IBI Watch 12/15/13

15 12 2013

Careful with that Focus //

In photography, a macro lens in skilled hands produces eye-opening results. By zooming in on details, we can get a glimpse of a whole other world – think of pictures like these. But in the climate debate, the metaphorical macro lens produces results of an entirely different type. If you have a story to tell, particularly an anti-science, fossil-fueled fairy tale of “everything is fine, so shut up,” you can whip out that macro lens and find all sorts of material for your narrative.

The latest is the dramatic news that a new all-time low temperature may have been recorded in Antarctica. Sure, the reading is a bit tainted – satellite-collected, three years old and all that – but it is big news of a sort. And if you are telling the “climate change is a hoax” story, it is something to capitalize on. Here’s a post from my favorite denialist blog – though the site does not overtly beat the drum on this new evidence, it is easy to surmise why the story appears at all. A new all-time low casts doubt on the manmade climate change story, from that macro view. And then there is wintry weather cropping up in unexpected places, and politically beneficial (to the likes of James Inhofe and Company) places. And right here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it has been cold, no doubt about it. We have already had a series of overnight sub-zero low temps, and on several days the high barely crept above zero.  So many are assuming the return of the bracing winters of yore, and possibly imagining that well, maybe all that climate change stuff really isn’t all that big a story. Maybe it is not true at all.

The Antarctic low is the most macro of all information. Go to a slightly wider lens, and you see what is really happening – Phil Plait’s nicely illustrated blog post on Slate tells the wide-angle story. Despite isolated record-low temps and scattered colder-than-average spots, the continuing story at both poles is one word – melt. And far-flung or persistent wintry weather tempts us back toward the business-as-usual, all-is-fine approach, especially if we have bought the myth of climate change as a linear, lock-step, steady warming process. But that is foolish – all that cold and snowy weather far from the poles is itself a consequence of all our greenhouse gas belching – see here. And here in the Twin Cities, of course winter is cold. In fact, it is so cold that most Minnesotans, native or adopted, spend the better part of December – March complaining about it or headed for the airport. But the wide-angle focus is this – the last time the low temperature hit -20F was January 16, 2009. Historically – -20F to -30F is the annual bottom-out temperature in these parts, or was anyway. And lest you think this is simply the masochistic raving of a crazy winter sports fan (well OK so it is, but there is more), this is the real evidence of a long-term shift in the climate, and it has major long-term consequences. We can always count on Paul Douglas for the long view and the science backing it up. Please view his blog, and check the blog entry “Blissfully Numb.” No better irony than this. Sure it is cold in a few places on the globe, including the tip of my nose, but get a look at how much red (above normal) there is all around. And a global comparison from November of this year sure puts that satellite-collected Antarctic record in context.

And of course the biggest picture of all is this, and for the foreseeable future, the only way on that number is up. The only question is how far and how fast.

The first lesson here of course – beware wide-angle judgments emerging from macro lenses. The other lesson is let’s do something about it. Here is a recent recommendation, and an organization dedicated to the cause. And one more for good measures, like a carbon fee and dividend.

 

Newtown Echoes

It has been a hard week for listening to the radio and reading the papers. On the radio, we hear the voices of grieving parents of the children gunned down in the ghastly and senseless Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. And in the papers, we see again the faces of all those young lives snuffed out. What have we learned and done? Sadly, not nearly enough.

For one thing, the bloody toll continues. Watch this short Mother Jones video and dig into the investigative report. It is easy to see that it is only a matter of time before the next massacre. The NRA’s power to stymie efforts at reasonable regulation is undiminished. At the state level, the view is not quite so bleak.

There is a lot of depth on America’s violent culture in this interview by Bill Moyers with cultural historian Richard Slotkin. I had never seen the inside of the violent video games that Slotkin samples in the interview – even one specifically modeled on the Sandy Hook massacre. Warning – disgusting, shocking, hard to watch if you have any imagination or empathy.

A worthy group fights on for sensible gun regulation.

 

Looking Ahead – the Next Four Decades (Guest Post by Desmond Berghofer)

Guest blogger Desmond Berghofer provides a comprehensive look at socioeconomic and environmental trends looking out to 2052. He aptly notes that so much of this emanates from uncontrolled population growth. Interesting stuff. This post is from the BoomerWarrior site, the work of Toronto’s Rolly Montpellier. Rolly sometimes features my work. Berghofer also has his own blog, worth checking out.

 

At Last, Volcker Rules

What’s this? A step in the direction of sensible bank regulation? Believe.

A Sunny Forecast

Look out Germany, US solar is coming.

Play It Dumb or Smart

It’s reality or magical thinking. No other choice. Two cities diverge on the path to planning for climate change’s inevitable sea rises. Ideology is a powerful thing, for better or worse. OK, mainly for worse.

 

Feed Your Mind (Or Someone Else’s) – the IBI Watch Reading List

For years, I have threatened to post my recommended book list for titles connected to this blog. Drumroll, please. Well, all right, skip the percussion. But please take a look. Note especially my “top five” recommendations. Look for the bold type most strongly recommended items. I endorse the entire list of course, but I guarantee that anyone reading any of my top five for the first time will vastly expand their world view.

 

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Contributed links or content to this posting – Desmond Berghofer, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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IBI Watch 9/29/13

29 09 2013

Too Late or Not Too Late?

The latest assessment from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) offers plenty of evidence for both arguments – that it is already past the time where we can solve our manmade climate crisis, or that we still have time to mitigate and reverse it. But some things are clear in all the projections – human activity is altering the climate, the trends are not favorable, and we are pushing the climate towards the point where it will be too late to do anything.

The new IPCC report – its fifth and first since 2007 – certainly offers some openings for denialists. It acknowledges the fact that our uncontrolled experiment in altering the climate with our greenhouse gases is not a linear process. It also fine-tunes some predictions from previous assessments, and in some cases suggests that prior predictions – at least for now through 2100 – may have been too steep. But for all but the most die-hard denialists (think of tobacco executives in the 1960s or maybe of Baghdad Bob as US forces invaded Iraq in 2003), the message is clearer than ever – we are steadily raising atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is warming the planet and altering the oceans and the entire planetary climate system.

Thanks to various media outlets, getting the gist of the latest from this conservative, consensus-bound body does not require poring through hundreds of footnoted pages. Here is an overview pdf. It runs more than 30 pages, but is actually quite easy to surf. Just look for the orange-shaded paragraphs. When you do, you will see that the report contains little good news. The vaunted (by denialists) “slowdown” or “pause” in warming noticed over the past 15 years? It’s a natural variation, and an indication that the heat is being absorbed by the deep oceans. (Want to know more about ocean heating? See here.)Not all the recent heat is ocean-bound, of course (only about 90 percent!), but all that heat will eventually warm the atmosphere. And even with the ocean’s shielding the atmosphere – for now – from the most serious heating, we still have the dramatic retreat of glaciers, ice sheets and the Arctic sea ice.

To learn more, try one or more of these:

A summary from the NPR blog

A report at the Economist’s blog site

A summary reported by Reuters

A fine summary posted by Joe Romm at the Climate Progress site

A set of graphics posted at Climate Central

There is always another choice – learn less, think magically, insert head into sand or other dark space. This Buzzfeed collection of familiar denialist assertions can help in that regard. It even has brief video samples attached for entertainment value. And of course you can read variants of those and others in the comment section following virtually all postings on climate change. In fact, another came to my attention recently – the one about human activity (the 90 million tons of CO2 we send skyward every day) being dwarfed by volcanoes. Here is a fact-based debunker of that canard. And all those comments bring up one of the challenges in moving policy on climate and energy in a sustainable direction. Public perception of science is found to be affected by all the rants of trolls and thinkers who know more than the world’s scientists. Though I am not particularly fond of Popular Science – they don’t cover my favorite issues anywhere near as often as Scientific American, Discover and National Geographic – I want to relay  a step that magazine felt necessary. That is, remove the comment platform for the anti-scientists, “skeptics” and denialists. It really has come to that. And reader comments are not the only source of anti-science propaganda. When it comes to media, we have to consider the source, particularly these oily headwaters.

There are people who are committed to climate science and climate policy, and then there is Kumi Naidoo. The executive director of Greenpeace – an organization I support – appeared on Moyers and Company this week. A veteran of daring protests that have led to grave physical danger and arrests, this is someone who puts his personal safety on the line in defense of a livable planet. I like his rhyming mantra – “Leave the coal in the hole, and the oil in the soil,” and also his call to action – “If we can mobilize trillions to bail out banks, bankers, bonuses, surely we can mobilize much less than that to deal with the climate crisis.” Naidoo’s take on the “too late/not too late” question is also right on. That is, it is too late for people already in the bull’s eye of sea rise and ice melt. We need to act and act forcefully to make sure it does not get too late for all humanity. That time is just about upon us.

A “Ted Talk” that Speaks Volumes

You may be able to find a complete recording of the recent “Ted-athon” on the Senate floor, but you will need to order several pizzas and a case of No-Doz to make it through. Instead, I prescribe Jon Stewart’s two-part sampling of this spectacularly off-tune solo hypocrisy. In part one, Stewart hits the “high” points of Senator Ted Cruz’s not-a filibuster. And in part two, he latches onto the senator’s cultural contribution, in which he uses the podium to read Dr. Seuss’ famous Green Eggs and Ham, allegedly to his daughter. Ten minutes of hilarious satire or 21 hours of glazed eyes and nausea. Choose wisely. And remember, this guy wants to be president.

I have a couple of points to make here. First, this display continues a not-so-proud Republican tradition of having a tin ear for culture. Remember Michele Bachmann and American Girl? How about Ronald Reagan and Born in the USA? And though it was not as public, my favorite story in this regard is President George W Bush’s alleged affinity for the songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The question is, did he understand or even listen to Fortunate Son? Yes, as Snopes points out, the song was not about President W but was there ever a more fortunate son? Second, the good Senator seems to have forgotten that Theodore Geisel (i.e. Dr. Seuss) was a staunch liberal. And most important of all, what is the point of that immortal kids’ book in the first place? Try it, you’ll like it. Uber-blogger Tom Degan makes that point in his imitable way right here.

There are two things I would like you to remember here, as we head, seemingly inexorably, toward yet another pigheaded government shutdown. First, Senator Ted Cruz, playing to the Tea Party extremists who increasingly control his party, is a health-care hypocrite of the first order. (That’s not saying he is alone in that regard.) And second, keep in mind that this tea-addled majority in the House, that is willing to risk shutting down the government, and not long after that, defaulting on the debts that the US government accrued on both Republican and Democratic watch, is a gerrymandered, phony majority. So get this – an extremist minority within a party that is actually a minority itself is acting completely contrary to the will of the American people. And this is a group that purportedly opposes tyranny. Folks, you just can’t make this up.

Nerds Can’t Dance

Or maybe they just shouldn’t. When I watched this video of Bill Nye the Science Guy dancing and ultimately tripping up, injured, on Dancing with the Stars, I was reminded of some movie scene. It was the hair – Tom Hulce, playing Mozart in one of my all-time favorite flicks, Amadeus. But I digress. The Science Guy’s knee injury looks painful but, thank goodness, not career threatening. Get right quick, Bill. We need you to do more stuff like this, this and this. And hey, break a leg. Or maybe not.

Food Rescued

It’s a downright scandal. Consider how much energy goes into creating our food, and then imagine this – 40 percent of food in America is wasted. News features recently have highlighted that shameful fact. Here is a fine example from the Los Angeles Times. The former president of Trader Joe’s has a better idea. It’s a combination store/restaurant that will offer food items that are just past those expiration dates, but still usable. Though Peter Sagal had a good old time with the idea on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, here is hoping it sells.

Fix the Problem – Ten Ways

If asked to name the one problem to solve in order to create far-reaching, cascading positive change, I know what my answer would be. Get corporate hands off the levers of power. Their grip has been strengthening in recent years, thanks in no small part to the infamous Citizens United decision by the corporatocratic Supreme Court. Gar Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt have a wonderful, thought-provoking piece on Truthout. How many of these have you tried? It’s not too late . . . yet.

“I conceive that the land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living, and countless numbers are still unborn.” – A Chieftain from Nigeria

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 9/22/13

22 09 2013

Preemptive Prefabrication //

The impending IPCC update on the climate crisis, due this week, has generated a lot of buzz, and a good deal of anti-science creativity as well. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a fundamentally conservative organization, will state more forcefully than ever that climate change – a documented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, causing – so far – nearly a one-degree C. temperature rise, accelerating ocean acidification and melting glaciers and ice sheets, plus many other joyful phenomena – is due to humans’ burning our addictive joy juice, i.e. fossil fuel. Here is a concise explanation from the Live Science site of the consensus-driven, cautious process followed by the IPCC.

The IPCC has a high profile – its leaders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 – so it is not really surprising that the denialist forces are seizing the opportunity for some “first-strike” messaging. It’s not hard to find writers trumpeting a supposed lull in planetary change as proof that climate change is not real, not human-caused, and not something deserving concern. Here’s the strategy. Pick any combination of those three assertions, falsely present the scientific consensus on climate change as predictive of a linear, lock-step process, and presto, you further inoculate the public against pushing for sustainable energy and environment legislation. So goes policy paralysis. Here is a survey of denialist commentary from the likes of Fox News, the Junk Science site, and  Matt Ridley, writing in the Wall Street Journal. At that last link, you will find an oft-heard assertion from the denialist crowd, that far from being a cause of concern, climate change offers benefits. Shades of the Heartland Institute.

If you suspect a coordinated, full-court press here, you are not alone. So does Joe Romm, writing on his Climate Progress site. Pay careful attention to his graphics on carbon pollution and the seven planetary boundaries. He also cites a particularly egregious example of vacuous, tech-supreme, happy talk that I linked to just last week. (Scroll down to “The Magical Techno-Fix.”). And for some succinct analysis of this pre-emptive campaign, I like the Guardians’ climate commentators, John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli. This duo has posted a new article reminding us of the stages of climate denial, all of which are on display to varying degrees in the latest round of denialist commentary.  For the record, here are the stages:

  • Deny the problem exists
  • Deny we are the cause
  • Deny the scientific consensus
  • Deny it’s a problem
  • Deny we can solve it
  • Sorry, it’s too late to solve

Here is an assignment steeped in futility, a sort of mission impossible (should you choose to accept it). Analyze the commentary linked above, and determine which articles represent which stages of denial. Then, strategize on how to change the minds of the commentators. Right, impossible.

This course is far wiser – concede that a completely melted, transformed planet will never be enough to convince these guys. That includes an ice-free summer Arctic, which is definitely on the way (current denialist trumpeting alleged ice “recovery” notwithstanding), with chaotic weather pattern consequences. Understand that denialism is not really about skepticism (which implies a willingness to see things differently) and give up the idea of every winning over the likes of Bjorn Lomborg, George Will and Lord Monckton (and our own well-funded, powerful deniers inside Congress). And support the following organizations, which are working hard to sway public opinion in the direction of sensible, sustainable energy and climate policy:

Boulder: the Arctic Connection

It is not possible to blame a particular destructive storm on manmade climate change. That includes hurricanes, even monsters like Katrina and Sandy. And it even includes the freakish storm complex that gouged Boulder, Colorado last week. That storm, called a “thousand-year flood,” dumped many months worth of rain in the space of a few days, killing at least four people and washing away houses, roads and bridges. Worse, it came on the heels of a persistent drought. For a look at just how outside the norm the event was, check this well-supported Time.com article from Bryan Walsh.

Since we have one planet, interconnected, it is wise to study how planetary forces influence weather patterns. The original research of Rutgers University scientist Jennifer Francis got new attention this week, on NPR’s Science Friday. Francis – whose work I have previously linked to (see “Wacky, Wobbly Weather”)– looks at documented changes in jet-stream patterns and resultant weather phenomena. That includes “stuck” weather, i.e., systems that come into an area and stall for days on end. Those seem to be related to the slowing, bulging, dipping jet stream. That in turn is related to the well-documented, rapid warming of the Arctic.

Our response? Take a deep sigh, and check those “stages” above.

Animated States of Income Inequality

There’s nothing like a moving picture to tell a story. Check this Washington Post animation. Despite bizarre color choices, it depicts how income inequality has grown in the past 33 years across the continental US. Intriguing. Makes me want to learn more by watching the most recent Moyers and Company installment, featuring an extended interview with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. As you probably know, he is one of the major advocates on behalf of economic justice. Here is the trailer for the movie Reich and Moyers discuss, Inequality for All – about to be released. And if all that makes you want to explore where you fit into the economic puzzle, NPR’s Marketplace has a new interactive data game – Income Upshot. You know you want to try it. Just enter your income and zip code, and prepare for some eye-opening facts. Then, compare your situation with such real-life scions as Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, and even fictional folk like Homer Simpson and Marge Gunderson. Remember her? (Think “wood chipper.”)  And then learn even more about the financial crisis – which has served to further push the extremes of income inequality – at this list of documentaries posted by Moyers. I am sure they are all worthwhile, but from experience I can strongly recommend An Inside Job.

Greenhouse Generators

Here is a quick check on sources of greenhouse gases that are accumulating in the atmosphere – carbon dioxide and methane for two. One finding is a bit surprising – and seems easy to influence. The other is not surprising at all. Good luck influencing that one.

Shut Up and Sing?

This pictorial tribute makes me want to buy more recordings from all of these outspoken musical artists. Well, most of them anyway.

Help the Oceans Clean Themselves – A Boy’s Bright Idea

A video like Boyat Slat’s TedX Talk is enough to give an old environmentalist hope for the future. His bright idea offers a solution to a seemingly insoluble problem that is a product of our modern throwaway life – the Pacific garbage patch.

“The more we exploit nature, the more our options are reduced, until we have only one: to fight for survival.”

Morris K. Udall

 

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 9/15/13

15 09 2013

Arctic Refreeze + Slow Hurricane Season = Climate Change Bunk? //

It’s all the rage. The Arctic icepack will not set a new minimum record this year. It is already refreezing, fast. Those facts have climate science deniers energized. For instance, one of the most prominent of all the climate change denial sites has charts and graphs galore, telling this story that apparently proves climate change is not happening. This site has run pretty much the same story the last two years – see 2012 and 2011 entries. And it is not just pundits and bloggers – here is an established British news source with the same story.

True unbelievers in climate science take some kind of comfort, I guess, in news like the Arctic ice returning, plus this year’s near-record late start to the Atlantic hurricane season. Here is a balanced view of that hurricane situation, from Time magazine. Cherry-picked data serves as potent fuel for fantastical stories, as Rush Limbaugh regularly proves. And just as monthly Arctic ice stats serve some deniers, so have some other deniers seized on the late hurricane start as evidence that climate change activists are alarmists, to be ignored. Note – Taylor is a prime author for the oil-fueled Heartland Institute.

This is all familiar territory. It follows an established script. First, assert falsely that climate change as explained by scientists and science journalists is a perfectly linear process. Support that position with a few quotes, preferably speculative ones, by one or more of your demons – Al Gore or Bill McKibben, just to name two. Then, report your supportive data which undermines that inaccurate depiction of climate science. So you and the forces of do-nothingness win. Or do you?

These facts can’t be challenged. We pump 90 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. The current atmospheric carbon dioxide reading is 395 parts per million, compared to preindustrial levels of about 280. Both the daily and cumulative numbers continue to rise, with chaotic consequences that cannot be precisely predicted.

 

So what is happening now? In the hurricane realm, there are several possibilities. First, as Chris Mooney reports, climate change may actually reduce hurricanes. Of course, thanks to sea rise resulting from warmer oceans and melting ice sheets and glaciers, those hurricanes that do occur will have a head start. And with all the uncertainty, it is also possible that this season’s late start could itself be an anomaly.

As for the alleged return of the Arctic to its long-term solid, frozen status, don’t count on it. Time will prove the denialists wrong. It is only a matter of how fast things happen. For instance, the decidedly conservative, consensus-driven Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comes out with its latest forecast in two weeks. Leaked information points to more certainty than ever. And though some evidence points to a lull in the temperature rise, our emission-driven acidification of the oceans proceeds. The Seattle Times’ Craig Welch put together a comprehensive article on acidification that includes several imbedded videos. And as for those who persist in their denial of scientific facts and projections, thus paralyzing policy, they will be justly recognized. As this Truthout piece suggests, we might think of them as the Dr. Kevorkians of the planet. Call it pignorance-assisted suicide.

 

Extremes in Two Mismatched Pairs

So the relationship between hurricanes and manmade climate change is unclear and hotly debated, and the ongoing experiment in liquefying the Arctic is crucial in its effect on weather patterns, not so crucial in sea rise. That’s because the ice, old and new alike, is already floating on the sea.

For a clear view of our climate-changed future, look to extremes today that are part of well-predicted trends. First there are increasingly common weather extremes. The Yosemite Rim fire, just about contained, is one example of an enhanced fire season, driven by higher temperatures and persistent drought. The latest shocking example is the horrific flooding and mudslides around Boulder, Colorado. As of this writing, four are confirmed dead, with hundreds unaccounted for. This disaster is caused by a triple-whammy series of drought, wildfire and finally, the knockout punch of monsoon-like storms that come and stay, dumping months or years worth of rain on the same sun-baked spot. Here are two videos from the Boulder environs – from Salina and Boulder itself. (Scroll down for the Boulder video.) Subhankar Banerjee effectively makes the case for climate change in the Colorado floods. And with the mangled jet stream causing all sorts of mayhem in weather patterns, Boulder-like events could be soon coming to a creek, stream or river near you.

And then there is the melting that really matters – the head-for-the-hills variety. That would be ice that resides on land, until it melts that is and slides into the rising sea. Two extreme locations, two similar stories. First there is Greenland, whose ice is described here by MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner as a “stick of butter in a hot pan.” In other words, it does not move at all for awhile, but then really starts to slip along seaward. Be sure to watch the short video on Greenland’s Mega Canyon. But what about the granddaddy of all ice sheets, Antarctica? If you guessed “accelerated melting, you get the extra credit points. Read here about research at the Pine Island Glacier, being undermined by warming ocean water. Here is 9/15 update from NPR on the same research. Did you catch the possible sea rise there? Six feet? See for yourself how that matters in this terrific interactive map from Climate Central.

So all of this manmade chaos and disruption really matters. But does it matter enough to motivate meaningful changes in energy and greenhouse gas policy? Not yet. But these groups are working hard to wake us up and tip the balance toward adaptation and sustainability – 350.org, the Climate Reality Project and Citizens Climate Lobby.

 

The Magical Techno Fix

This longstanding idea is often a slam at doomsayers of old – Thomas Malthus – or of more recent vintage – Paul Ehrlich. The idea is this – the earth’s capacity for human occupation is pretty much unlimited, nigh infinite. Hogwash, most ecologists say. But those who really believe in our technical ingenuity (and don’t much give a damn about our fellow travelers on this orb, i.e. any life form that is not human) persist in their sacred faith in technological innovation. Seldom in recent times has this view been given a more articulate or narrowly myopic presentation than in this Erle C. Ellis article in the New York Times. The problems that Ellis ignores or summarily dismisses in this column are too numerous to mention, but he does make at least one true statement – “In moving toward a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we make it.” To which I would reply with words borrowed from Colin Powell: “If you break it, you own it.”

We have a lot of repairing to do, with or without technological wizardry. And to be fair, there is much more to Ellis’s ideas than this single article would indicate. See the linked video here.

As for the big picture, there is much to learn in National Geographic’s study of the world’s continued population growth. I also like the education and activism being done by Growthbusters, World Population Balance and the Population Connection. The more the merrier? No chance. The best strategy – educate the world’s women and support their family planning choices.

 

Plant It, and They Will Come?

We have invested much time and sweat in recent years replacing swaths of lawn with wild-looking native and rain gardens. Until this year, we attracted droves of large butterflies, including varieties of swallowtails and of course the lord of them all, monarchs. This year, we have seen exactly three swallowtails and not many more monarchs. In addition, our abundant milkweed shows no evidence of monarch eggs. An isolated, unfortunate incident? Not on your life.

This Minnesota Public Radio interview with the University of Minnesota’s Karen Oberhauser fingers two closely-related culprits – neo-nicotinoid pesticides, and modern factory agriculture’s penchant for decimating “unwanted” plants between the rows. That includes of course milkweed. She offers two remedies – plant more milkweed (maybe it will work for you) and be careful when buying garden plants from nurseries, who may have treated the plants with those magical modern poisons. But all of that means little when our government allows chemical companies such as Bayer and Monsanto to continue this campaign against the natural world. Congress has the power to stop this, if its members would for once think of the common good rather than their corporate sponsors.

 

A Hypocrisy Interview

I find that I have had the conversation described in this little article before. It serves to prove a long-held theory of mine. That is, that any ideology that purports to have all, or even most of, the answers to all the problems begins to look like a dogma, a religion. Magical thinking, that is. Unreal. Fantasy. Enjoy the script.

 

1227 Facts

There is a difference between trivia and curious, even meaningful facts. This is why I waste no time on trivia contests and collections, but love, for example Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Harpers Index. This is precisely why a new book hit my reading list. Two of the three authors of 1227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, interviewed by the great Scott Simon. Work is more dangerous than war, the most shoplifted book in the United States is the Bible, and there is an actual word for an affliction that awards the sufferer with feet the size of umbrellas. But the universe is not shaped like a bumbershoot. Try a vuvuzela. Enough said.

 

Shooting Each Other Some Love

Thanks to comic Sarah Silverman, we can fittingly celebrate two recent recall election victories by the fear-fueled National Rifle Association in Colorado. She has a modest proposal to make the country even “safer.”

 

Diplomacy Wins, for Now

Bill Moyers’ commentary highlights the power of public opinion in recent events concerning Syria. Collective common sense. What a concept.

 

“The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.”
Edward O. Wilson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 8/18/13

18 08 2013

Upside-Down, Unconscious Voyage //

Here is something that amazes me about the climate crisis. It is how quickly research and speculation morph into routine commentary on weird weather events and their cause. And then we continue on our journey of inaction.

First, the back story. Though 90-degree-plus heat is back in the near-term forecast for Minnesota, we have enjoyed weeks of slightly-below-average temperatures. This coincides with devastating heat waves in China and Europe, plus extraordinary warmth in Alaska. Until relatively recently, you hardly heard anything in the media about a specific scientific reason for these heat waves relatively far north. Then along came Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis late in 2011 with surprising evidence. Here is an update.

Now –from just this week – a blog post from Minnesota’s Paul Huttner matter-of-factly noting the Arctic connection with a weird, lingering upside-down situation – Alaska much warmer than Minnesota. Don’t misunderstand – Huttner deserves much credit for his work, continually including climate change with his MPR commentaries. This post in particular includes a concise overview of climate change history going all the way back to Arrhenius in 1896! (Forget the denialists’ lie about scientists supposedly pushing “global cooling” in the 1970s.) But I find several things amazing here: how this science can slip into the mainstream virtually unnoticed; how so few people make this crucial connection; how we are doing so little to raise awareness and prepare for the inevitable sea rise and who knows what climate changes coming down the pike.

I have written before about Arctic amplification and its cause – melting Arctic ice. So – here is the multi-billion dollar question – with warming currently at approximately 0.8 degrees C., and at least two full degrees already inevitable, what sorts of climate disruptions will befall us as that warmth builds to that level and beyond? (Oh and by the way, ask not where all the warmth is currently going – we are mixing up a warm acid bath known as the future oceans.) Of course there will be winners – shipping over the melted Arctic will bring us all lower, lower prices – until a rusty ship capsizes or breaks apart. But hey, why worry about that?! Instead, let’s dream of the likely permanent weather changes laid out in this Climate Progress post. Is it just me, or do I see mostly losers in that crystal ball?

If we are sensible – bad bet, I know – we will recognize that we have destroyed our stable climate system with our greenhouse gases. Paul Beckwith lays that case out here, concisely and logically. Then, we will take action to halt this out-of-control experiment in atmospheric warping. I don’t expect too many will heed the call from this wild-eyed tree hugger. Instead, I suggest we follow the advice of three formerly powerful members of a nearly extinct species – environmentally responsible Republicans.

 

Feeding on Itself

A favorite tactic of climate change denial-liars is to harp on the technically true fact that it is awfully hard to pin a particular weather anomaly – say a supersized storm, a chronic drought, an off-the-charts heat wave – on manmade climate change. “Random variation” is the favored explanation. But now here comes a study that connects the two in a self-perpetuating cycle. That is, an extreme weather event itself leads to more climate change, just as climate change makes outside-the-norm weather events more likely.

 

Hand Out or Hand Up

Most of us have seen catalogs from a charitable organization called Heifer International. If you visit the site, you will see that the organization does lots of targeted good work – helping people in poor countries by giving them a chance to help themselves. I got to thinking on this group as I listened to the 8/16 This American Life. In that episode, David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein made a surprisingly strong case against such well-meaning charities, and in favor of another model – simply giving money, no strings attached, to poor villagers. Here is the charity featured in the story. (It focuses on Kenya.)

This got me thinking on a news story from this week that looked at another aspect of giving – with global implications. This story – Ecuador’s decision to drill for oil in the Amazon – represents a failure of an innovative experiment. A deal had been worked out whereby the world’s richer countries would make donations to Ecuador to preserve the Yasuni national park in the Amazon, thus protecting an area with astounding biodiversity. A great idea, undone by a single, simple problem. Despite generous donations from certain famous people, contributions from the wealthier countries were skimpy or nonexistent. Surprised? Just one more stop on the road to ecological destruction, I guess.

 

ALEC from the Inside

They assumed Chris Taylor was one of them. And she was prepared to tell the truth. All they had to do was ask. But no one did. So we got an inside view of the right-wing cabal that has been working steadily to build a permanent American corporatocracy, damn the public will, likewise the common good. Moyers and Company also picked up on Taylor’s unlikely investigative report on the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Learn more here). Here is hoping that Taylor – a representative in the Wisconsin state legislature – continues her courageous search for the truth.

 

Chemical Weapons Against Our Friends

The plight of pollinators – mainly honeybees and bumblebees – has been very much in the public eye of late. And the pace, sadly, seems to be quickening. Not necessarily in public policy debates at a level where something will be done – yet – but more people are aware of colony collapse disorder. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been fingered as the main culprit, but there is news this week that is not good. Even people who are trying to do the right thing have stumbled. This petition might help. Also, if you are not represented by a corporatocratic robot congressman (I resemble that remark), you might support this bill (not recommended by ALEC).   And here is at least a tiny bit of good news – though the author at least calls out the tentative nature of this apparently new “ban” on certain pesticides.

 

Fear, Inc.

War has long been big business. Think of Country Joe McDonald’s lyrics from the Vietnam era – “Come on Wall Street, don’t be slow, Why man, this is war au-go-go, There’s plenty good money to be made, By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade,” – or the fortunes made from President W’s war of choice in Iraq – this being just the biggest of many examples.

In more recent times, though, terror about terrorism has become possibly even a bigger bonanza. I was prompted to write this little piece by two recent events. First – I recently missed the first inning of a game at Fenway Park by long, slow security lines. They were frisking people in the “express” lane. Understandable – maybe – considering the still-fresh memory of the Boston Marathon bombing last spring.

The second was a brief conversation with a neighbor about security measures. She said she had heard that the NFL was considering airport-style “porno” scanners to go with their new, unfriendly (except to plastic purveyors) transparent-bag policy. The scanner bit seems to be speculation, but these days you never know.

I mentioned that a certain former Department of Homeland Security head had earned piles of cash through government contracts for those privacy-shredding scanners. She was not aware of that example of the infamous revolving door. So I wondered how many readers might also be unaware. And then I opened my favorite muckraking site, AlterNet. It’s worse than you think.

 

The Sustainable Sun

How about something hopeful? Would you believe hydrogen fuel generated by solar energy? Fascinating.

 

Random Acts of Writing

This campaign is a project of my friend and Climate Reality Project colleague, Mary Colborn. Pass it on.

 

“I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Contributed links to this posting – Mary Colborn, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 8/4/13

4 08 2013

Climate Change Sinking In //

The article that headline calls out for goes like this. “Members of the US Congress, after decades of bickering and stalling, looked at the latest evidence of a planet altered by human-generated greenhouse gases, and decided, ‘Enough is enough. It is time for decisive steps.’ In other words, the science finally ‘sank in,’ and persuaded a critical mass of legislators, without regard to ideology, to respect the scientific findings and, at long last, enact world-leading policies to protect the planet for future generations.”

If only.

Sadly, what seems to be sinking in most deeply is warmer surface temperatures. And those are making things mighty interesting for now, mighty devastating in the not-so-distant future. Here are just a couple of examples of what I am describing. First, Arctic sea ice coverage is headed down into record territory again this summer. And the result is surface lakes of meltwater on top of the sea ice. But those are now breaking through the ice, sinking in to lower ice levels. And guess what happens then. Hint – refreezing is NOT what happens – even for this temporary lake at the North Pole.  That’s right, a “lake” exactly at the northernmost spot on this rapidly warming planet. So that is melting sinking through sea ice, which is already floating and not a direct threat of rising ocean levels.

But the same thing is happening on land. In particular, Greenland. Watch this video and see the evidence that the melt is speeding up. This is not a theory of future change. It is solid scientific observation of accelerated melting.  Note the sea level rise loaded in the Greenland ice sheet – seven meters, i.e. 23 feet. That’s enough to create more than a few bad days in various coastal cities. OK, that is an understatement, as you can see.

And here is another way climate change “sinks in.” Sure, seems like a no-brainer – weather is hotter, patience wears thin, tempers flare . . . But now there is measurable evidence of that heating effect.

So what are our nation’s leaders doing to slow and stop this disaster that is playing out? Not much. Oh sure, they are busy. You can’t accuse the gerrymandered (i.e. phony GOP-majority) House of inconsistency. (BTW, I think that vote count is up to 40 now – your tax dollars hard at work, for the long haul.)

What Congress could be doing – if its members were not beholden to their favorite flavor of fossil fuel – would be to make carbon pay its way. And yes, that seems impossible right now, with the House in the hands of science deniers and the Senate always under threat of the modern, misused descendant of the filibuster whenever anything of substance is discussed. But give the president credit – he has made proposals to move the country in a positive direction, based on actions that do not require Congressional support. Of course, it is always wise to be skeptical – this AlterNet piece clearly explains that all the positive action to plan to reduce emissions bumps up against continuing extraction growth (for export and profits to Big Oil). And military adventures overseas cause massive emissions but don’t count in the US total.    New extractions exported for big profits but don’t count in emission totals.

But the climate crisis is an accelerating wave, with surprises waiting at each warming milepost on the way. For instance – formerly frozen methane making a grand and unwelcome appearance, as described in this lengthy but worthy article by Subhankar Banerjee (author of Arctic Voices).

I argue that America’s political system has evolved into a mass machine dedicated to one purpose – clearing the way for multinational corporations (which owe no allegiance to any nation) to act in a regulation-free world. Thanks to Tea Party Republicans, this is happening often by default – as explained by economist Paul Krugman. The only big-picture solution to progress on climate and so many other issues is this- get the corporate money out.

Here is one organization – the Get Money Out Foundation – dedicated to that purpose. And – as a point of hope – more people all the time are “getting it.”

Avoid Local Bias

Here in Minnesota right now, we are positively basking in calm, beautiful weather. Gentle sunshine, temperatures around or a few degrees below long-term averages, no extreme, severe storms. It almost puts manmade climate change out of your mind. It even gets people of a certain frame of mind to think, “Maybe things are not as bad as they say. Sure looks pretty normal for now.” Don’t bet on it.

How about a lingering European heat wave? Or maybe you prefer ridiculously warm temps in Alaska. Or maybe it’s the big burn out in the American West.

None of this should be surprising. Consider the long-term trend. The only thing that should surprise is our malingering lethargy on this issue, allowing the pignorant (pretend-ignorant) crowd – led by the likes of Senator Jim “Hoax” Inhofe – to hold sway.

Time to wake up.

Some are More Equal than Others

Consider how wealthy America is – per capita – compared to the rest of the world. On the three scales listed here, we are either number seven, six or eight. And when you compare us only to other modern western democracies, only Norway, Luxembourg and Switzerland surpass us. Keep that in mind as you consider three perspectives on relative well-being in our country.

First, consider this laundry list of world-leading reasons why we should think twice – or maybe eight times – before chanting “USA!”

  • Most expensive place to have a baby
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Small arms ownership
  • Most people behind bars
  • Energy use per person
  • Health expenditures
  • Cocaine use

Makes me want to chant. Or maybe scream.

Second, consider where might be the best place to be born. Here is an index based on a variety of factors – GDP, literacy, life expectancy, etc. (You can see all the factors listed in one of the charts.) Remembering that the US trails only two or three western democracies in per-capita wealth, you would think we should score pretty high – at least in the top ten. But you would be wrong. What is especially troubling is that a scant 25 years ago, the results were starkly different. So what is going on here?

That would be the third factor. Recent studies have surveyed Americans on two aspects of relative wealth distribution in the country. Those are:

  • How they believe wealth is actually distributed among the public, divided into ten-percent sectors (top ten percent, second ten percent, etc.)
  • What would be a fair distribution of wealth among those sectors

This gets really interesting when compared to the way wealth is actually distributed among the ten sectors. I believe this is the best explanation – via video animation – of how this is playing out.

These trends are not good, they don’t result by accident, and they are not inevitable. I like Robert Reich’s concise video explanation, and his call for change for the better. I also like Jim Hightower’s quick audio tour of American exceptionalism, and his prescription for a better future – invest in the common good.

Framing the Debate

Heard about Sandy Hook recently? Some might say, “Sandy Hook? What’s that, a beach to visit?” Well, no, it is only the site of that awful school massacre just last December which, for a short time, generated some momentum for reasonable gun regulation. Things though have not only returned to what passes for normal, but such events seem to have spawned even more gun sales. Nothing seems to have changed in a country where a guy like this can be a police chief, make an outrageous video and be defended by powerful people as “just expressing his views on his own time.” One more good old town to stay away from.

Bill Maher makes a valid point on the weapons issue – today’s debate allows only center-to-right perspectives. While Wayne LaPierre continues to own Congress, it is always a sad but necessary exercise to check in on how many more have died in gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre. I say we should listen to those whose lives have been shattered. And I ask – how many more Americans famous and otherwise will have to suffer the fate of the likes of Jim Brady, Gabrielle Giffords and Sami Rahamim to name just a few, before we summon the will to escape the gun lobby’s stranglehold on policy?

Big, Brave Policy Enforcers

You and I can’t imagine the courage and fortitude required to carry out the mission described at this link. This shining example of bold, decisive action will live on in the annals of government protecting the public against grave threats, under the heading “Policies are policies.”

You will read how the Department of Natural Resources did its sworn duty. But hey – considering the SWAT-team-like actions of the highly armed team makes me wonder – was this really the DNR?  After all, the federal government has a feared agency called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Maybe – stay with me – the Dairy State has a new, shadowy, undercover agency called the WTF. That would be the bureau of, well, you get the idea. And maybe this quick strike was really designed to eliminate a laughing critic who dared to say – in her own way – that the state’s emperor has no clothes. Mission accomplished.

Hope for an Ethical Future

What a concept – holding the Supreme Court justices to high ethical standards. Too good to be true? Probably, but let’s dream on. Getting a bill introduced is at least a good start.

Heard this New Asian Band?

I have attended several concerts at the Minnesota Zoo – a great Twin Cities venue. But I have never seen anything like this. Mostly percussion, but it has its moments. Creates a new meaning for the term “big band.”

“There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.”

-Louis Armstrong

 

Contributed links to this posting – Mary Colborn, Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 7/28/13

28 07 2013

Downstream Cleanup //

How many times have you visited a beautiful natural space – wilderness area, national park, nature preserve – and seen the calling cards of fellow visitors? Bottle caps, wrappers, plastic water bottles spoiling paths, shores and rest areas?  What have you done? A confession from me is in order here. I have mainly muttered something like “pigs,” “slobs,” and moved on. After all, I am careful, I don’t toss rubbish about, they hire people to clean up after pigs, why should it be my job? These are just a few of the many stories to tell yourself about why picking up is not your job. But they are all wrong.

As of this vacation weekend, I have started a new practice. Whenever I visit such a place, I will bring along a bag to pick up after my piggish fellow users of these areas. I did just that today while visiting a Connecticut state park with my brother-in-law. I must say, it felt more than a little satisfying, and I still got to mutter “pigs,” “slobs,” and move on.

What got me thinking along these lines was this plea for an end to disposable living, delivered in a TEDX Talk by Tim Silverwood. Of course, the North Pacific Gyre garbage patch – the diffuse soup of plastic waste that is only the largest of several around the world – has been well documented. Most prominent in my experience is Alan Weisman’s excellent The World Without Us. But Silverwood’s presentation provides new information, and video evidence of certain phenomena that, to be honest, I have been somewhat skeptical of. For instance, I have long been cutting up six-pack plastic rings, all the while wondering why. If you watch the presentation, you will see a particular critter that wishes someone, somewhere had made that cut.

All plastic waste on the loose ultimately floats downstream to the ocean, where it does unspeakable harm. But Silverwood’s main point is worth elaborating. Responsible handling of plastic waste is good – and cleaning up beaches, parks and all public spaces helpful – but all this is not nearly enough. We need to generate less of the stuff in the first place. That clearly takes more than individual responsibility. Good starts on this are plastic bag bans and bottle deposit laws.

And isn’t this just another example of a massive environmental challenge where individual action – making the right choices like driving less, cutting consumption, conserving energy – is the right thing to do, and helps, but will only make a mass difference if societal change can happen? Think of all the right-thinking people planting native gardens while Monsanto pesticides kill off pollinators, others driving Priuses while the icecaps melt, others making wise if costlier food choices while our entire system subsidizes unhealthy food and encourages sedentary lifestyles.

Annie Leonard’s series on The Story of Stuff connects all the dots concisely and even amusingly. And most recently she makes that vital connection between individual action and societal change in The Story of Change.

Positive change starts with individual action, but if it stops there, we will just feel a little better on the road to hell. For real change, it all really does come down to cutting corporate power over our system.

 

Extremes All Over

First, it is always a good time to expose hogwash. Sorry, Rush and Co., climate change has not halted or paused since 1998. What’s more, the Arctic is indeed turning into slush, as it has to an ever-increasing extent in recent years. And that great savior at the other end of the planet, the Antarctic ice cap that denialists have told us was stable, not to worry, it turns out, is not so stable.

And of course climate change’s effects are not limited to the poles. Far from it. Check this excellent MPR ClimateCast story on how forests are suffering a double whammy of pest infestation and devastating wildfires in a self-feeding cycle. As for that idea that planting more trees will solve the climate problem, think again – as this concise piece posted at the BURN Energy Journal site explains.

But the biggest extreme of all? That would be the extreme pignorance (pretend ignorance) practiced by well-paid, mostly Republican Congressmen and Senators these shameful past 25 years. We need real (not gerrymandered) and filibuster-proof majorities in both houses – majorities made up of legislators who respect science and tell it like it is. Thank God for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He calls the whole pignorant lot of them out once again.

Time to listen to Bernie, and time to make carbon pay its way.

 

Supreme Hypocrisy

I must have needed one more reason to cement Justice Antonin Scalia at the top of my most reviled Supreme Court Justice list. The arrogant proponent of Constitutional Originalism (and the unacknowledged chief torch carrier for the corporatocracy) now makes a bizarre connection between his opponents and the engineers of the Holocaust. I guess there is always room for more reasons, needed or not. Was there ever a stronger argument for ending lifetime appointments?

 

See, I Told You So

Bonus points for any reader who knows that is the title of a book by America’s bigot-in-chief. More bonus points if you have steeled your will and made it through the Great Bloviator’s baloney. But this time, that phrase comes from an unexpected place – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The subject – the Court’s recent decision to invalidate key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (over liberal justices’ objections). Think of this as the GOP’s updated “Southern Strategy.” This time, it has the blessing of the highest court in the land.

 

It All Adds up to 200

A friend posted an interesting visual recently – a slide show showing what a 200-calorie serving of dozens of different foods looks like. This WiseGeek video runs three minutes, and tells the surprising story behind 200 calories.

 

“Special interests have blocked the transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil fuel companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, just as tobacco companies discredited the link between smoking and cancer. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of the long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

– James Hansen

 Contributed links to this posting –Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper

 Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN