States – home as it is to so many powerful global conglomerates that have an outsized sway over policy – is an enormous part of that problem.  One entire political party morphed over a decade from the late 80s, when it respected science, into a consistent block on anything remotely related to solving climate disruption.  And we won’t even go into, for a moment, the denier-in-chief and his “Chinese hoax” fairy tales. But one of the loudest complaints that most Republicans raise when blocking climate policy is economic – the cost of fixing the problem. So, what of that?

  • In 2017, climate disruption cost the United States $306 billion. Yeah, that is dwarfed by Trump’s tax cuts for tycoons, but just wait.
  • The North American fire season is now 20 % longer than in 1979, and by 2100, scientists expect that annual US fire destruction will be some 16 times the disastrous 2018 season.
  • Every degree of warming (remember, projections are for about 4 degrees by 2100) costs a temperate country like the US one percentage point of gross domestic product.
  • Globally, costs balloon at the expected warming levels. From 3.7 degrees of warming, damages totaling $551 trillion are projected. Consider that the estimate of total worldwide wealth today is $280 trillion.

Lest you think Wallace-Wells’s book is one dark statistic after another, think again.  He writes with a grand historical sweep, and is given to emotional and lyrical descriptions of what all this means. And, though he admits he has written one of the darkest volumes on the issue, he calls himself an optimist. But first, he justifiably trashes the idea that “all we need is imagination” to solve the crisis.

That leads me to close what I had intended to be a short post (sorry!) with two direct quotes from this remarkable book.

“If we could wish a solution into place by imagination, we’d have solved the problem already. In fact, we have imagined the solutions; more than that, we’ve even developed them, at least in the form of green energy. We just haven’t yet discovered the political will, economic might, and cultural flexibility to install and activate them, because doing so requires something a lot bigger and more concrete, than imagination – it means nothing short of a complete overhaul of the world’s energy systems, transportation and industry and agriculture. Not to mention, our diets or our taste for Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency now produces as much CO2 each year as a million transatlantic flights.”

If that doesn’t sound optimistic enough, try this quote:

“Half of the Great Barrier Reef has already died, methane is leaking from Arctic permafrost that may never freeze again, and the high-end estimates for what warming will mean for cereal crops suggest that just four degrees of warming could reduce yields by 50 percent. If this strikes you as tragic, which it should, consider that we have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture.”

No book is perfect. I wish Wallace-Wells would have invsted some time on needed efforts to humanely deal with the exploding global population. But if you want the big picture of crisis and solutions, this is one of your best choices.

Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN

Cruelty and Hope

18 08 2019

Endangered            If you are a regular IBI Watch reader, thanks for checking in.

This week and next, I offer a different format. I lack the time to write an in-depth post as is my custom.  You see, I have purchased a house and am in the process of moving in – after completing (or almost completing) some key projects.  It’s frankly taking up nearly all of my time, and allowing little opportunity for writing.

Since I enjoy making that weekly post, I will share a few of what I call “quick hits.” These are important stories I have found in various sources that I wish to share with my friends and readers.

With move and upgrade projects complete in two weeks, I plan to return to posting a meaty article each Sunday. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these finds and brief commentary.

As we navigate the early stages of the next presidential election (do these freak shows ever really end?!), it is important to remember a key characteristic of the current Trump administration. Lest we vote foolishly in 2020, and give him and his henchmen four more years to wreak never-ending havoc and kill off the lingering remains of American democracy.  That key characteristic?  Its unspeakable cruelty, on all fronts. Here are just two examples of so many.

Quick Hit One – Trump’s immigration policies are clearly the projection on a mass scale of his personal proclivities and prejudices. Many, many people have suffered as a result of family separations, deportations, deprivations and other unspeakable nastiness. But this story caught my eye as an example of needlessly inflicted pain. Do you think Trump gives half a damn? Me neither.

Quick Hit Two – Anyone who pays attention to ecology at all knows that human activity has unleashed a mass extinction. This National Geographic story provides background on a recent report from the UN that points out up to a million species in danger of extinction thanks to us. So what is the Trump administration doing to help head off this catastrophe?  Surprise, surprise – not a damned thing.  No, our nation under Trump is getting ready to undo success stories that have emerged since the Endangered Species Act took effect. Protecting wildlife? You must be kidding.

Quick Hit Three – OK, the first two items were all about cruelty.  Here is the hope part. A new program in Minnesota – Lawns to Legumes – will soon be supporting homeowners who seek to convert their ecological wastelands (lawns, that is) into landscapes that support native insects and birds.  That is something I did at a previous residence, and plan to get started on soon at my new digs. Best news here is this – interest is not confined to Minnesota. Program officials report inquiries from all over the country.

So, you see, there are still ways to stand up against the unfolding devastation that is Trump.  For now, anyway.

I find myself rooting for a recession at the moment. If a the economy tanks, Trump is a sad and sorry footnote in American history. It might even encourage the election of a true progressive – a leader who will work to end corporate America’s stranglehold on our political system.  If only . . .

Truth in Ten

11 08 2019

Melting clock.jpg            Climate disruption news comes ever faster and more furious. From extreme weather events to wildfires to problems with growing food, a news consumer would have to work deliberately to avoid this information.  The good news is that mainstream journalists have largely abandoned tired, mealy-mouthed disqualifiers like “scientists hesitate to directly implicate human-caused climate change in the case of (fill in the latest disaster here) but say more research is needed.” That’s because scientists now can comfortably say in many cases that climate disruption makes such events as unprecedented rainfall (e.g. Hurricane Harvey), sequential heat waves smashing centuries-old records this summer in Europe, particularly France, and wildfires virtually spanning the globe more common, more likely, and more intense. And they are even engulfing the Arctic.

The bad news is that we are not changing our fossil-foolish ways nearly fast enough. A new report from the United Nations  has a bleak outlook in particular for the global food system. And of course, United Nations studies – including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – have covered the entire range of climate issues and potential solutions. A key result was the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.  The United States was an important signatory, but will leave the agreement if Americans show in November 2020 that four years of Trump follies was not enough. That’s because, as is widely known, the science-denying, truth-defying, proudly ignorant chief executive of ours has never seen a multilateral agreement he does not trash. But I digress.

We all need to do our part – individually and, especially, collectively – to contribute to solving the climate crisis rather than adding to it. One of the things I have done these past seven years is to spread the word via the Climate Reality Project.  This organization, founded by former Vice President Al Gore, last weekend added nearly 1200 new climate leaders to its ranks, bringing the total to over 20,000. I had the honor of serving in that training as a mentor to 22 talented new leaders. All of them came to the training with commitment, a history of action in climate solutions, and links to various organizations doing constructive work. I look forward to our building our community so we can amplify our efforts.

The training ran three days, and was packed with content covering all aspects of the climate crisis and its solutions.  Panelists and presenters included prominent scientists, local and state government officials, journalists and social justice leaders.  It also offered opportunities for participants to reflect on what it was that led them to dedicate three days of their time, and pledge to carry out acts of climate leadership in the near future. And anyone who has followed this issue at all probably already knows that the centerpiece of the session was the updated,  famous Gore climate change slide show.  That’s right, the one that was featured in An Inconvenient Truth. This comprehensive version ran for well over two hours, and fueled an extended question/answer panel discussion the next day that included Gore and two scientists.

I plan to dip into my copious notes from the training in future weekly posts to share some of the important content – including at least one area where I strongly disagree with the vice president. This time, I feature one of my personal highlights – which definitely lived up to the billing.

The complete Gore slide show now includes over 600 slides, and is updated almost daily. Of course, no one ever presents for two hours (outside of these trainings for new leaders). Realistically, we have from 10 to 40 minutes to get the word out to a willing audience.  That has certainly been my experience with the young people who make up my audiences – older elementary, middle and high school students.

Was Mr. Gore able to complete his “Truth in Ten” presentation within the time limit?  Read on, please.

Truth in Ten asks three questions about the climate crisis:

  • Must we change?
  • Can we change?
  • Will we change?

For the “must we change” segment, stills and animations tell the following stories:

  • The atmosphere is a thin layer of protection which regulates all living conditions on the planet
  • Ever more solar heat is being retained, because human activities are adding 100 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every day
  • The last five years globally have been the hottest recorded
  • The number of dangerously hot days is rising rapidly
  • Extreme precipitation events are four times as frequent as in 1980
  • Glaciers and ice sheets are melting rapidly, raising sea levels and threatening cities
  • The Department of Defense is planning for the impending crisis of hundreds of millions of climate refugees
  • A medical emergency is developing as insect-borne tropical diseases escape to temperate zones
  • What is called the sixth great extinction of Earth’s biodiversity is already well underway

For the “can we change” segment, slides tell these success stories:

  • Implementation of renewable energy production is steadily expanding
  • Clean energy – mainly solar and wind – is now cost-competitive with dirty fossil-fuel energy
  • Solar energy is creating ever more well-paying jobs, including in Minnesota
  • All the major automakers are gearing up for the move to electric cars that run on clean energy

For the “will we change” segment, slides tell these stories:

  • The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, though inadequate, is clearly a step in the right direction
  • The agreement is up for review in 2020, and the US will not be able to actually leave, despite Trump’s bluster (sorry, my addition!) until early 2021
  • US coal plants continue to shut down, despite Trump’s promotion of coal as a fuel of the future
  • Despite our current national regression, states and cities are taking the lead in implementing climate solutions

Truth in Ten closes with a vital plea: join those who are using their voice and vote to solve the climate crisis. The world depends on it. 

If you think all this is too much information for ten minutes, you are right.  The presentation actually took just under 16 minutes.  To be fair, this was not an ordinary audience, composed as it was of committed climate leaders. I am confident that Mr. Gore could deliver the core of this talk in less than 10. And his main point in making this effort is a strong one – we often have limited time to get the message across. One of the greatest insights I took from this endeavor was this, which he delivered in his introduction: any time we are communicating about the climate crisis, we have three budgets to manage:

  • Time: The most obvious – an audience’s time to invest, and their attention span, have limits that we must respect.
  • Complexity: We must find a way to boil the complicated, interacting details down to a clear, concise message – it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and in the process lose an audience.
  • Hope: Although there is plenty of justification for gloom and doom, we have to leave our audience of one or 100 with the idea that we can work toward solutions. A great point – even the gloomiest books I have read on the climate crisis, including my current read, The Uninhabitable Earth, do not end in despair.

Truth in Ten has a wider purpose – beyond climate leaders certified by the Climate Reality Project.  You, dear reader, should you wish, can do your own presentation for friends, family, or any group you belong to.  You can download a ten-minute slide show right here. And if you would like to see a 25-minute version of the Gore climate presentation, this Ted Talk is a fairly current (2016) example. And yes, it suggests that we still have hope in solving the crisis.

Because we do. At least for now.


Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN

Blows Against the Empire

28 07 2019

Save Enviro           In Trump’s zero-sum, winner-take-all view of America – and especially America’s relations with the rest of the world – self-interest, greed and cruelty are the operating principles. It’s not a stretch to say that Trump’s “America First” motto is simply a projection of the way he has lived his entire life – “Me first.” (Also me next, next, next, and so on. . . )

No, I don’t plan to launch a rant about Trump’s penchant for projection. I have a different focus for this post. I have collected three positive stories about people rising up for positive action, either individually or collectively, to put the country on a more productive, sustainable course. In small ways or large – they all matter.

We progressives often criticize corporate America for rapacious, destructive actions.  And that criticism is too often richly deserved. But in the case of this first story, a group of corporations are actually doing the right thing – in other words, their damnedest – to counter the Trump administration’s rapacious, destructive actions. Among the most harmful of Trump’s knee-jerk attempts to reverse Obama administration policies has been an effort that started almost from day one to roll back agreed-upon improvements in fuel efficiency standards for US-manufactured passenger cars and trucks.

Although the jury – and the Supreme Court, of course – is still out on this question, the good guys just might win this fight. In a new development, a group of four automakers (Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW) have agreed with the state of California to maintain the stricter federal fuel economy improvement regulations imposed by the Obama administration in its sunset months.  And the even better news is that California is not a lone ranger on this issue – 16 other states, including my home state of Minnesota – have so far supported California in its effort to do right on this critically important matter. California is standing up against Trump administration efforts to do whatever the hell they want in ramping up greenhouse gas emissions – no doubt in servitude to Big Oil. Progress, to be sure.  But it ain’t over until the nine-justice choir sings.  And, since Mitch McConnell hijacked the Supreme Court, I am waiting for the ultimate decision settling the expected lawsuits that will be filed against California in the not distant future.

This story rates much attention because it is a case where profit-motivated entities – corporations – see it in their interest to fight environmental destruction.  Is self-interest at play here? Of course. Environmentally aware citizens – in California and beyond – are demanding action to battle climate disruption. But what is noteworthy is just how far we have fallen. Our federal government, as headed by the epitome of a fraudulent president, in favor of ever more environmental devastation, could be reined in by a group of corporations. You could not make this story up.

To introduce my second story, I will offer a personal example. About 20 years ago, my career employer was in downsizing mode. At that time, I already had about six years of experience in employee training and development. My manager at the time – who wisely took one of the lucrative farewell packages and started a very successful run elsewhere – bird-dogged an employment opportunity for me at another employer.  A fine possibility. Lucrative. Growth potential. One problem, though. The job was with an ammunition manufacturer. Sorry, no.  Yes, I know ammunition is a necessity in this world. But it’s gonna be produced by somebody else, not me. Not even in a training support role.

I thought about that experience when I heard this NPR story about employees at an advertising agency who decided they did not like their company’s client choices. Particularly this one – their ad agency was producing employee recruiting for Customs and Border Control. The malevolence and cruelty of Trump immigration policy and practice is not what I wish to highlight here.  No, it’s the simple fact – highlighted in the comments from Lam Thuy Vo of Buzzfeed – that first-line employees seem to be increasingly demanding a say in decisions made by their top executives.  She makes the point that “change from within” will be a growing factor in our ever more politically polarized environment. We can only hope.

The lesson for me?  We all had better believe in the mission of the organization we call home. If that mission drifts into territory we don’t agree with, we need to speak up. Raise hell. And the more sympathetic compatriots we can recruit, the better our chances for redirecting that entity to align with our values.

The third story landed in my lap. Rather, it landed on my porch. Troubled by reports about global insect declines that mirror my backyard observations, I have been wondering what I can do.  Other than, of course railing against the Monsantos and Bayers of the world – something I have been doing for a very long time.

A story in my Sunday 7/28 Star Tribune gave me hope, at least a little anyway. Significant numbers of residents in the Longfellow neighborhood of eastern Minneapolis, near the Mississippi River, are creating wildlife sanctuaries in their urban backyards.  I learned that a homeowner can – with modest expense – make adaptations to create spaces that welcome insects and birds.  OK, not deer, coyotes and pheasants, but it’s a start, hey. Think less ChemLawn, more wild, natural chaos.

Turns out that the changes largely boil down to four factors:

  • Food to attract wildlife
  • Fresh water -preferably water in motion (more on that a bit later)
  • Cover – i.e., hideouts for desirable critters
  • Spaces for raising young, i.e., the next generation that will try to survive our human onslaught

Naturally, there are a few other things backyard naturalists need to do – avoid chemical pesticides, remove invasive species and install native plants. Check, check and check. And of course, such efforts need not be limited to a sector of Minneapolis. They can’t be, if we have any chance to save the wild world from human depredation.

An interested friend of wildlife can earn certification from the National Wildlife Federation for their efforts. As a newly minted homeowner (yay!) on the other side of the Mississippi in Saint Paul, this blogger is on it. In fact, one of the first things I will investigate is a solar-powered pump to keep water moving in a fountain to attract wildlife – some examples here.

There are my three stories.  Each in its own way highlights something necessary – ways to swim against the poisonous stream of greed and destruction that defines our national environment in the era of Trump, and maybe – just maybe – ways to join with others who agree that what we are experiencing on the national scene does not have to be the norm.

Quick Hit

Heard what’s happening in Europe?  Yeah, you probably know about the completion of the Tour de France.  But have you heard about the Meltdown de France?  That is, a high temperature that shattered Paris’s centuries-old record by four degrees?  Laugh bitterly with me next time you listen to a media commentator wonder if this COULD possibly be caused by human-caused climate disruption.

Blogger’s Note

I will not post next week, August 4th.  I am dedicating my weekend to the climate disruption awareness cause – mentoring at the latest training by the Climate Reality Project, founded by former Vice President Al Gore.


Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN

All of the Above, Please

21 07 2019

who-fights-climate-change            My internal BS alarm was blaring as I read a recent extended piece in the Opinion section of my local Star Tribune. The author, a certain Paul John Scott of Rochester MN, had written a jocular, yet full-bore, defense of the cattle industry against claims that it is a major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate disruption. As you will see, I am far from the only reader and commentator possessing a well-tuned BS alarm, or “crap detector,” as my professor in a long-ago journalism class described the tool. As you will also see, Scott’s article is just the kind of deceptive, misdirected demonization that is one of the main obstacles to concerted climate action.

You can read the article here if you like. The “wise” lords of opinion at the paper dedicated the better part of an entire page to the piece, which, to be honest, is very well written. But writing skill does not automatically convey logical prowess, nor does it contribute to solving the world’s most pressing environmental crisis.

A detailed dissection of the piece would be too much “inside baseball.” But here are Scott’s key arguments in capsule form.

  1. The cattle industry is wrongly fingered as a major source of greenhouse gases
  2. Methane emissions from domestic cattle in North America are not really so different from the emissions of ancient megafauna – mainly the millions of bison that roamed the plains, but also woolly mammoths, large cats, giant sloths and large bears(!)
  3. The growing interest in vegetarian, low-meat or vegan diets is mainly based on health concerns, which are misguided at best or bogus at worst
  4. The public’s desire to explore and enjoy meat alternatives is aided, abetted and exploited by a cabal of dishonest, greedy capitalists
  5. Some meat alternatives are actually a larger climate disruption concern than animal products, mainly beef – which seems to be Scott’s favorite

And here are some linked rebuttals to each of those key ideas.

  1. Various estimates of cattle production’s contribution – for meat and dairy both – to human greenhouse gas emissions run from the absurdly low 2.8% cited by – you guessed it – the Meat Institute! To EPA’s 9% (quoted by Scott) to the stratospheric 51% from World Watch Institute, which Scott, of course, lampoons. This NY Times piece offers a measured assessment. It shows a global average of 15 to 18%, and points out one key reason why agriculture appears to be a lesser contributor in the US. That is, our other sectors – transportation, industry, power generation, etc. – blast out so damned much.
  2. We can argue about how much agriculture contributes to humankind’s planet-toasting greenhouse gas emissions, but this is inarguable. Those wild animals of the long past – megafauna – existed in integrated ecosystems, and at times when atmospheric CO2 was nothing like today’s inflated level. They were exhaling and excreting their methane and CO2 in the wild, natural world. That world looked not at all like this lovely panorama.  Bon appetit!
  3. A debatable point at best. Thanks to above-cited Meat Institute and so many other special interests, you can find seemingly reliable proof for almost any point of view on this. Here is a comparison of plant-based vs. vegan diets and their health effects. Here is a quite balanced view from Medical Health News. It covers nutrient sources, and also notes emerging evidence that frequent consumption of red meat – chemically cured or not – carries its own health risks. But I believe excessive focus on human health when it comes to food choices is itself a diversion from the main issue. It’s the planet’s health that is at stake here, though of course that planetary health is already damaging human health. Scott, to his credit, mentions the clearing of rain forests in favor of cattle production.  And this fact is certain – it takes more chemicals, fossil fuel, and land to produce meat than plant-based foods. And among animal products, beloved beef is the biggest offender.
  4. I have to admit, Scott has a strong point here. Venture capitalists and big corporations see dollar signs in the public’s growing interest in switching to plant-based foods, and that does lead to misleading claims. But in this capitalist system, what trend is not exploited by someone or some organization with lots of power, money and influence?  What concerns me is all the energy and scientific brainpower being thrown at creating “Franken-meat.” You know, taking cells from animals into the lab and generating faux meat and fish.
  5. There may be some humor in the way Scott fingers rice and soy as the true climate demons. But it is not at all helpful. Yes, rice paddies are a greenhouse gas concern. But that is certainly not an argument for substituting meat. And it is more than a bit simplistic to assume that “rice and beans” is the only way for vegans to obtain complete proteins. Have a look. (Full disclosure – I am not a vegan, but have been a vegetarian for several years, and continue to reduce my reliance on non-meat animal products.)

I mentioned that other readers saw some problems in Scott’s opinion piece. As a daily reader of my local newspaper, I can say it is exceedingly rare for responses to any opinion piece to line up unanimously in disagreement with the piece’s ideas. But such was the case here. Five intelligent letters to the editor take Scott to task on one or more points – some in common with my five, and some taking other approaches.

A wide variety of human activities are contributing greenhouse gases that are steadily heating the planet, and warping the climate.  Here is a fine and concise sorting out – with easy-to-read charts – of global contributions by the various sectors. The main sectors, of course, are energy production, agriculture, industry and transportation. The source of this very useful data is the US Environmental Protection Agency.  Hard to believe in the era of Trump that EPA apparently remains a useful source of some information. So far anyway.

Defending any of the sectors against change, and demonizing others, is like a chaotic classroom mess created by kindergartners, with each insisting that the other is responsible. We are all responsible, and if one thing is clear, it’s this. It will take thought, planning, innovation and yes, individual and collective changes to lifestyle choices if we are to have any hope of halting climate disruption before the truly catastrophic predicted consequences unfold.  That is to say, even more catastrophic than what we are already observing.

So, where should we go?  Here is a hopeful site that I have not linked with before, though I have ordered the book. (It’s next on my reading list, after my current read – The Uninhabitable Earth.) Here are several organizations working to educate the public and encourage change – Bill McKibben’s, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and the Citizens Climate Lobby.

We need rapid progress in all sectors. Right now, cities and states are standing up to the destructive policies of the current US national government. Trump and McConnell and Co. are holding up national progress, and doing damage of course, but they won’t be around forever, and there is only so much they can do to thwart state and local initiatives. We hope. But the ultimate solution of course is to free government from powerful corporate influence.  This group is working to do just that.

Meanwhile, please join me in activating your own BS alarm, or crap detector, when you hear or read some shill saying the other guy’s sector is the problem.  This is our problem, in all sectors, and we all have to do our part to solve it.


Blogger’s notes.

A few things I just can’t resist sharing this week.


Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN