IBI Watch 11/18/12

18 11 2012

Sell the Goodies, Ignore the Costs //

You might say this describes the fossil fuel industry’s business model these many decades.  And those who enjoy those goodies – the CEOs, the shareholders and, yes, we consumers, particularly those who think there is nothing more important than low, low gas prices – continue to hope this model endures.  Recent media accounts crow about the United States’ current trajectory towards top-dog status in oil production.  Non-traditional extraction methods – fracking and horizontal drilling – are responsible for this dramatic uptick. But the costs I describe here are not exploration bills.  Rather, they are costs to the environment – so-called “externalities.”  And of course those magical new methods have their own unique costs that industry has so far hidden from public view. Well, mostly.

But leaving aside fracking, consider oil spills.  The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 continues to play out.  BP has just agreed to a record payout of damages, but even the $4.5 billion dollar figure is really just a fraction of the immense environmental damage.  Cynics might say it’s just a cost of doing business.  And just in the last few days, there is a report of another oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to at least one fatality.  Lest we think this is only an American problem, try this brand new story from Nigeria.

Then of course there is that inconvenient issue that won’t go away – the greenhouse gases that are loading the dice for destructive weather and radically altered climate.  This Scientific American article puts the chortling about “American energy independence” into stark perspective. The piece includes many informative links.  Here is a Tara Lohan piece on AlterNet on a similar myth-debunking mission. And don’t forget – it’s been warmer than average for awhile.  In fact, for a generation or so.  Every single month, no exceptions.  Man, what a fluke!  Anytime now, this will be recognized as a trend.  Maybe it needs more research.

Grand Climate Opportunity

It’s been a long time since I heard the issues surrounding human-caused climate change described as comprehensively and succinctly as did Naomi Klein in a recent interview with Bill Moyers.  No surprise there.  Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is a book I often recommend.  Her thesis – that the rich a powerful strategically capitalize on disasters of all sorts in order to become richer and more powerful – comes into play in the current climate-related disaster, Hurricane Sandy, and its aftermath. It applies as well to the grand crisis – the damage our greenhouse gases are doing to the planet that sustains us.

Klein’s comments overflow with quotable lines and insightful analysis.  She rightly points out that the recent election was between a “terrible candidate and a candidate who needs a lot of pressure.” She fingers climate change as the ultimate social problem in an era of rugged individualism. And here is an ironic twist that I somehow missed.  Apparently, the crown prince of pignorance (pretend ignorance), Senator James Inhofe, missed the most recent Heartland Institute conference because of illness.  The irony? He had contracted an infection from swimming in an algae- clogged lake.

Don’t call Klein a communist.  She says in the interview that the only system worse than capitalism for managing this consummate public space issue is – you guessed it – communism.  She calls for a “people’s shock” in response.  If you follow only one link in this post, make it this one.

The Shock Doctrine author is collaborating with Bill McKibben (350.org) on the latter’s “Do the Math” tour.  Readers in locations other than my home Twin Cities can still get tickets – which of course I recommend.  The math is simple and scary.  Big Fossil Fuel already has five times the amount of oil, gas and coal necessary to drive global temperatures up a total of two degrees Centigrade.  That’s right, all the climate destabilization we have seen – droughts, deluges, glacial melting, superstorms – comes from a mere one degree Centigrade rise. Keeping the conflagration from happening is up to us, and especially to young people.  Here is one of McKibben’s main strategies – student pressure on universities to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

This week saw another big event highlighting climate change and ideas for solving the crisis.  The Climate Reality Project ran its second 24 Hours of Reality.  More than 14 million people worldwide tuned in. Each hour covered a different region of the world and its issues, and featured expert panels and compelling video.  It is all archived here. The final hour featured a presentation by the Project’s founder, former Vice President Al Gore – billed as a continuation of his presentation in An Inconvenient Truth.  He includes some powerful math here as well – we put 90 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every 24 hours.  I highly recommend Gore’s presentation – which includes lots of current information proving the thesis of the entire event – dirty fuel produces dirty weather, and we have the means to correct the problems.  If you want a strictly audio version of his recent comments, here is a new, brief interview with NPR.

For something completely different, how about Al Gore, with music? That’s right.  This is a new discovery for me – the Symphony of Science. At first I found this weird. But it grows on you, and is part of an expanding collection of techno-musical videos on scientific topics.  But to close on climate change for now, why not commit to being part of the solution?  Take the pledge.

Bridges Away from Extinction

There is no doubt about it.  If we have any hope for preserving biodiversity, and particularly for keeping large mammals on the planet in places other than zoos, small islands of habitat just won’t cut it.  That’s the message of wildlife biologists, and is featured in a new book by Mary Ellen Hannibal.  In The Spine of the Continent, Hannibal explains the science, and discusses programs under way to link habitat by building infrastructure for animals to deal with the ways we have carved up the landscape.  That’s mainly our highways and roads of course. The prescription is not to destroy the roads, but create bypasses, overpasses and underpasses so that populations can mix across our artificial boundaries. Hannibal was interviewed by MPR’s Kerri Miller.  Look for the six-minute video interview highlight on the MPR site. Here is the website of an organization – Wildlands Network – working to build the network.  And if you want the big picture – served up by one of the best popular science writers of all – read this book that I frequently recommend.  That’s David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo.

Logjam Breakup Imminent?

Just as it looks like we could see some movement on climate change, the fiscal cliff provides an opportunity to set some things right.  First – here is a Robert Borosage commentary that calls our recent election “the first class-warfare election of the new Gilded Age.” I could not agree more. Then, two more shockers.  First – unelected powerbroker Grover Norquist hinting that a carbon tax would be acceptable to his legions of vassals? The only thing more startling would be the prospect of an end to the grossly misused Senate filibuster.  Hey, we have that too! Maybe. Stay tuned.

A Bird Dog for Wild Weather

All eyes have been on the East coast of the US recently and rightly so.  Three weeks after the disaster of Hurricane Sandy, some still remain without power, and those are the lucky ones – their homes were not washed away. But here in the upper Midwest, we had our own weird weather sequence last week.  We are used to weather extremes here, but these events had the mark of today’s climate chaos.  Saturday – warmth and sunshine.  Saturday night – heavy thunderstorms with two extremely rare November tornadoes. Monday – the season’s first traffic-snarling snow squall.  The bird dog I speak of is a University of Minnesota meteorologist and severe weather enthusiast, Kenny Blumenfeld. Standing aside from mainstream media talking heads, he predicted the tornadoes!  He also had one of the best explanations of the link between Sandy and climate change. I posted that explanation in several climate change sites I frequent on Facebook.  I will post both the Sandy comments and the right-on forecast here.  Also – here is an offer for Minnesota-based IBI Watch readers.  If you would like to get on Kenny’s email list – make a comment on the blog site or send me an email.

“Sandy had an exceptionally high impact, mostly because we cram all those people (tens of millions of them) into an area the size of Iowa.
Meteorologically, Sandy was odd for the following reasons:

  1. pretty late in the season
  2. turned west at an unusually high latitude because
  3. it interacted with a strong mid-latitude weather system, which was “negatively tilted” and caused Sandy to take a sharp-left
  4. it hit an area that doesn’t get a lot of direct hits, because the predominant storm tracks run parallel to (rather than perpendicular to) that part of the coast

Now, this sort of thing is unusual, but not unheard of, but to go to the not-unheard-of places, you have to leave the domain of most TV weather maps, and head up to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Those areas get frequent direct hits from aging, transitioning tropical weather systems, which are occasionally still hurricanes at landfall.   Many of those storms interact with midlatitude weather systems, and they occasionally even get tugged westward by strong negative-tilt-related flow patterns. But in those areas, population 14, we don’t hear much of the results. 

Climatically, it gets even more interesting, at least for me.  Sandy may or may not have been attributable to the deus ex machina we know as global warming.  It’s a tough position for scientists who appreciate nuance: global warming is at this point *undeniable*; oceanic warming is one of the theoretically-expected and already-observed results of global warming; tropical weather systems derive their source energy *entirely* from oceanic heat content.  Thus, global warming could be, would be, should be, and is leading to more and even stronger hurricanes.  But, as we all know, there were hurricanes, including very strong ones, before global warming, and they operate on scales that are smaller (in both time and space) than global warming.  This makes attribution very very difficult.  If you are a meteorologist or a climatologist and you want to get a good spanking, you will write a paper attributing some individual event to global warming.  It’s a scientific no-no.
On the other hand, any reasonable person should be able to add it up: oceans will be warmer, which means they will stay warm-enough-for-hurricanes later into the fall, and at higher latitudes.  Add to that the fact that even with global warming, the lights still go out in the high Arctic region by early fall–the sun goes down.  Without the sun shining, the temperatures in far northern areas begin to fall, quickly.  But at the same time, it’s still plenty warm in the northern hemisphere tropics.  So, by fall, a strong hemispheric temperature gradient forms.  This is very important, because it is this temperature gradient that really gets the strong mid-latitude (i.e., non-tropical) weather systems going.  In the summer, it’s warm in the Tropics, but it’s also relatively warm in the Arctic.  The temperature gradient is weak, and consequently, you have little in the way of energetic weather systems.  But by fall, it’s show time, and this will remain true–even if to a slightly lesser extent–well into the future.
So, warming oceans should lead to an expanded hurricane season.  At the same time, the loss of sunlight during mid fall will create the important temperature gradient that leads to our strong non-tropical weather systems.  Make a Venn Diagram in your head: the circle representing the season for hurricanes is now (increasingly) overlapping with the circle representing the season for non-tropical storms.  Thus, as hurricanes and other tropical weather systems continue later and later into Autumn, they will have better chances of interacting with non-tropical weather systems.  Kind of like Sandy did.  The first one is always unusual, but it won’t be unusual for all that long.
Several readers, friends, colleagues etc. have urged me to use this event get soapboxy about global warming, but I don’t need to.  The evidence speaks for itself.  The recent cover of Bloomberg Businessweek said it pretty well:
http://news.wsiu.org/post/bloomberg-businessweeks-cover-its-global-warming-stupid
Besides, I have a different soapbox.  As a guy who grew up obsessed with hazardous weather, I had to tease out which part of the obsession was about the weather, and which part was about the results and our reactions, both of which are non-meteorological.  And do you know what?  They’re close to equal.  I will spare you the essay within the essay, and just say that we better learn, quickly, to take care of our disadvantaged, lower-access populations, and also our pets.  Because these groups keep getting hurt, killed, and permanently displaced during major weather events, and we look like great big jerks for allowing it.
And now that we’re all a little bit uncomfortable, let’s talk about the weekend.
Today, once upon a time, looked pretty freakish.  But, the models have been doing that a lot this fall–generating freakish storms for a few days, before settling on something much more pedestrian.  But this system in reality is neither; let’s call it a pedestrian-jaywalker, one-too-many whiskeys into its evening.
Basically, a massive area of low pressure hit the Pacific Northwest a few days back, and, as always happens, exhausted itself in the process of crossing the mountains.  The large trough and circulation system split into three pieces:  one is up in James Bay, acting as a high-end, low-impact hyper-blizzard (just imagine 2-3 inches of snow per hour for most of a day, amid 40-60 mph winds and temperatures around zero); a second one is weakening in the Wyoming/Dakotas/Montana border region and had produced near-blizzard conditions in northern Montana on Thursday and yesterday; the third one is just getting into western Nebraska and is morphing into the main playmaker right now.

 This storm system will be pretty talented.  In the southerly flow out ahead of it, temperatures will sail right through the 50s and go well into the 60s, with 70s possible in far southern Minnesota and Iowa.  In the northwesterly flow on the other side of the system, temperature will fall through the 20s and into the teens and even single digits in the western Dakotas.  Rain and scattered thunderstorms are likely in the warm areas, snow and blowing snow in the colder areas, with a decent ice storm possible on the cold side of the buffer zone between the two.
The conditions are running a bit short of ideal for severe weather, but it is close.  The wind fields are nearly perfect, we have decent–but not excellent–upper-level support, but we are really lacking instability.  Today will probably be cloudy, leaving temperatures around 60, maybe 65.  If the sun comes out for a couple important hours, we may see 70 as far north as the Twin Cities, which by the way, would be very special.  Did you know it’s November?  Even with the sun, however, dew points should remain in the 50s, putting them on the very low end of the reliably-generating-severe-weather spectrum.  If moisture transport becomes even more efficient and the dew points can get up into the low 60s, and if the sun comes out, well, then this evening will be severe weather bonanza.  The pattern of wind shear–the way the winds increase and shift from southeasterly, to southerly, to southwesterly with height–is just about perfect for tornadoes.  But the lack of instability is not.  So at this point, widespread or significant severe weather doesn’t seem too likely.

Instead, we can expect waves of rain and thunderstorms this evening and overnight, with the strongest storms possibly producing some small hail or gusty winds.  Given these wind fields, a brief tornado is still possible, but nothing violent or long-lasting–unless the moisture levels jump dramatically.

Many Happy Gift Returns

You may have heard Mitt Romney’s explanation for his loss in the recent election. Once again, Jon Stewart calls it.

“The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.” – David Suzuki

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeanine Bontrager, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 10/28/12

28 10 2012

Superstorms, Paradox and Petrol Propaganda  //

Human-made climate change – arguably the most urgent environmental problem the world faces – is not simple.  The underlying science is simple enough and has been known for centuries – add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, increase the atmosphere’s ability to hold heat rather than radiate it to space.  But the specific consequences are not at all simple.  Sure, there is a general warming trend – which has accelerated dramatically in just the past few years, especially in the Arctic.  But other events – like the monster storm currently threatening America’s eastern seaboard, can and will be used as straw man arguments to confuse enough of the public into supporting ‘status quo’ energy and climate policies.  This is what Rush Limbaugh, James Inhofe, Fred Singer and the whole crowd of pignorant pundits and politicos do best.  A terrific new Frontline tells this sad story of manufactured doubt.

But here is the paradox – and the opening for the fossil fuel tycoons and their stooges.  For the near and mid-term future, extreme cold weather events will be part of the mix.  You can expect spinmeisters to state that the relatively early autumn cold fronts that complicate the Hurricane Sandy situation ‘disprove’ global warming.  They have done this many times during major snowstorms in recent years.  It’s big fun for these guys to ridicule Al Gore and climate scientists – but they are complicit in delaying meaningful action, and in the process jeopardizing the planet’s future as a place humans and so much of the natural world can thrive.  Here is an article from the Guardian that talks about climate consequences.

Note this quote from the Guardian article, because it is directly relevant to Hurricane Sandy:

Other new research suggests that the loss of ice could be could be affecting the path and speed of the jet streams, possibly explaining why extreme weather in the northern hemisphere is lasting longer.

“There is evidence of stronger and more intense north Atlantic storms and extreme weather, says NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve. “We are thinking we are entering a new climate state. Until we get the next push and reach a new equilibrium.

Equilibrium?  That’s hard to imagine, as we continue to add a couple of parts per million of CO2 (and rising) to the atmosphere each year from our tailpipes, smokestacks and farms.  When you read the forecasts (and after-the-fact) reports on Sandy and so many other storms, think of this – storms that come and stay for days, contrary to historical patterns.  Here is one more look at Sandy and the changing climate, from Joe Romm and Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress

Oh and one more favorite denialist canard – how ice is increasing in the Antarctic even as the Arctic melts.  That’s another one of those ‘Things are fine, so shut up you chicken littles’ kind of arguments.  You can read the actual baloney elsewhere, but here are two antidotes from Climate Crocks and Climate Central.  Seth Borenstein’s Associated Press piece also explains the counterintuitive phenomenon of more ice in parts of Antarctica being totally consistent with a warming world.  You might also consult the Australians – who have a contrary experience with a rapidly melting airstrip in Antarctica.  Take that, Fox News!

With all this melting and mayhem unfolding before our eyes, you would think that our leaders would be urgently planning how to deal with the crisis.  You would be wrong.  Here are NPR stories on the public stances of President Obama and Governor Romney.  My hope is that President Obama, given a second term and a Congress not completely in the thrall of Big Oil and Big Coal, would revert to the leader who talked seriously about climate action at the beginning of his first term.  If President Romney (!) were more like Governor Romney, I would not be so concerned.  But all his current Tea-Party-pleasing pronouncements tell us that he would not just ignore the crisis, but actually undo the limited positive steps the Obama Administration has managed to achieve.  Such is the power of petrol pignorance.

People-Powered Energy Policy

With the hydrocarbon-fueled inertia in our government, you have to look elsewhere for anything like progress.  Here is a new citizens’ lobby (what a concept!) that I just discovered.  Here is a recent story on some veterans fighting for wind energy – against serious fossil fuel opposition, of course.  An organization I represent – the Climate Reality Project – has an upcoming event to raise awareness and support for sustainable climate policy.  And this opinion piece presents an optimistic view of people’s power to generate momentum for sustainable policies.  If only . . .

Energy Independence and Other Fables

Next in line after Governor Romney’s repeated (again and again) assertions about what he knows how to do (‘I KNOW how to get this economy moving, I KNOW how to create jobs, etc.) would have to be this mantra – I will create energy independence for American.  This has to be one of the biggest lies of this campaign, and President Obama has not done enough to debunk it.  NPR’s Morning Edition ran two great stories on this notion this week – Thursday and Friday.  As for energy security – a real-world propaganda-free objective – reviving this narrowly missed opportunity would be a good start.

To the North! (Just Like Before)

I can remember, in the dark days of 2004, when President Bush gained a second term in a second tainted contest, joking with fellow progressives about escaping to Canada.  Now, it seems that some on the other end of the political spectrum are thinking the same thoughts.  But this AlterNet piece notes some surprises awaiting righty expats.  Here is another lighthearted look at abandonment threats.  And of course the exit that I would pay to see happen has met the same fate.  Yup, anytime now.

Pity This Busy Monster Manunkind Not – in Three Acts

With a nod to e.e. cummings, I think each of these three wildlife stories has a common theme.  They are from separate corners of the earth – Tanzania, Japan and Minnesota.  Sure, these are on vastly different scales, but they share a common thread – organized killing of highly intelligent animals for dubious purposes, using cruel methods.  This story would not be complete without links to activist organizations – elephants, dolphins, wolves.

Endorsement from Where?

The practice of newspapers endorsing candidates has always been problematic.  I just received a call from one of my local papers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  They have been sending me a Sunday paper, gratis, for the past few weeks.  Ah, but I have a long memory.  Back in October 2004, that paper endorsed President W for a second term, prompting me to cancel my subscription, forever.  I happily told the happy telesales rep my choice. OK, I was just looking for an excuse to tell that story.  But this endorsement of President Obama for a second term is surprising mainly because the state it comes from.  Let’s just say it is square-cornered and about as red as a state gets.  Oh, and it is the unofficial capital of a certain newsworthy religion.

All in a Name

Heard this on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  Think before you change your name.

“The people of this country, not special interest big money, should be the source of all political power.”

― Paul Wellstone

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Elizabeth Bell, Allyson Harper, Edrichus Sykes





IBI Watch 9/30/12

30 09 2012

Real Climate Gates   //

No, this is not about ‘Climategate,’ that pseudo-scandal whipped up around climate scientists’ emails.  This is about real gateways that our  changing climate is zipping through, thanks to our pumping 90 million tons of carbon dioxide daily into the atmosphere.  These are one-way gates.  The global climate will not go back to anything like it was in human lifetimes – many human generations in fact.

The recent record summer Arctic ice melt (obliterating the 2007 record) got me thinking again about an important concept I learned from Tim Flannery’s excellent book, The WeatherMakers.  There is no doubt that the melting Arctic ice cap is one of those gates.  It will have wide implications that will become clearer in the very near future.  Here is one view.  And it turns out that the summer ice is not all that is melting in the Far North.  To no great surprise, springtime snow is melting faster – as reported by NPR this week.  All this melting builds feedbacks.  Why?  It’s the albedo, or reflectivity of surfaces.  Darker surfaces – land and ocean (i.e. surfaces covered until recently by snow and ice) absorb more heat, causing more melting, producing more dark surfaces, and on and on.  What is the most reflective, (atmosphere-cooling) surface?  Snow covering a glacier.  Uh-oh.

But back to those climate gates.  Here are a few documented by Flannery:

  • Western Pacific ocean temperatures – from 1945-55, those temps were often below 66.5 degrees F.  Since 1976, they are rarely below 77.
  • Also since 1976, the balance between El Niño and La Niña has been off, in favor of El Niño (warmer Pacific waters, surprise!)
  • Since 1998, the western Pacific temps have jumped again, so they are now often above 86 degrees F.
  • Also since 1998, the jet stream has moved toward the North Pole, and recently has become more wobbly.

And to top it off, here is another feedback angle – what happens when peat burns on a massive scale in Siberia?  Hint, the effects drift way beyond Siberia.

So why does all this matter?  It becomes clearer by the day, with extreme weather becoming the norm.  And here are some looks at the impact on people.  First, a new report on climate vulnerability, i.e., those most at risk in this new era of manmade climate chaos.  Next, a projection of the incredible level of human suffering that has already begun.  Third, a summary of effects posted by the Environmental Defense Fund – a deserving organization.  And finally – I have long thought that when the insurance industry starts taking notice, policy may finally start shifting toward the sustainable.  Well, at least the first part of that change is happening, as reported in Mother Jones.

Now, with a crisis of this proportion, one would think that a rational, proportional response would be well under way.  One would think.  To be sure, good work is being done to wake people up and turn the massive ship of policy.  Here are a few examples.  First, check this article covering the recent certification training presented by the Climate Reality Project – attended by this blogger. And here is a short video presented by chief spokesperson for that group – former Vice President Al Gore.  Of course, not everything being done or contemplated can be called ‘good,’  From the insanity desk, for instance, we have the prospect of deliberately messing with the climate system in a hubristic, flailing attempt to right the wrongs we have done to the earth that has nurtured us.  Did I mention that I think geoengineering is collective suicide?  But returning to positive responses, here is a well-thought article from Grist (excellent source, that site is) covering three categories of actions to take.  And finally, from elsewhere in the same site, an entertaining and informative quiz to test your preparedness to take on the thankless task of changing Fox ‘News’-addled minds on the reality of the climate crisis.

More Junk Food for Cows; Better Health for People and the Planet

Thanks to a persistent and deepening drought in the American heartland, cattle are ‘enjoying’ some new diet enhancements.  Of course, there is a bright side to this odd story.  These foodstuffs – surplus gummy worms, ice cream sprinkles, etc. – are at least being put to some use.  And that means the resources used in their production are not completely going to waste.  But this reminded me of one of the single most important things we can do to benefit the environment.  As changes go, it is also pretty easy to make – eat less meat.   You may be surprised at the size of the difference that will make.  And it also reminded me of a group that I have been meaning to feature.  Operation Missing Link protested outside the Climate Reality training in San Francisco.  I stopped and chatted, and told them I supported their cause.  I also told them I would link to their site.

ALEC – Impressive, Destructive

I have written about the American Legislative Exchange Council before.  The group has finally been getting more well-deserved attention lately.  The power wielded by this organization virtually screams for attention.  If you have not heard of ALEC, this introduction from their web site can help . . . sort of.  The American Legislative Exchange Council works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.

Sounds good, eh?  Who can argue with a process that involves partnership and ‘the general public?  Moving beyond the propaganda, Bill Moyers’ latest Moyers and Company does an impressive job explaining what these guys are up to – flying an under-the-radar mission to turn America into a permanent corporatist ‘paradise.’  The ultimate goal here, of course – one the group has made significant progress on – is the privatization of virtually everything.  I like to think of it this way – if there is something, anything, that is ‘public,’ it means some megamillionaire is being ‘cheated’ out of the chance to make more millions.  Pity, that.  Probably the most amazing thing about ALEC’s rise and striking success is this – it is not treated as a lobbying organization, but an ‘educational’ group.  You will know enough about ALEC to be aghast after watching the Moyers show.  This adds to an excellent interview from Terry Gross’s Fresh Air a while back.  A memory from that interview for me was the absolute sham of public involvement in this corporate horse-trading market.  Both the Moyers and Gross treatments might make you ask the question posed by this new book.

ALEC is near the center of what I consider the biggest challenge facing the American system – corporate money in politics.  I was happy to hear of a new initiative at the end of the Moyers show – ALICE.  Meet ALICE here and here.  Not a corporate shill in sight.  It also seems a good time to plug one of my favorite causes – the Move to Amend.  Our democracy – what is left of it – depends on reversing Citizens United.  And that is just for starters.

Obama Victory Projected?  Not so Fast!

Most recent polls show President Obama widening his lead in several key battleground states, most notably Ohio.  Things are looking good for the Democratic incumbent.  But some of us remember the deep past, like 2004.  Expect a raft of dirty tricks, not limited to voter suppression, er, ah, that is voter ID enforcement.  The New York Times’ Charles Blow agrees.  I particularly liked the nod to Donald Rumsfeld.  Think it can’t happen?  If you have the chance, ask Senator John Kerry.  Or just check this link.  Remember which candidate the massive piles of Supreme-Court-empowered corporate cash are supporting.  Yup, there’s that money-in-politics thing again.

Indentured Servers

The high-and-mighty financial masters of the baseball universe (long ago and far away, my favorite baseball team in the universe), find themselves mired in yet another greed-entangled mess.  It seems that, in order to protect that mountain of profits, they have to cheat their humblest workers out of their tips.  What is chump change to this elitist institution is big bucks to waiters.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of haughty capitalists.  Ah, it brings back fond memories of 2009.  Every empty seat costing the empire $2500.  This new story reflects that nostalgia, and tells how the greed beat goes on.  Anybody seen Gordon Gekko lately?

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”  – Mark Twain

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 9/23/12

23 09 2012

Paying the Price of Change   //

Each week, we see new  havoc that our greenhouse gas emissions are wreaking in the world.  Sometimes the changes are linked to the obvious culprit, and sometimes we pretend not to notice.  Here are several examples of both, and some hopeful signs that many of us are making the connection and working on solutions.  Too bad that does not include our American federal government.

First, the clearest and most ominous.  Every spring in Minnesota, weather forecasters make a big deal over ‘ice-out’ dates on lakes.  Well, we are getting damned near ‘ice-out’ time on the Arctic Ocean, at least in summer.  Our 2012 melt season absolutely smashed the old (2007) record for Arctic melt.  This video interview with Walt Meier, a scientist at the U.S. National Ice and Snow Data Center, explains the science, the context and the significance for us non-Arctic residents.  Note Meier’s key quote – ‘much faster than expected.’

Next, this article (and a linked video) from Huffington Post charts 10 expected consequences of global warming, ranging from inconvenient to devastating.

Here is a video posted by Sarah Seltzer on AlterNet that details all the extreme weather phenomena piling up over the past few months.  Any day now, people will notice the trend.

Global warming is of course not limited to the land.  Check this account from Mother Jones’ science reporter, Julia Whitty, about the incredibly warm ocean depths.

Next, a friend sent me a link to a story on a new cloud formation.  Granted, there is no explicit link established between greenhouse gases and undulatus asperatus clouds, but 90 million tons of CO2 per day spewed into the atmosphere is going to cause some change, right?  (Note – the linked video is strictly for laughs.)  I have seen these incredible, ominous clouds several times this summer – and they sure look new and different to this longtime observer.

And finally, the esteemed Noah Adams missed a big opportunity with this story.  Since I began observing and studying global warming in the late 80s, I have been expecting events like the one described – the disastrous Michigan apple harvest now playing out.

The weather phenomenon that killed all the buds – a late April freeze – is all too normal. But the setup – ridiculously warm fall and winter, followed by summer in March – in no way normal. Until now. Welcome to Eaarth.

So what are we doing about this?  If you’re Rex Tillerson, not much (except making lots more money – he always adapts, via his engineering solutions!)  But if you are James Hansen, plenty.  I like his fee and dividend idea – a fee on carbon-generating fuels that is used to incent consumers to make sustainable choices.  Also plenty, if you are former Vice President Al Gore.  And finally – if you are a large corporation whose livelihood depends on a stable climate, more than you might think – real support for regulating carbon.  Too bad these guys are drowned out right now by the siren song of pignorant corporate cash from the likes of Big Oil and Big Coal.  But it won’t always be that way.

Joe Romm from Climate Reality shares some powerful advice on winning the climate argument.

How We Wreck the Place (And Fix it, Sometimes)

Human impact on the planet is shocking and constantly growing.  This surprises little, considering we have passed the seven billion mark in population.  A book I am currently reading, The End of the Long Summer, describes the ways – climate change being only one – we have transformed the planet.

Here are three wildlife stories that are in the news right now.  First, a maritime view – tropical fish in the Bay of Fundy.  Hmm, wonder how that happened.  (See the Julia Whitty piece above for details.)  Second, what’s with all the confounded spiders in Guam?  This lesson in ecology might surprise you.  (Snakes on a plane, man!)  Third – an absolutely heartbreaking story about African elephants and the illegal ivory trade – which is booming.  An excellent, devastating investigative work from this month’s National Geographic.  Good thing all this slaughter is being done in the name of God, or at least, the God industry.  This video explains the religious link (hint, it’s ecumenical), and points toward hope.

So, I promised some good news.  Here is one happy story about a tech fix for an unfortunate eagle.  Of course, too bad the poor bird had to have her beak shot off in order to benefit from this new wizardry.  But that’s another tale for another time.  And then, there are always those deserving organizations doing fine work on behalf of wildlife – that merit our support.  Here are a few of my favorites.

http://www.oceanconservancy.org/

http://worldwildlife.org/

http://www.nwf.org/

Hey, Protect This!

Pity the poor American conservative.  He looks at the future, and what does he see?  Immigrants, an aging population, and a minority majority, that’s what.  So, how can he maintain the status quo, i.e., a government that does big business’s bidding, no questions asked?  Well, there’s always fear – that works wonders.  Then there are Karl Rove’s oily, well-funded, Supreme-Court-blessed lying campaigns.  But nothing works like culling the herd – of voters, that is.  I will have lots more to say about this hugely important issue in coming weeks, but for now I cede the floor to the amazing (and potty-mouthed, be warned) Sarah Silverman.  Tell those &%)@s to go   )%_)@*!

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group,”

― Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeanine Bontrager, Cassie Callan, Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 9/16/12

16 09 2012

Forecast for Winter Weather – and Its *Pignorant Exploitation  //

*Pretend-Ignorant

You don’t have to be a meteorologist or a climatologist to see what lies just ahead.  The scientists tell us we are entering another El Niño phase.  This generally means a warmer and drier winter in the region I call home – the US Upper Midwest.  But there is big change afoot – most important, we are still wondering where the current (and epochal) record Arctic ice melt will stop.  And a closely related phenomenon – the increasing waviness of the jet stream, north to south, makes – surprise! – more extreme weather events likely.  Just look at the short imbedded animation in the last link to see how that jet stream change is working.

So – with those two points in mind – here is the general winter weather (and winter weather reaction) forecast for the northern United States.

  • Some places will be hit with extraordinary snow and ice events– in some cases smashing records.  And the storms may linger for several days.
  • Denialist blowhards such as Inhofe, Limbaugh, assorted Fox News commentators and others will seize on the extreme winter weather events as evidence that man-made global warming is a hoax.  They will have a few lusty laughs at Al Gore’s expense and continue to help paralyze movements toward sustainable climate and energy policy.  The grand irony, of course, is that these pignorant pundits are using precisely the consequences of manmade climate change to ‘disprove’ manmade climate change.
  • No one will be paying attention when most of those places that got the record snow see it all rapidly melt when the weather shifts in a few days to temps that until recently could only be called ‘unseasonably warm.’
  • The overall pattern of the winter will be above normal to well above normal temps.  Just read here if you doubt that.  It’s as close to a sure bet as you can find.

How can I say this and – more important – who the hell am I to think I can say this?!  Two good questions.  First, I feel vindicated by recent events and analysis.  I have noticed in about the last 10-15 years that weather systems so often stall – in ways they had not in the past.  This means that some areas might have a long drought broken by rain that far overstays its welcome – such as a year or two of rain that falls in a few days on a drought-stricken area.  It also means fronts that virtually creep across the country, plaguing an area with successive days of severe weather.  Watch for more of this as weather becomes more extreme due to our ongoing alteration of the atmosphere with our greenhouse gases.  Second – there is a phenomenon afoot that any day now will be recognized as a trend.

But back to winter for a moment.  Two recent articles highlight scientists’ winter predictions – here and here.

Meanwhile, we keep up the climate change ‘debate’ in this science-averse country of ours.  But it turns out this is one real example of a well-worn right-wing concept: American Exceptionalism.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and it doesn’t have to be a partisan issue.  My favorite local meteorologist and truth-teller, Paul Douglas, wrote a terrific piece recently.  His intended audience – the climate change jokester himself, Mitt Romney.  Heh, heh.  And of course, it is never a bad idea to visit Douglas’ excellent weather and climate blog.

Piling it High and Deep

It is hard to find a politician who does not stretch the truth from time to time.  You might even say that every politico – shocking I know – will tell a lie at some time.  But surely the current Republican presidential candidate and his running mate are setting a new standard.  This of course has been heralded by the quote of a campaign advisor – “Romney pollster Neil Newhouse responded to criticism of his campaign’s TV ad attacking the president with false claims about the welfare reform law. After it was noted that myriad fact checking organizations had found the ad false, Newhouse stated, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Here is my favorite recent Romney quote.  The candidate rightly identified as favoring further tax advantages for the wealthy now charges the president with making the wealthy wealthier.  Hilarious.  Then there is the one about Republicans wanting President Obama to succeed in the early days of his administration.  Here is even more hilarity.  I about choked when I heard Romney tell us in his Convention speech how he wanted Obama to succeed.  Jon Stewart has the proper assessment.  This five-minute video is worth the time, but if you want the reaction, go straight to 3:20.  The last example is more sad than funny.  It’s about a closed auto plant and Paul Ryan.

All this creativity reminded me of a piece (Liars’ Party) I wrote a few months back.  It puts this new standard of storytelling in a broader context, worthy of the era of Karl Rove and Frank Luntz.

Colossal Incompetence, Strategic Ignorance or Both

When 9/11 investigation commission member Richard Ben Veniste was pressing Condoleezza Rice on the President’s daily briefing memo warning of Bin Laden’s plans to attack America, I knew there had to be more, lots more, intelligence that was dropped or ignored.  The story is now emerging. Kurt Eichenwald – author of a new book on this important history, ‘500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars,’ appeared on Democracy Now! this week.  The intelligence was much, much more than the single memo that Ben Veniste courageously probed.

In all likelihood, it won’t ever lead to a true, comprehensive investigation and reconstruction.  But it is important to get the truth out – if for no other reason than to expose and destroy the big whopper of a lie from that era.  You know, the one that went something like this:  ‘We could not have known they would fly planes into buildings.’  Uh huh.  You can learn more here and here.

Organic – It’s Not Just about Us

A recent study on organic food garnered much attention.  Turns out that the nutritional and health benefits of eating organic are not so clear.  But there is a much bigger health issue that is largely ignored in the debate.  But not in this story.

Corporate Money and Unbalanced American Politics

The bedrock issue that must be moved if we are to achieve change is getting the big corporate dollars out of our political process.  With each cycle – aided and abetted by a right-wing Supreme Court – Congress increasingly does the bidding of its corporate sponsors.  This latest edition of Moyers and Company does a fine job of laying out the issues and exploring ideas for cleaning up the mess.  Moyers interviews Katrina vanden Heuvel and Jamie Raskin , in conjunction with a special issue of The Nation dedicated to this all-important topic.  Warning – if you dislike Justice Scalia as much as I do, fold your hands carefully while watching his smug explanation of his love for lot$ more $peech.  $eriou$ly.  You don’t really want to throw something at your computer, do you?

High-Speed Waste Disposal

This one is strictly for yucks.  Military innovation and waste solutions rolled in one disgusting package.

Environmental Progress

Three stories of environmental hope:

Tree planting in Africa to hold back desertification

Progress on electric vehicles

The roof of the future – solar shingles!

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

― Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Jeff Carlson, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 8/26/12

26 08 2012

Climate Leadership   //

I am proud to say that I am now a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project.  I returned Friday from three days of training, the middle day of which was taught by former Vice President Al Gore.  (Here is what Gore wrote about our conference.  His comments are brief and positive, but of course generated a mile-long list of responses.)  The instruction was first-rate, the networking even better.  I was one of about 1000 new climate leaders certified in the conference.  We represented 47 states and 56 countries from around the world.  Meet a few of my new colleagues here.  Also – read the excellent blog by Julie Johnston, my friend and fellow presenter from British Columbia, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the conference.

One of the most moving segments for me was hearing and meeting singer Kathy Mattea, a trained presenter for the project.  She told and sang of her native West Virginia’s complicated relationship with coal – simultaneously the source of the region’s livelihood and its shocking environmental destruction.

I have some prep work to do before taking my show on the road.  I hope you will come back to read more here in coming weeks.

On Climate, We are the Laggards

At the Climate Reality conference, one topic of conversation recurred, over and over again.  That is, how to deal with science deniers.  I can imagine that presenters coming from most every country aside from the US would become discouraged at the amount of time dedicated to this angle.  You see, we in the land of Rush Limbaugh, Richard Lindzen and James Inhofe have a virtual lock on denialism.  That’s right, it has come to this.  The country that once dominated the world in so many productive endeavors now is tops in heads thrust deeply into the sand.  But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Maybe we need more proof of global warming’s creeping chaos.  This NPR story details the cascading, carbon-releasing effects of the persistent drought in the American southwest.  Then there is that great Greenland ice melt.  Here is a recent article detailing drought predictions from global warming. And just for good measure, here is a set of charts detailing the continuing and accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Now that I am certified by the Climate Reality Project, I expect to hear more variants of the following.  “Global warming?  Climate change?  That’s a fantasy cooked up by that big blowhard algore.”  In response, I could hand you a stack of books on the topic that I have read.  You will search the indexes in vain for Gore’s name.  Why?  It’s not about him – he is just one of the most prominent messengers.  And for that, he deserves heaps of credit, not scorn.

To my mind, one of the experts most worth watching and heeding these days is NASA meteorologist James Hansen.  He has emerged from the ranks of scientists to become one of the clearest sources of information for us non-scientists.  His concept of climate dice – which we have loaded with our greenhouse gases – brings home an important point.  It is explained very well here and here.  But Hansen’s most valuable idea is one that should form the basis of policy.  No, not cap and trade, which is widely discredited.  Try fee and dividend – very promising, and sorely needed, in my opinion.

Convenient Cover

Let’s say you have a problem and you know it.  You stand for reinstituting policies that were discredited in the recent past.  Those would be – massive cuts for the wealthy, coupled with steady increases in military spending.  Those policies contributed to a dramatic increase in inequality in both income and wealth, and are tied to a yet-to-be-proven notion that putting more and more money in the hands of ‘job creators’ will create a vigorous prosperity that will ‘trickle down’ to the masses.  (See more here.)  You know at some level that your policies will further accelerate income inequality, but you know that naked greed, fully understood, won’t sell.  You need a legitimate cover, a philosophy.

That’s the role that Ayn Rand’s fiction and essays play for an alarming number of modern conservatives, most prominently running mate Paul Ryan.  His recent denials notwithstanding, Ryan points to the Russian expat proponent of Objectivism as his main influence.  Though I must confess that I have never suffered through Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, Rand’s ideas and their prominence in the current election cycle have spawned a broad discussion of what policies motivated by that philosophy might mean for the nation.

You don’t find David Brooks and Paul Krugman agreeing on too much, but the Ryan/Rand connection is a rare exception.  I agree.  No ideology – socialism, communism, free-market capitalism, libertarianism (including its Randian brand, Objectivism) – can work in the real world in its purest form. Even Alan Greenspan, that devoted acolyte of Milton Friedman, admitted his surprise that big investors would make wildly speculative decisions in an unregulated environment, bringing harm to all.  And yet, that’s exactly the system Romney and Rand want to throw us back into.  Commentator Michael Kinsley could not resist a little satirical fun at the notion of implementing Rand’s philosophy as policy.

This Star Tribune commentary by Imara Jones says that Ryan’s financial ideas potentially put us back into a prior era.  Gilded Age?  Robber barons?  Feudalism?      George Lakoff – arguably progressives’ answer to conservative propaganda minister Frank Luntz – agrees that implementing such policies has serious implications for what kind of country we want to be.

But wait – Paul Ryan is not running for president.  For all the fire and fury around Ryan’s connection with Rand and glorified selfishness, we really should be paying attention to what Romney wants to do.  As I have written previously (see the Mitt/Re-Mitt piece), a President Romney consistent with Governor Romney of Massachusetts would be far from disastrous.  But this Economist piece points out that Romney is making it mighty difficult to know where he would lead us.  Deliberate ambiguity, ya think?

Woody’s Legacy of Protest

Back in the August 2001, I was visiting with old friends on the East Coast.  I let fly – as I am wont to do – a negative comment on President W.  Now remember, he had not yet found the ‘organizing theme’ for his presidency – that was a few weeks off.  Several of my compadres (most were inexplicably sympathetic to the great Decider) responded to my barb with good-natured criticism – I had lived too long in that ‘Communist hotbed,’ (Madison WI), and I had spent too much time singing Woody Guthrie songs.  As for that latter charge, well, to quote my look-alike hero, Groucho, ‘I resemble that remark.’  I was reminded of that party when I read this commentary on the value of Guthrie’s work.

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”     -Neil Armstrong

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Lee Ann Groppoli Lehner, Allyson Harper