IBI Watch 11/24/13

24 11 2013

Information, Please  //

When it comes to food, full disclosure is the only rational policy. And yet, thanks to the immense political power of the food industry, progress on information access is a grinding battle. Take meat for instance. This change in federal regulations is a big deal. Of course, cost is the main reason a change like this does not go down easy. The change happened only to keep the United States in compliance with international trade agreements. But this detailed accounting of origin is really only one step to full information access. Some say that people don’t care about the footprint, or impact, or production consequences, of consumer goods. But I say we have not really tried to put that information front and center.

In the case of mass-produced meat, what if the suppliers were required also to include the consequences of factory meat farming practices – such as inhumane treatment of animals, the misguided overuse of antibiotics on factory farms, and maybe most important of all, the impact of meat production on the climate crisis? Think about it – when the average person goes to the average supermarket, all those neat plastic meat packages are stacked up, their sale supported by discounts in the store’s advertising flyer. Where is all that impact information? That is why the origin labeling is a good thing, but really only a baby step toward what needs disclosing.

It’s a similar situation with genetically modified organism crops, though precious little progress has happened. Debates continue about the long-term health effects, but GMO crops are implicated directly in the destruction of family farms (though you will see some progress at that link!) and indirectly in the decline of pollinators worldwide. Not to mention that they are the key to the growth in power of the evil empire of agriculture, Monsanto. Research continues on the immediate and long-term human health consequences of consuming GMOs. A rational approach would be to fully inform, and let consumers decide. Another bit of progress at the previous link.

And then there a huge, hidden information crisis. Walk through your average grocery store, and you will find this product right there on the label of countless baked goods, snack foods, personal care items and other products. It’s a “miracle” modern product, palm oil. This ubiquitous substance clearly meets many needs, and will no doubt receive yet another boost in popularity now that we are finally eliminating those heart-surgery-promoting trans fats (the change due at least in part to labeling requirements). But there is one problem.

Palm oil production is a blight on a particular corner of the world, and is pushing an amazing creature toward extinction. As you saw in the former of those past two links, sustainable practices are having a slight impact – something like a bandage on a gushing artery. And then there is the biggest picture, the climate change connection.

It’s one thing to read “palm oil” on a label of a cracker box or a bar of soap. But what if some of that information on environmental destruction were required to be available? Would people just ignore the messages, and go ahead and buy? We don’t really know.

And for another look at the big picture, the story not told on consumer product labels, there is the inherent irrationality. As Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz tells us in this New York Times piece, our agriculture system not only rewards excess production, it perpetuates and exacerbates wealth inequality.

What if the consequences of all our purchases were readily available? That is the idea behind an entire school of thought – life cycle assessment. For all of us on the end of the product chain, this information can help us assess the impact of any product before we buy it. The GoodGuide site, brainchild of Dana O’Rourke, is a tremendous resource. What if all of us committed to taking a look at this site instead of just the advertising before buying products?  The truth can set us free, and maybe help save the world – if we let it.

Warsaw’s Two Camps

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, those two paired ideas – camps and Warsaw – evoke memories of the great East-West standoff. But today of course it is two different camps. And just as with the old matchup, the world’s fate hangs in the balance. This time, it is not the immediate extermination of life through a nuclear war, but the slow-moving (but accelerating) climate crisis. The division is familiar to anyone who follows the issue – it’s between the developed and developing worlds. And the current climate talks in Warsaw, predictably and sadly, show little sign of a planet-saving agreement in the offing.

The main battle now is over who is responsible – and should assist – in cleaning up the mess that the first century-plus of industrialization has created, and who should help poorer countries adapt and develop sustainably. Look at this chart to see who holds the biggest tab right now. Surprised? Me neither. And when you think about how we in the richer countries – especially the US – have externalized so much industrial production these past few decades, we are actually responsible for an additional large share of the developing world’s greenhouse emissions. Cheap is expensive.

Democracy Now ran an interview with two men who are arguing for “loss and damage” – Martin Khor, executive director of South Centre, and Nitin Sethi, senior assistant editor at the Hindu. You will be saddened – but probably not surprised – to see the US reaction to this idea. But what is even sadder is the content of the leaked document detailing the US strategy – also from Democracy Now.

There are reports as I write of a compromise. But it sure looks like more of kicking this can down the road, fiddling while Rome burns, rearranging Titanic deck chairs, choose your comparison. For a real, science-based solution? Consume less. Much less.

Busted at Last

This is a real blow against the gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate since President Obama’s election. Considering the dramatic escalation of filibuster use since 2008, the only real question to ask is – what took so long?! There is, of course, some fallout. And freak-out.  But for some additional good news on this story, look to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me – where one of the celebrity panelists pointed out that you do not hear this talked about as the “Nookyalar Option.”

A New Tornado Season

Until last week, many were marveling about the relatively quiet tornado season the US enjoyed in 2013. But wait. It’s not over yet. How unusual? You be the judge.

The Myth of Choice: How Junk Food Marketing Targets Kids – Guest Post

Guest blogger Rolly Montpellier (of the Boomer Warrior site) posts a commentary linking to an excellent new short video by Anna Lappe on striking back against the junk food marketeers.

Health Follies

I will stick to my pledge last week about not writing more Affordable Care Act stories . . . sort of. Nothing substantive here, mind you. But all you can do is stand aside and marvel at the gyrations we go through to preserve those corporate sacred cows, at the expense of, well, everything and everybody else. Here are a video, a cartoon and a timeless song for some bitterly funny entertainment.

50 Years on

Here is an observance on the JFK anniversary, from well-known blogger Tom Degan.

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” – Ansel Adams

Contributed links or content to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 11/17/13

17 11 2013

A Tale of Three Storms //

Important lessons repeat themselves until we learn. Here are stories from three extreme storms – all of them recent, one with a recently observed one-year anniversary, and one fading from memory already. They are from different parts of the world, and yet are linked in a crucial way. Each is supercharged by manmade climate change, denialist claims notwithstanding.

The first storm of course is the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, from which the Philippines continue to reel. The most important thing right now, with survivors still struggling to find water, food and shelter, is to help. Take your pick from the 25 organizations listed on this page. But the best way to help victims of future storms is to keep them from becoming victims at all. To do that, we must learn the lessons these storms teach, understand the connections, and, yes, change our fossil-fueled ways.

To get an idea of the level of destruction, look at the slide show at this CNN story, which also makes the climate change connection. For those willing to accept the science – not nearly enough of us to effect wise policy at this point – the most obvious climate change connection is documented sea rise. That means the storm surge gets a boost. But the other driving force is this – tropical storms of all sorts get their energy from warm ocean waters. For every degree of water temperature rise, the atmosphere holds 4-8 percent more water. So the storms spin up faster winds, and then have that much more water to drop as torrential rain. This story is told here and in this Democracy Now segment, which also includes comments from Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.

The Philippines is frequently the target of typhoons, and its state of development contributes to the effect of the storms and the difficulty in cleaning up afterwards. But even the richest country in the world finds it difficult to rebuild after devastating tropical weather. The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy was just a few weeks ago. This NPR Science Friday segment shows the NYC metro area is far from back to normal – and important long-term rebuilding and resilience questions remain. This Skeptical Science post takes on the climate change connection directly.

The third storm is very recent, well out of the normal range of weather behavior, and yet already largely forgotten. It is a storm of a different type – not tropical at all – and yet shows the effects of manmade climate change. It’s the out-of-season blizzard that hit South Dakota just last month – called a “freak blizzard” here at Time.com. It’s one thing to describe a storm like this as “freak,” but that sounds to me suspiciously like “fluke,” which definitely does not apply here. When 3.5 feet of snow falls, smashing records, that is definitely an example of extreme weather.  And this kind of extreme weather is an example of stalled systems. This is no doubt connected to a jet stream-warping phenomenon documented by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis. (You can learn more in one of my previous posts – Wacky Wobbly Weather.)

So all these direct and indirect connections to climate change should move us to action. Should, but not yet. But there is new evidence that more people here in America – which really must lead the way to meaningful global action on climate change – are seeing through the smokescreens spewed by the likes of the Koch Brothers, Exxon Mobil, etc., and their enablers in Congress. But then there is the current climate conference in Warsaw – with things not looking exactly rosy – surprise, surprise.

It’s clear – the dithering and self-interest continue as we get deeper and deeper into this manmade climate crisis. But Mother Nature will keep bringing us these lessons, and in this case her timing is uncanny. Typhoon Haiyan punctuates this year’s gathering. More or less the same thing happened in 2012, prompting an emotional speech by the Philippines’ representative, Naderev Saño.  This year, he is taking a more extreme step – a hunger strike.

I have heard it said that the only thing that will get our American government to care about climate change will be two direct-hit climate-change-warped hurricanes slamming into Washington DC. I am not sure even that would sway the paid servants of Big Oil and Big Coal, masquerading as representatives of the public. But until then, it is wise to support organizations like this one – the Climate Reality Project – that are working hard to turn the ship of state around. That of course, and prepare for the next lesson.


An Unhealthy Debacle

How is it possible? Starting with good intentions and a (nearly) universally embraced goal, health care coverage for all, the Obama Administration has actually made the situation arguably worse than when they started. I will spare you the details – all you have to do is turn on the radio or TV to be almost immediately drowning in them. But this morning’s NPR Weekend Edition did a nice job of outlining the political quagmire President Obama finds himself in, and that is just where the trouble begins.

My intent is to make this the last story I write on health care for a long time, and here are just a few reasons why:

  • Other advanced countries have universal health care, mainly via single-payer systems; we can’t, strictly for political reasons.
  • The whole notion of forcing people to buy private health insurance, though it squeaked by in constitutional terms, is also politically and commercially unworkable.
  • The whole basis of the Affordable Care Act (not “Obamacare!”) is a gigantic workaround that leaves in place the main reason why our current system does not work for so many – the profit motive at its heart. (Read more at my recent post. Scroll down to “Rube Goldberg’s Health Care for Cows.”)
  • The administration has been set up for failure here – first by the fact that corporate money rules our entire system, and second by being thwarted at every turn by the dramatically more corporatist of the two major parties – as two brilliant cartoons depict – Tom Tomorrow and the Star Tribune’s Sack.
  • In a single, errant stroke, President Obama may have simultaneously transformed himself into a limping lame duck, and handed the Republicans a thick club to beat Democrats with incessantly, starting with the looming 2014 Congressional election.
  • And the best reason of all – I am bloody sick of the whole pathetic disaster.


A Three-Headed Challenge

At the risk of oversimplifying, my goal here is to link three stories in one brief post. The first is the degree to which we are deforesting the planet. From Alberta tar sands to climate-change-driven catastrophic forest fires to the most concerning of all, the destruction of the Amazon and other rain forests, we are methodically disabling the planet’s lungs, on which all life depends. Here is more on that story from National Geographic.

Globally, the main driver of deforestation is agriculture, and that story is interesting, complex and also vexing. That’s because the challenge is not just the deforestation – which is bad enough – but also the way the farming land is managed. According to numbers cited in this Grain.org story, agriculture produces about half of all human-generated greenhouse gases. And a lot of that is based on unsustainable practices.

It’s not possible to think about these challenges without going to the root of the problem – human population that is well past seven billion, headed to where? Ten? Twelve? Rough, crowded sailing ahead. Here is a group working to challenge the growth at any cost mindset, and here is another actively working to give women more choice over how many or few children to birth.


Blows against the Shopping Empire

Though seasonable retail jobs have long offered workers a chance to pick up some extra income, it has probably become quite a drag for retail employees in recent years. Remember that quaint notion of Black Friday? When the stores would open at Friday sunrise for eager holiday shoppers?  Think how many thousands of retail employees who are now caught up in the Thanksgiving Day arms race? Enough, say two major retailers – Costco and Nordstrom’s. Worth supporting.

Also worthy – and very much in need right now – of support is that irrepressible anti-shopping activist, Reverend Billy Talen. This is a guy who ties it all together – social justice, environmental activism, over consumption – and presents his ideas in a mock-preacher persona that commands attention. Here is a recent video post marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. The good reverend – who by the way is set up for friends on Facebook – is looking at possible jail time for telling truth to power. I hope you will sign this petition to help head off this unfortunate, ridiculous exercise of stomping out free speech. Earthallujah!


Sharing is Good and Growing

Former President Bush does not show up in the news too often – no doubt by his choice. So I had to note this appearance that I think says a lot about his deepest held ideas. But in one of his more lucid, articulate moments in the public eye, he talked about an “ownership society,” and how owning things was a key to prosperity and stability. That is true to a point, but if everything is owned, it means we each have to have our own personal example of each product and device. What do you think that does to consumption?  Fortunately – and this is one of those things that can offer a glimmer of hope for the future – many younger people are learning the benefits of sharing services – especially, but not exclusively – cars. Learn more from this NPR story.


Help Will Not Come From Elsewhere – Guest Post

Rolly Montpellier offers a thoughtful essay on the futility of expecting magical techno-fixes. He offers a call to action, and includes an excellent clip from the late, great Carl Sagan that is always worth watching. Rolly Montpellier blogs at BoomerWarrior. He also features my work from time to time. Here is an example.


No Depression

With all the environmental problems facing us, this is no time for people who understand what is going on to curl up in the fetal position and surrender. How about some science-based ways to stay reasonably positive and motivated to make things better? Don’t worry, be happy. (responsibly, sustainably, of course!)


“Through our reactions we create delusions. Without reactions the world becomes clear.”  – Buddha


Contributed links or content to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Bobbie Chong, Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 11/10/13

10 11 2013

A Critical Mess //

While we continue to argue and dither over manmade climate change, extreme weather events are multiplying, and thousands are paying the price. This week’s example is the estimated ten thousand citizens of the Philippines – a country that has done very little to contribute to the climate crisis – killed by Typhoon Haiyan. Of course our vast experiment in atmospheric morphing is a wreck in progress, but this storm has the potential of being the strongest ever to strike land. That Guardian piece explains the climate change connection – steadily warming oceans may actually lead to fewer tropical storms (consider this year’s quiet Atlantic hurricane season as possible evidence of that theory), but those that do spin up can tap a much deeper energy well, and reach ghastly levels of power. Here is more from National Geographic on the dimensions of the late-season monster.

Who could have predicted this? Well, no one really. No one except just about every climate scientist in the past 30 years, and going back decades before that. More carbon in the atmosphere from our fossil-fuel addiction enhances the heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere, melting glaciers and polar ice caps and warming the oceans. Presto – changes in weather patterns including changes in rainfall patterns, heat waves, and the potential for vastly more powerful storms. While changes in global patterns are complex, those basics of the science are not, and each of us as a world citizen needs to know and face the basics.

In addition to dramatic weather events like this epic typhoon, climate change evidence mounts almost daily, along with projections that become more dire and urgent at a similar pace. For just a few examples, here are: an excellent radio presentation by Alex Chadwick’s Burn journal on the problem of rising sea levels; a reassessment (upward) of the pace of polar ice melt; and a warning of evidence of melting methane hydrate off the East coast. All this means rising levels of trouble for the foreseeable future. And if we don’t figure out a good way to mitigate and reverse all this destruction and endangerment, here is our destiny – a world without any natural ice at all. That apocalyptic goal is clearly within reach, according to James Hansen. And it is a world we will pass on to our followers, who will no doubt wonder about us, “What in the hell were they thinking?!”

People all across the climate change movement recognize the gravity of the situation, with some having concluded that the problem has gone too far, and that human civilization itself is on the endangered species list, so to speak. Here is a cogent, logical example of that point of view. I find much to agree with in that entry, and its author and people with a similar perspective may very well prove correct. But I say – how can we be so sure, when we have done so little to reduce and reverse the damage our fossil fuel usage continues to wreak on the planet?

Besides dividing climate activists on the question of hopelessness, the crisis has spawned at least another wedge issue. That is, should nuclear power be part of the solution.  A new video – which I have not yet seen – is at the heart of the controversy.  There is plenty evidence arguing for complete abandonment of nukes – with the Fukushima disaster the most recent and most persuasive argument. The darkest view I have heard comes at the end of this quote from a credible source, prominent environmental scientist David Suzuki.

When it comes to the nuclear option, I stand with James Hansen. The former NASA meteorologist, one of the earliest and most prominent messengers about the climate crisis, supports continued and stepped up research on next-generation nuclear power as part of the solution. Hansen’s approach should stay in the mix, but I see it as on a par with research into geoengineering. That is, we are doing so little in the way of less risky positive change.

A good start on the positive front would be to stop coddling the very industries that are building this crisis. And another would be to make carbon pay its way, via a tax or fee. How effective might this be? Think of what is behind this throwaway comment from a Koch brother. Remember how his family will continue to live well and prosper under business as usual. Do you think they will use that monstrous windfall to plant forests?

What we need is a critical mass to get us out of this critical mess. Start here, here or here. Or better still, all of the above.


Minnesnowta No More?

Not that anyone is complaining, or up to now, even noticing for that matter, but climate change has been hitting hard here in the upper Midwest. This should not surprise. Way back in the late 80s, scientists were predicting that changes would be more apparent first in the higher latitudes, in the central part of continents (away from the ocean’s moderating influence), and more apparent at first in winter and in higher overnight lows than daytime highs. Of course, all those things are exactly what has been playing out, as documented specifically in this recent MPR Climate Cast, and generally in Paul Douglas’s consistently well researched and amply illustrated On Weather blog.

Money talks, even screams, and no doubt that is one driving force behind a recent conference on climate change in our northern state. Money? Yes, the money being spent to pay insurance claims. It may be hard to believe that Minnesota, safely ensconced in the center of North America far from those big bad hurricanes, can make the top of the hit list for weather damage, but that is exactly what faces homeowners, insurance companies, and all manner of corporate and government entities. Hence the conference. Sadly, demanding job responsibilities kept this blogger from attending. But it will not be the last of its type, safe to say.

Just the fact that such a conference is held is a refreshing dose of reality. It is about time we start listening to local experts – like Mark Seeley – and create science-based policy. What a concept.


Climate Change in Fact and Fiction

A friend and ally suggests I get my nose out of non-fiction books once in awhile and sample some excellent fiction. Her advice, plus certain other high-powered recommendations, might get me to do that. Here is a short presentation by the author, who makes the kind of inspirational comparisons we need. Mike Conley’s website is also worth exploring. His message – we don’t have to be victims. Well said.


Teach Your Children Well

Parents of young children today – thinking parents that is – face some tougher choices than we of the older generation whose kids are grown. That is, with current trends showing the world going to hell in a hand basket in the express lane, how can you educate kids about the facts without creating Gloomy Guses and Cassandras, resigned to a hopeless future. Also, with all the technical gizmos relentlessly demanding their attention, how can you keep kids in touch with the natural world.

A new article has spawned, yes, another controversy within the climate change community. Some accuse this author of sugar-coating the truth. As for me, I think it is pretty right-on, a blend of individual action that can contribute, in small and larger ways, to a better future, plus awareness and action plans for the big picture.

Right-on is how few would describe a justly (and comically) vilified ad by Toys R Us. First, here is the ad. Cute kids aside, you may have had some problems with the commercial, nature-trashing message. You are in good company. First, here is Peter Gleick with the environmental perspective. And here is Stephen Colbert, with the mock-Fox perspective. (Warning – hilarious, and leads directly into two other commentaries on “shroom tombs” and that poor, put-upon pepper-spraying cop from those quaint, distant days of the Occupy demonstrations).

This is also the theme of a book I am reading right now. Author’s prescription: more nature (while we still have it). Here is a short video chat by the author, Richard Louv. Beats the hell out of Toys R Us, methinks.


Begone, Frankenfat

At long last, trans fats may be on the way out. Good riddance. It is not yet a done deal, but if the federal government follows through, it will be simultaneously a blow against a serious health problem, and the end to one of the longest-lived corporate scams on record.

First the health problem. Trans fats are an engineered product, a “miracle” of early 20th-century food science. Hydrogenation allowed all manner of food products – mainly but not exclusively baked goods – to be mass-produced and made virtually immortal. Read all about it here.

Problem – scientists have long known (at least 20 years) that these fats clog arteries, causing heart disease. And as research piled up, by 2006, estimates of total annual deaths in the US rose to 100,000. A few more of those, and we would be talking real numbers.

Here is the scam. Today, you can walk into your grocery store and buy a product that says in large print “no trans fats.” Now in my reading of English, “no” means “none,” i.e. “nada,” “zippo.” But now read the fine print. You will see those words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list, and note that, if you eat the “recommended serving” of the cookies or chips, you will get “no” trans fats. But in this case, “no” means “less than 0.5 grams.” Eat a few more, and presto, you have more than your share of the minimum daily requirement – which is zero – of this frankenfat. That, friends, is a scam.

Expect weeping and moaning – probably funded by Big Snacks Inc. – about the loss of cherished snack foods. (Hold it – you don’t have to wait.) In truth, considering we are the home of the tobacco scam and the fossil-fuel-funded climate change denial scam, there has in truth been less of the “nanny state” outcry than would have been anticipated. Progress? Maybe.

Big Snack lobbying aside, this sure looks like it will happen. That emphatically cannot be said about another “full-information-disclosure” campaign that is raging right now. That would be the movement to force identification of all genetically modified (GMO) foods. That is a story for another time, but Stephen Colbert has a wry look at that one as well.


What’s Your Tribe?

This new map of North America is getting a lot of attention. It comes out of grim research on gun violence, but it also goes a long way toward explaining other ideological differences that we have allowed to paralyze our political system. The author, Colin Woodard, has divided most of the continent up into socio/cultural groups based on heritage and history. Curious – every place I have lived, though separated by 1200 miles, has been in “Yankeedom.” I guess I will always be a damned Yankee.


RIP Lawn

My wife and I have been on a campaign to vastly reduce our vast lawn. But what we have done is nothing compared to this guy. What could you do?


Tall Tales and Taller Tales

Who better to take on both sides of the Affordable Care Act morass than Jon Stewart? In his inimitable fashion, he lays it on President Obama, but shows also where the REAL dishonesty lies. Stewart’s penchant for bashing everybody seemed to be lost recently on our ideological friends at Fox News. Stewart of course had an answer to that, and brought a choir to sing about it. Yup, Wit Happens.

“We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology, in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?” – Carl Sagan

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper, David Vessel

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 10/13/13

13 10 2013

Rube Goldberg’s Health Care for Cows //

The struggles of the poor souls trying to sign onto the sputtering, complex health care exchanges spawned by the Affordable Care Act’s startup recall a kids’ game – this one. As the Obama-haters lambaste the program as unworkable – and the early going certainly adds fuel to that vitriol-driven fire – it is helpful to remember a few things. This is especially important since the right wing’s fatwa against the Affordable Care Act is a main force behind the current federal government shutdown. (In fact, it has driven righties over the edge, as explained here by Jim Hightower.)

  • The term “Obamacare” is a derogatory coinage by the Tea Party that many Democrats and all too many media voices have adopted. The term, carefully designed to capitalize on the already thriving dislike of the president in some circles, and of course build more, is at best misleading and at worst a bald-faced lie. Why? It implies that the program is some kind of national health care system. i.e. the dreaded “government takeover of health care.” It is not.
  • The Affordable Care Act – which seeks to force the uninsured to buy into the private health insurance system – is originally a Republican idea, successfully instituted in Massachusetts on the watch of that raving socialist Mitt Romney.
  • The program is a baby step in the right direction that has at least two laudable goals – bring uninsured people into the health care system so they have access to care before they are wheeled into costly emergency rooms, and prevent insurance companies from refusing to insure sick people by declaring that they have pre-existing conditions.
  • While the Affordable Care Act may – once the bugs are ironed out – serve as a modest slowdown in health care costs, it will not go after the biggest problem – the massive profits locked into the health insurance and medical systems. As described by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson in a conversation with Bill Maher, those profits create a fundamental conflict of interest.

One of most powerful conservative arguments against the new program is this – forcing people to buy a private product is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic (though Chief Justice John Roberts did sway the Court to upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.) But here is why I find that argument both endlessly frustrating and also entertaining. The whole reason we have this Rube-Goldberg-inspired system is the right’s visceral opposition to anything that looks like the dreaded bogeyman, national health care.

The administration rightly upholds this baby-step toward a rational system. But that is a tough job in the face of the flaws and bungling, as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius found out when she met with Jon Stewart.

But what about those cows I referred to in the headline? Well, these are not barnyard animals, but they are plenty hungry and also plenty satisfied. The sacred cows are the profits of the insurance companies. Those are well protected under the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to grow until reason creates a single-payer system something like those that citizens of other advanced nations enjoy.

Meanwhile, I leave the last word, or words – the most words you can pack into a content-filled, well-argued polemic – to the animated, amazing, agitated John Green. Eight minutes of video common sense that you will be glad you checked out. As you watch Mr. Green, remember about those sacred cows that our Rube Goldberg system will go on protecting.


This Horror Movie is Already in Production

This week’s announcement of a new, research-based perspective on manmade climate change makes for compelling reading. It would be fascinating as science fiction, but that would only be half right. Because we have the science part, but this is nothing like fiction.

Here is the story – if greenhouse gas emissions keep rising at their current rate, virtually the entire world will be living in a completely new climate regime by 2050. Now that may seem far off, but it is obviously within the lifespan of today’s young adults. And babies born today? This will be the prime of their lives. What will they think of baby boomers like me, who let this creeping tragedy unfold before our very eyes?

The implications of these changes are profound. One way to understand it is this – by midcentury, the coolest year will be warmer than the hottest year that we have experienced as of 2013. Think about that. We are a force of nature, overwhelming the planet’s natural self-regulation system. For humans, we are talking about climate refugees who are forced to leave their devastated homelands. And forget the oil wars of our era – how about water wars? And note that the people who have done the least to build the climate crisis will be among the first to suffer. For instance, think of the island residents of Tuvalu , the Maldives and the Far North.

What startles me in this study is the geographic progression. Since about 1990, when I started explaining climate change to anyone who would listen, I have read and reported that changes would be seen first in the higher latitudes, in the center of continents, during winter, and in overnight low temperatures that would rise faster than daytime highs. Of course, all that remains true, but the new study points out that tropical areas, as they are not used to wild fluctuations, are more vulnerable to rapid climate transformation. That is, it takes less of a temperature change to cause major disruption near the Equator than closer to the planet’s poles. That leads to projections like this one.

And while we consider the effects on humans, what about the Armageddon we are unleashing on our fellow travelers. Commentator Thom Hartmann makes the extinction connection very effectively here. The same Hartmann has a new video that is gaining much attention. It is an eleven-minute video with accompanying web site that compellingly explains the climate crisis, incorporating the latest research findings, especially those on methane hydrates. If you don’t know about those, you need to watch the video.

If the new research does not scare the hell out of us, maybe nothing will. Don’t you wish it were all just science fiction? Best scenario of course would be scaring a critical mass of citizens into action. In fact, you may not have noticed that “take action” link on the Lost Hours site.

Here is one recent example of the logic for wise action, and here are several organizations working for change:


Climate Reality Project

Citizens Climate Lobby


One is Called by God; One Fears the Devil

Minnesota Public Radio deserves much credit for its recent investigative series on the local Archdiocese’s continuing covert campaign to protect pedophile priests. The series has led to action. This particular installment had me swearing at my radio, particularly when this predator claimed to be “called by God.”

As for the other powerful doer of good deeds from my church of origin, we go to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. Call it The Devil and Mr. S. I have long maintained that “Constitutional Originalism,” as practiced by Justice Scalia and his allies, might as well be a literalist religion, replete with deity and dogma. Did you hear about how the Constitution was inscribed in stones up on the mountain and brought down by the Chosen Founding Father? Just kidding, I think. But here I am not kidding – if there ever was a walking, preaching argument for Supreme Court term limits, it would be Antonin Scalia. I imagine the good justice channeling President W. Think of the hilarity – the robed Satan hunter ransacking the office. A mirror might help.



Apply the “C” Word Here

The US government was once, they tell me, based on the principle of majority rule. That was then, this is now. Look at the current government shutdown, and think of it as majority overruled by a minority within a minority that parades and struts and threatens and obstructs as if it were a majority.  I strongly recommend this link to Rachel Maddow’s work, where she lays out the connection between the gerrymandered House of Representatives, and the twisted, extreme process that got so many Tea Party politicians into power in the first place. In addition to the current video, be sure to watch the one from December 2012 at the same link.

How did we come to this system of super-powered money? The long story is worth telling another time, but for now, this visit to Moyers and Company offers some valuable insight. Heather Gerken gives her take on our current corporatocracy and the importance of an imminent Supreme Court decision on candidate contribution limits. The “C” in the headline is for coup, as in coup d’état, a term Gerken so rightly uses for the right-wing subversion of our system.

It is up to us to change it, and it will be no easy task. For some inspiration, here are two wise recent animated commentaries. The first is narrated by Ed Asner, and the second is the latest from Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff series – the Story of Solutions.


An Inspiration from a Troubled Land

Who can fail to be impressed and inspired by Malala Yousafzai? When I watched Jon Stewart’s interview, I was floored by the young Pakistani’s knowledge, poise and commitment to a radical idea – education for all throughout the world, but especially for young women who have been excluded and in her case nearly assassinated by repressive societies. She may not have won the Nobel Prize, but this young lady has a hugely influential future ahead of her.


“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” – Wendell Berry


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, David Vessel


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 9/8/13

8 09 2013

Climate Winners and Losers //

Several recent climate change postings recall a frequently heard pronouncement – “Climate change will have winners and losers.” Sounds reasonable enough.

Let’s try that one out. Low-lying islands will soon be underwater speed bumps. Hard to see anything but losers there. But wait – those poor unfortunate souls will soon have new potential homes as the poles thaw. Greenland will be open for business any decade now. Winners? See for yourself. At first glance, all the greenery makes that NBC News article look happy and inviting. But if you dig in, you see that John Roach did an admirable, honest job at painting the big picture. Note those temperature rises – five to 11 degrees F. And those are mid-range predictions. And he includes quotes from Danish biologist Jens-Christian Svenning, who helps us understand this will really not be a good example of “winners.” Not by a long shot.

How about the oceans? Surely, warmer oceans will allow marine life to flourish, leading to recovery of key fisheries. And a well-known climate change denial site tells just such a fish story about lobsters. (Chuckles all around at the cheap shot against vegetarians. Heh, heh.) Looks like we may have found ourselves a winner, folks. But slice a little deeper in the baloney and what do you get? Long-term damage to the lobster fishery, and bizarre behavior changes to boot.

But surely something must be capitalizing on the warming ocean environment. Distance swimmer Diana Nyad knows what it is, all too well. So the much-reviled jellyfish is a clear winner in manmade climate change. And that is just a part of the story. If you have 18 minutes for an excellent TED talk, coral reef ecologist Jeremy Jackson will educate you on the triple whammy (pollution, overfishing and climate change) we have visited on the world’s once-teeming oceans. How we wrecked the oceans, indeed. I like Jackson’s prescription for cleaning up the mess – but you will have to watch for yourself to find out what that is.

So on the seas, it’s pretty much losers all around, save for the jellyfish armada. But on land it is a different story. Sure, habitats are moving towards higher latitudes and altitudes, but creatures will just have to adapt. Tough luck. But agriculture will surely gain. More carbon, more plant food, more bountiful harvests, says the Heartland Institute. The propaganda-free, science-rich truth is much more interesting, and quite scary. This Guardian article gives the big picture. If you do nothing but scan the graphics, you will uncover a few true winners in this competition – the British Isles (sea rise aside) and West Africa (population overshoot aside) most notably. But if you look at the projected yield declines, and then remember that global population continues its inexorable rise, you can see a nightmare scenario developing. In other words, business as usual makes all of us abject losers, and there is much more at stake than a discarded lottery ticket.

It’s a pretty dismal search, this hunt for climate change winners. Here, though, is one undeniable group in the winners’ circle. I call them the Hail Mary Squad. These are the geniuses who will save us from ourselves by hacking the planet. I speak of course of geoengineering. This Wikipedia entry catalogs the ideas, which generally aim to reduce solar energy hitting the earth, or pull our waste carbon from the air. This madness is guaranteed to rise in prominence, and its proponents in audacity. And hey, for a while, they stand to make big money.

Truth is, we would all be a lot better off if we can summon the political will to drastically cut greenhouse emissions. It starts with making carbon pay its way – before we lose everything that matters.


Celebrating Workers and Banksters

Amid all the picnicking and partying last Monday, we were supposed to celebrate the American worker. This is hard to do nowadays, especially for certain Republicans. Count Eric Cantor in that number (based on his 2012 Labor Day pronouncement), as recalled by Paul Krugman. It is also a five-year anniversary of the 2008 economic crisis. That was the reason for NPR’s interviewing former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Host Robert Siegel gamely held Paulson accountable, and though Paulson professed support for Dodd-Frank, he could not bring himself to speak positively of the best insurance against future financial bubbles, reinstating Glass-Steagall. Here is hoping it does not take another disaster to build momentum in this important remedy.  And should you want to review the sorry 2008 episode, it is hard to top An Inside Job.


The Entitled Ones

The pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm educated us well. Some of us, maybe too well. All animals are created equal, they told their post-revolutionary subjects, but some animals are more equal than others. That could describe the thinking of many wealthy and powerful personages. I think Joshua Holland is onto something here. The moral of the story – if you see a BMW approaching, get the hell out of the crosswalk.


Banishing Pignorance

Regular readers of this blog know “pignorance” is my term for “pretend ignorance.” For the powerful, especially the petro-powerful, this means blowing smoke all around the science of climate change, so that very profitable business as usual may proceed. For the rest of us, this means ignoring our senses, avoiding alternative media that tell the truth, and perhaps taking reassurance from pundits that pooh-pooh the concern of arm-wavers like myself.

I was thinking about how pignorance is built the other day as I listened to yet another in a series of what I think of as “changeling weather summaries.” And mind you, this was on a sensible public station, staffed by bright, aware people. First, following a couple of days where high temps were about five degrees or so above the long-term average (82 vs. 77), the radio voice talked about impending 90s being “more like summer.” So, is 82 not “like summer?” Since when? Then there was the guy who talked about 80s being “chillier” than what we have been used to (90s). Chillier? Yep, 80s sure make me reach for the woolies. And then there is the morning gal’s vacuous weather patter, virtually free of the word “hot,” even as temps break the 90 barrier, day after day. It’s now “warm,” folks.

Sure, this is small stuff, but it contributes to what I call “normalizing the abnormal.” And normalizing the abnormal is just one piece of a puzzle called climate inertia, in which we, like the frog in the heating pot of water on the stove, stays passive until it dies when the nice warm water reaches the boiling point.

Normalizing the abnormal is also one of many perspectives on the big, comfortable lie that we collectively tell ourselves in order to avoid recognizing and acting to avert the existential climate crisis we are relentlessly creating. In this AlterNet piece, Margaret Klein does a terrific job analyzing our games of pretending and ignoring, and issuing a clarion call for all of us to live in what she calls “climate truth.” That means fully recognizing, fully responding to, and fully solving this disaster we have energized. Our descendants have everything to gain; we have nothing to lose but our pignorance. I also can’t help but noting that “climate truth” sounds an awful lot like “Climate Reality,” an organization that I represent.


Syria’s Context and Climate Connection

As the battle rages over what action the US will take over Syria and its use of chemical weapons, a few things are clear. First, the shadow of the Bush Administration’s war-happy adventures in Iraq looms large. Second, the American public is weary of such adventures. Third, President Obama, to his credit, is sharing the decision-making power with Congress. All the rest is not so clear. That’s why Bill Moyers’ postings are so important. Here is a Syria reader supplied by Moyers, and here is a thought-provoking look at the Syrian civil war in terms of manmade climate change.


He’s Back

Just in time for fall gridlock season, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes an outrageously dramatic return.


“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 9/1/13

1 09 2013

Respect for Science //

Well-funded disinformation campaigns since the late 70s have helped weaken both understanding of and regard for scientists and their work. For the back story on this, check into Chris Mooney’s work. But for now, here is a look at some of the worst that scientists and science journalists are up against. One of the most prominent pignorant (pretend-ignorant) pundits, Glenn Beck, is here trying to outdo Bachmann in the crazy derby. But what a fun-loving guy, don’t you think?  And of course Glenn, replete with his wacky conspiracy mobiles, is far from the only purveyor of pignorance out there. This HuffPost piece rightly celebrates California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, dinosaur flatulence and all. Try out this quote from the brilliant legislator: “Just so you’ll know, global warming is a total fraud and it’s being designed because what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives.”

How can you top that? You can’t, but some think climate change denial and resultant policy paralysis are on the wane. That’s what Leo Hickman suggests in this Guardian piece. And though the agents of inertia have lots of money from the Koch brothers and their fellow wreckers, many are working to turn the tide. This video (also included in the Hickman piece) is very funny, and has an easy to sign petition attached. Be ready for the specter of Michele Bachmann’s eye bearing down on Florida, and the worst case scenario of hurricanes, James Inhofe, threatening the entire east coast. That is a storm naming system I would pay to see.

And a longtime figure on the science ramparts, Bill Nye the Science Guy, has a new, short video in which he explains – Nye-style – what motivates him to keep on fighting pignorance.

Here is an important update on a highly influential – and unjustly attacked – climate scientist. Michael Mann – he of the much-criticized (by powerful, self-interested denialists) hockey stick model of global warming – is gaining traction in his litigation against the well-paid goon squad that assailed him in the fabricated scandal known as “Climate Gate.”

And to close on this – following Bill Moyers on Facebook is a wise choice. The senior PBS journalist and host has suddenly stepped up his posts, to go along with his excellent Moyers and Company show. Here, he points out that the climate liars are up against a formidable, fact-based organization. The National Science Foundation? No, the US military.


A Legacy “Misunderestimated”

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I count myself among the most dedicated bashers of former President George W. Bush. Some have taken me to task for that. You know the tune – he has been out of power for x years, time for you liberals to move on, all that. Many have indeed moved on, for better or worse. But I think moving on would be committing an all-too-common sin. That would be forgetting the consequential actions of the past. For example, how many times have you heard someone complaining about the Iranian mullahs and their awful trouble-making government? But if you ask, they generally do not have a clue that the root cause of Iranian theocracy can be traced easily back to, not the Ayatollah Khomeini, but Great Britain and the US “taking out” democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh. But don’t just take my word for that.  And hey, considering events around Syria, it is worth noting that this momentous meddling is celebrating an anniversary.

That’s a long way of saying that leaders who leave the scene often have long-lasting effects, and should keep receiving credit or blame for their achievements and other sorts of actions. In the case of President Bush, we dare not forget his signature achievement – the war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, monstrously costly in lives, treasure and good will the world once had toward our country. On the treasure front, that is trillions, with a TR as in millions of millions. How could we possibly forget and move on from such a huge, consequential step? And for now, never mind that the whole thing was trumped up, ginned up and orchestrated with help of a compliant mainstream press corps. (And fairness requires me to nod to the true legacy of Bush the Younger.) Never mind because my premise here was to write about the Decider’s positive legacy. OK, here goes.

First, Bush was honest enough on at least one point – we are addicted to oil. Sure, he didn’t take that big next step and admit that oil was also the main driver behind the unstoppable urge to attack Iraq, but who is counting steps?

Second, how bad would a Republican president have to be to lead to a Democratic successor who wins by a big enough margin to overcome Rovian dirty tricks – and an African-American candidate to boot? Now that is positive, in my book anyway.

Third, and most important right now, is this. President Bush outrageously overreached in executive power, especially but not exclusively via the war in Iraq and its lead-in propaganda campaign about imaginary weapons of mass destruction. This so sickened Americans and allies alike that our current president had to halt his own march to militarism before ordering strikes against Syria. Just look at what happened in Britain the other day. After more than ten years of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are so tired of war that there is virtually no enthusiasm even for the promised “limited strikes.”

President Obama may find that stepping on the brakes may be one of the smartest moves of his presidency. This is true because our interventions have almost always turned out badly in the long run – as Stephen Kinzer demonstrated in his book Overthrow (which I recommend strongly). It will be true many times over if late-breaking news on the appalling chemical-weapons deaths in Syria turns out to be true.


Endangered Miracles

When we get sick enough with upper respiratory infections or other maladies, we crave a quick return to health. And the handiest tool for a speedy recovery is often a prescribed antibiotic. And why not? These substances are not called “miracle drugs” for nothing. But we may be playing fast and loose with their power.

Anyone who has done any reading at all about modern factory farming knows that antibiotics are in copious use in those establishments. This is logical of course – animals on factory farms are kept in such close quarters that the risk of disease skyrockets. But did you know that factory farms are also pumping livestock full of these miracle drugs in order to prevent illness? Or that some antibiotics have another purpose entirely – to fatten up the beast faster for market? All this pill-popping and needle-pumping adds up, but the percent of all antibiotics that are used on factory-farmed animals compared to people can only be described as shocking – 80 percent.

This is a big deal. Mother Jones’ food and agriculture correspondent, Tom Philpott, explains why. And doesn’t this really stand to reason? By over-applying antibiotics to factory livestock, we are forcing the bugs to multiply and try their damnedest to outsmart our miracle drugs. The more cracks they get at the task, the more likely some mutation will allow for the bug to beat the drug. We are essentially hyper-speeding evolution (if you believe in that sort of thing). Naysayers demand solid proof. In other words, seeing a plague begun by resistant bacteria would be the only thing convincing them to back stepped-up regulation of factory farm antibiotic use. . This sounds familiar, no?

And the overuse problem is not unique to the US.  Cheap factory meat is very popular in China as well. That story from PRI’s The World clearly explains the issue.

Can’t we just say that cheap factory meat is way too costly? Cutting meat consumption is a good idea – the specter of antibiotic resistance is only one more reason to avoid the stuff and force the adoption of wiser practices.


The Powerful Few, or the Public Good

The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said. “There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and there are families.”  The Iron Lady would probably take issue with Robert Reich’s articulation of the need for building and maintaining society. Note the timetable – the former Labor Secretary is pointing to the Thatcher/Reagan era as the precise time when the benefits of increased productivity starting sliding toward the wealthy and powerful, and working people were cut out. And Reich rightly notes that you hardly hear the phrase “the common good” at all anymore. And what of those benefits to the wealthy and powerful? They seem to come with less and less accountability, if you look at CEOs.

Bill Moyers sees a plutocratic end game in that system that coddles the powerful. So what keeps people from rising up and restoring democracy? Dennis Marker has a theory in his 2012 book. In 15 Steps to Corporate Feudalism, he argues that getting people to hate the government is a key strategy to persuade the masses to support policies that benefit the powerful few at the expense of the many. I think he is onto something big. There is a great interview of the author by Thom Hartman at that last link.

The essential question here is this – are we in this together, or are we completely isolated islands? The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett has a modest proposal to help us get back to shared responsibility and accountability. Before you dismiss her idea as unfeasible, just think of the payoff in policy and outcomes if everyone – the Bushes, the Clintons, the Obamas, and even the Limbaughs, Coulters and Hannitys – had an actual share in this nation’s overseas adventures, of the “regime change” sort and others. Very wise, and very timely.


Musical Notes (Including One on Sustainability)

Here are three musical stories that hit me this past week. First, a story that pained me. It is sad to know that the owner of one of the sweetest voices and most diverse catalogs in popular music will sing no more. Second, a veteran Twin Cities jazzman who deserves a far bigger audience. If you like old-time jazz, and have ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, this MPR story will bring you a smile. Finally, this singer songwriter from Iowa was already known in folk circles for wonderfully wise and witty lyrics taking on, among other things, conservative religion. Now she has turned her attention to farming, with similar entertaining and thought-provoking results. Be sure to click and listen to the clever Herbicides..


“The long memory is the most radical idea in America” – Bruce “Utah” Phillips


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 7/21/13

21 07 2013

Playing Dumb //

A certain formula pervades so many media stories on extreme weather. Take this one about the current heat wave for example. Just consider that headline about how the heat wave is “somehow stuck in reverse.” Somehow. We just can’t figure it out, we are told in such stories. And, true to formula, we dutifully find some expert with a title, in this case the National Weather Service’s Jon Gottschalk, to discount any possible connection to the ongoing out-of-control experiment known as manmade climate change. This particular example of the formula is especially discouraging because its author, Seth Borenstein, is a top-level journalist who writes many well-informed science journalism columns.

But let’s consider Gottschalk’s calming “there, there, folks” comment. A retrograde-motion heat wave that takes that backwards turn without warning? It could not possibly be related to this phenomenon, increasingly common and well described by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis, now, could it? No, of course not. And those jet stream perturbations, recorded and analyzed, well, let’s just throw up our hands, folks. We just can’t figure those out. They could not possibly be connected to this, now could they? No, it’s just a bunch of research-money-lusting scientists making that stuff up. But wait, what about all that warming up in the Arctic? A mysterious, unsolved natural phenomenon?

And all of this warming, and melting, and acidifying the oceans, and the extreme weather, all of that? Could it possibly be connected to the 90 million tons of carbon dioxide that our industry, transport and agriculture pump into the sky every single day? Didn’t think so.

Any day now, we will discover the real cause of the increased floods, droughts, heat waves, out-or-season weather events – all of this climate weirding. This will play out in much the same way that the young-earthers will prove that all those fossils are a beguiling trick, Monsanto will discover the real cause of colony collapse disorder, and OJ, as soon as he gets out of prison, will discover the real killer of his ex-wife.

My point here – we can keep up the pignorance (pretend ignorance), aided by oily media, or we can get serious about solving this monstrous and growing crisis. And the hour is getting late.


Would-be Bee Savers

First, some good news. Bees in small numbers have been visiting our native gardens lately. Nothing like usual, mind you, but an improvement over the virtual boycott we have seen this summer. (Still no butterflies, however.) And here is a story about recovery of a particular bumblebee species.

Just as that story mentioned a large loss of bees in Oregon recently, so I wrote about a needless extermination of bees in downtown St. Paul (and a local resident who took a decidedly more hopeful approach). And here is another would-be helpful approach, if only authorities would explore something other than fear-driven punch-outs in cases of bee swarms. Tess Galati is a St. Paul-based beekeeper who wrote this for IBI Watch:

“Beekeepers around here lost about a third of their colonies due to extraordinary spring weather in California, Georgia and Minnesota. Climate destabilization, dontcha know. And the insecticides, of course. And starvation now that Round-Up and chemical fertilizers have replaced clover between the rows. True to form, I lost one if my three colonies despite huge efforts. I would have given my eye teeth to gather the swarm that landed in the trees in our inhospitable St Paul. I could have gotten to the site with empty box in hand in less than five minutes.

Here’s what people fearing stings need to know: Bees sting to protect their hive–their home. When they are swarming, they’re looking for a home, so they have nothing to protect. They don’t sting when they are swarming. No. Not. Nada. So there’s nothing to fear.

Contact me if you see a swarm I can reach. It will save me the heartache of an empty hive in my yard. And if you want to explore a beehive, I’d be happy to share that experience with you. I have enough protective gear to accommodate two bee guests at a time, and it’s great fun!”

Well said. Twin Cities IBI Watch readers – check with me for Tess’s phone number.


Google’s Destructive “Balance”

Can’t Google come up with better ways to spend its millions? I am not the only activist alarmed to see that, in the interest of being unbiased, this supposedly forward-looking organization decided to oil the machines of the prince of pignorance. Makes me want to drop my gmail account.


Captive Cetaceans: Two Views

A new documentary, Blackfish, covers the tragic killing of a trainer by a captive orca. Based on the trailer and an interview by NPR, this one has hit my viewing list. How about yours? This one reminds me of a terrific documentary that travels similar waters, The Cove. I have seen that one, and highly recommend it, though it is not for the squeamish. With the feel of the best Mission Impossible episodes, it details the work of Ric O’Barry, (former trainer of Flipper) and his team, who went undercover in Japan to document an atrocious practice – the annual herding of hundreds of dolphins, of which a few are captured for the world’s performance pools, and most are slaughtered for Japan’s seafood markets. It’s a good time to check in on the work of activists struggling to stop the practice.


Stand Your Ground, says ALEC

Except in the most extreme right-wing circles, President Obama garnered much praise for his comments on race in the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal in the Trayvon Martin killing. I was especially gratified to hear both him and Attorney General Eric Holder make the Stand Your Ground connection. These laws, in Florida and states across the country, make it easier for someone who feels threatened to use deadly force rather than de-escalate or flee. These laws, among others, have been promoted in state legislatures across the country by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. If you care about democracy, and do not know about ALEC, you really need to educate yourself about its wide influence and its “model legislation.”  Meanwhile, could this be a sign of a long-overdue wake-up call? We can only hope.


Embrace the Apocalypse

Robert Jensen’s new book is a clarion call for a return to rationality. Once upon a time, that is what I thought conservatives stood for – reasons, facts. But ever since we embraced corporatist propaganda as the currency of the land – along about the “morning in American” era of 1980, we seem less and less interested in talking about what really matters, i.e. the carrying capacity of the planet we call home. Jensen so rightly points out that even those of us who “get it,” who understand that what we are doing in our technology- and perpetual-growth-driven society is unsustainable, are unwilling to talk about it.

He points out three dodges – the sociopathic explanation (“species come and go, so who cares”), technological fundamentalism (technological innovation will save our sorry keisters) and the third one – which I can really relate to – that “people just can’t take the news.” I agree with the author that it is high time we wake up and deal with the planet emergency. Read more about the book, and watch a fine presentation by the author.

We could make this a better place, seems to me, if we really were “all apocalyptic now.”


Do They Make it in Green?

The punch line never arrived when I read this piece. Did I miss something?


“To change our laws and culture, the green movement must attract and include the majority of all people, not just the majority of affluent people.” – Van Jones


Contributed links or content to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper, Julie Johnston (who blogs at greenhearted.org)


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 7/7/13

7 07 2013

The Fiction of Climate Change //

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

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

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

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

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

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


It’s Called Global Warming, After All

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

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

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

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


Supreme Corporatists

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

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

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


Pollinator Patrol

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

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

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


Lonely at the Top; Sneaky Too

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

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


“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,

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

America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,

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

― George Carlin


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 6/30/13

30 06 2013

Fire Meets Ice //

All weather eyes this week are out West, where a lingering heat wave threatens to melt all-time high temperature records, not just for a particular place or date, but all-time planetary highs. That’s right, forecasters say the Death Valley high temperature – 134 – might be topped in this wave. But heat waves in the American Southwest are nothing unusual – after all, that Death Valley high is 100 years old. (Andrew Freedman puts this western hot spell into context.)

On the other hand, what is happening up north is absolutely without precedent – even a denialist’s cherry-picked, out-of-context precedent – in recorded history. First it was Alaska, then Europe. Now Siberia is feeling the heat. And it is all part of the same out-of- range phenomenon, one that I have written about several times recently – here is an example.

You can expect skeptics, denialists and denial-liars (hard to sort those out sometimes) to spin everything, and this is no exception. I have seen posts and troll hit jobs advising scientists and journalists to just back off and let Alaskans enjoy their rare warmth, and I saw a recent post labeling the weird warmth as “not global warming, ‘just’ the jet stream.” Right.

But more people are getting the connection. Here for maybe the first time ever I offer a well-written article from, of all places, the Fox News site. It is mercifully free of the old false equivalence hooey that goes something like this – “some scientists say this, others say the opposite, so we really won’t know what the hell they are saying until decades of more research are completed, and Miami, New York and New Orleans are underwater ruins.” Sorry, got a little carried away there.

So why is this warming way up by the North Pole and nearby higher latitudes so important? Well, first, the Arctic is really the world’s air conditioner. It has a dominant role in the world’s weather, and we are changing everything with our greenhouse warming – as you can see in this terrific video. And second, as the heat rolls through the far north, we are awakening a sleeping giant – permafrost melting and the freeing of long-dormant methane. And this is a monster that, fully set free, will take no prisoners.

All of this is the backdrop for President Obama’s long-awaited speech on climate change and renewable energy. The president did not disappoint us this week. The Star Tribune offered context with a helpful editorial. It is so refreshing to hear our nation’s leader talk about respect for science, and the need to plan and deal with an inevitably challenging future. Of course, he will get little support from the gerrymandered, GOP-obstructed, science-trashing Congress (that goes for both houses, thanks to the abused-to-death filibuster), but it seems he is ready to do virtually everything he can to slow and halt climate change and build a sustainable-energy future.

What is needed of course is a fee on carbon – exactly the idea that Senator Mitch McConnell attacked at length in the preceding video. (I think the Senate “minority” Leader should be renamed McCOALNell.) And the president’s commitment will be sorely tested when his long-delayed decision on Keystone XL – the ambitious pipeline that will enable further development of the dirtiest oil on the planet. I fear that, for all the positive change President’s announcement portends – reduced power plant emissions, more efficient appliances, more clean energy, this may just be cover for the “all-of-the-above” approach that will include tar sands oil. I want to be wrong on this one, friends. If you had a chance to ask Bill McKibben and James Hansen, they would agree. We need to keep our fire from melting ice. All of the ice.


Activist Starting Young

Fourth Grader Zachary Maxwell strikes a blow for progressives everywhere with his new video. This future Michael Moore takes on false advertising and empty nutrition claims (eat your ketchup!) in his short film. This trailer tells me I have to see the whole Yuck!. Here is a Marketplace podcast on the same project.


Flood City

There is much to be learned in a recent NPR story on American cities vulnerable to ocean rise. The stars here are Miami and New York. Jackie Lyden –one of the best of the best on NPR – does her usual excellent job on this story.


Middle Class? Who Needs that?!

You will find this satirical interview that Stephen Colbert did with Bill Moyers entertaining. What makes Colbert’s shtick so effective is this – without context, it would be difficult to distinguish his persona from that of an interviewer on a short-leashed corporate media organ. Be sure to catch Moyers’ use of a comical name for the best known of such outlets. As Colbert says, making more people “strive” is what makes America great. We are getting greater all the time.



This little story makes me want to visit Mackinac Island. How about you?


“Our modern industrial economy takes a mountain covered with trees, lakes, running streams and transforms it into a mountain of junk, garbage, slime pits, and debris.”
-Edward Abbey


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, Michael Kuehn


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 6/23/13

23 06 2013

Ugly is Beautiful //

It was just a throwaway comment from a source on an NPR story on bad travel experiences. But her entirely understandable distaste for bats speaks volumes on human attitudes about nature. If it pesters us, inconveniences us, or does not impress us as cute and cuddly, it can be damned. We can get along without it, thanks. Or so we think (if we think about it at all).

Give this lady credit – she and her cohorts did not kill the misplaced bat. And she is right about them struggling to survive – across Canada and the US, a deadly fungus has been devastating bat populations in recent years. Because the proximate cause of that wildlife crisis is “natural,” a fungal disease as opposed to an obvious man-made chemical source, it is tempting to think of the situation as something we can lay unequivocally at Mother Nature’s doorstep. But the fact is that, with the way our ever-expanding human footprint on the earth has encroached on natural habitat, stressing animal populations, even as we alter the environment with our miracle agricultural potions and greenhouse gases, in no way can we wash our hands of blame even for maladies that seem natural on first glance. And of course bats play an important role in ecosystems, with their huge appetite for insects and in some cases their penchant for pollination.

It’s the same story with snakes and turtles, which some drivers seem less inclined to avoid running over (compared to “cute” species like geese and ducks) and sharks – whose numbers worldwide are decimated by the cruel practice of “finning.” There is also remarkably little outcry over the steep, documented decline in amphibians. (It’s a good time to remember Tyrone Hayes’ sadly under-publicized research on the pesticide atrazine’s endocrine disruption in frogs – but who cares about that?)

The biggest looming extinction story right now is bees. As I have written about recently (Scroll down to “The Little Guys will be Missed”), another miracle chemical is implicated here – neonicotinoid pesticides. The evidence fingering the chemicals was good enough for the European Union’s scientists, but here in corporation-dominated America? Nah, we are not impressed. We blithely blame Mother Nature, minimize our chemical assault on the environment, and life goes on. For now.


Fakin’ It

I just love this story. At some level, most of us feel a bit uneasy eating overprocessed, computer-designed, machine-extruded, factory-assembly-line-produced foods. Big Food knows that, and has ways of fooling us. I remember in my youth, eating one Burger King Whopper after the other, and noticing those grill sear marks on the meat. Were they authentic? Who knows? Who cares? It sells, and isn’t that what really matters? “Naturally flavored.” Yum. Before you buy another mcburger or in fact buy any highly processed foodstuff, you really owe it to yourself to read Eric Schlosser’s excellent Fast Food Nation. And now there is another book that updates the technical wizardry used to fool us into thinking this stuff is good. And the author, Michele Simon, has a new blog that targets Big Food. Sorry, enough on that for now. I think my freezer is running low on pink slime.


Oh, Alberta!

The weekly extreme weather roundup is starting to remind me of the deep, dark days of the Vietnam War. The nightly news then ran a roll call of American soldiers killed in action in Southeast Asia. The news today could easily be a similar sad parade. There’s the obvious – wildfires in Colorado, floods in Germany and India, Alaska (Alaska!) baking in the tropical sun, but also the subtle – “stuck” weather and slower moving storms pounding the same areas, day after day, with flood-spawning rains.

Virtually all of this extreme weather can be traced to a single phenomenon, and – hint – it is not Mother Nature. Find out more here. I also highly recommend this five-minute video explaining the jet stream/climate change connection, posted by by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis.

OK, I hear you wondering, what is with the “Alberta” headline? It’s this – one of the most pressing wild weather stories this week is the devastating, deadly floods in Calgary, the Canadian province’s largest city. That province is also the site of one of the most controversial, and consequential, enterprises in our history of fossil fuel production and burning – tar sands extraction. Further expansion of that vast, destructive effort hinges on a key American decision – the Keystone XL pipeline.

That is the backdrop as Secretary of State John Kerry visits India to lecture the leaders of that  fast-developing country on cutting their greenhouse emissions (lots of cheek, there) and we anticipate President Obama’s long-awaited, legacy-critical plan for executive action on curbing greenhouse gases. Fingers eagerly crossed. Stay tuned.


Give the Kids the Bills . . . All of Them

Since 1980, by hook and by crook, we have rebuilt America in the image of “rugged individualism” – i.e., the Red State model. There is plenty of evidence that this is not what the people want.

For example, the system is constitutionally rigged in favor of red states. Wyoming has the same power as California in the filibuster-choked Senate. Also, a solid, obstructionist Republican majority sits in the House despite the GOP’s narrowly losing the 2012 popular congressional vote. Thank gerrymandering for that trick. And let’s not forget that the last more or less clean, legitimate presidential victory for Republicans was in 1988.

Nevertheless, we have been on the plutocratic path for 30 years. What has this brought us? Well, here we are, the richest nation in history, and we have a health care system that is the envy of whom? And our vaunted middle class – full of hard workers who, with a few good breaks to go with their toil, might be the next tycoons? Think again.

As we let our infrastructure decay, in the name of “cutting taxes for everyone,” and enable costly overseas adventures that profit only the big contractors, we are running up some massive bills. Who will pay? Why, those Millennials of course.  This fine AlterNet piece by RJ Eskow lays it all out. How will they pay for our selfishness? From cradle to grave, the author says. Let us count the ways:

  • Prenatal Nutrition
  • Early Childhood Nutrition
  • School lunches
  • Cutting education funds
  • Making college unaffordable
  • Leaving graduates drowning in debt
  • Massive unemployment
  • An increasingly inequitable, wage-stagnating economy
  • Greater fear and insecurity in old age

Gosh, who could have predicted this? Ah, well, sorry, kids. No time to wallow. Maybe you need to work harder. There is a third, low-pay, no-benefits job out there for you somewhere.


It’s a (Rich) Dog’s World

Heard about this vacation idea on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. It needs no additional introduction.


“Nature favors those organisms which leave the environment in better shape for their progeny to survive.” – James Lovelock


Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN