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.




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  //


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