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

IBI Watch 4/7/13

7 04 2013

Extreme Oil, Extreme Consequences //

A few years ago, environmental activists like me hoped that increasing oil prices would lead to greater conservation and extreme efforts to build alternative energy. Tough luck. Technological wizardry – breakthroughs in horizontal and undersea drilling, tar sands oil plus of course hydraulic fracturing, has opened new bonanzas of hydrocarbons to exploit, and pushed the day of reckoning off into the future.

To careful observers, that day of reckoning is already here. Increasingly chaotic, destructive weather events are on the rise all over the world, and largely-ignored scientists continue warning about feedbacks and tipping points. We yawn, and if we think about this at all, it is to wonder about the impact on gasoline prices.

Based on the past week’s events, it would be a good time to wake up to all this right about now. Media were blocked initially from getting footage of the tar oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas. Watch a half-minute video. Commentator John Sutter speculates (includes slides and more video) that this incident could create that critical mass of support needed to halt the tar sands oil juggernaut.  If it’s going to happen, we have to hope the shift comes soon. Check the astounding results of this recent poll. Maybe this should not be surprising, since a crowd of web sites encourages penny-wise, greenhouse-foolish motorists to drive to the other side of town to save a nickel on petrol. Spills are just a cost of doing business in the modern, fast-paced world – or so Big Oil would like us to believe.

The Arkansas incident is important for many reasons. First, I found it amusing that the initial reports talked of “barrels” of oil released. With 80 gallons in a barrel, 1000 barrels doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But the EPA estimates 84,000 gallons, and it may be higher. And of course this is not your grandfather’s crude oil, but the dirtier tar sands oil, whose very nature makes spills more likely. Once those spills occur, they are much harder to clean than the already difficult traditional crude. Read more here. And lest anyone think that the Arkansas rupture is an isolated incident, read this.

I have long contended that concerns about transport were a sideshow in the tar sands battle, but maybe I am wrong on this one. After all, it is one thing to be concerned about destruction many miles away in Alberta, or to worry about the greenhouse intensity of producing oil from tar, compared to the sweeter varieties of crude that are steadily depleting. It is quite another to have the oil bubbling up in your yard.  Now that is something to get worked up about, eh? The question of course is – how many backyards, neighborhoods, parks and lakes must turn into toxic pools to move public opinion against the all-powerful oil lobby?

You have to find humor where you can. Try this – it’s not really oil, you see. And this panel from Bill Maher’s show has a few laughs when the guests are not shouting each other down. But irony and dark humor aside, those fighting the tar sands project and what it represents to the climate change struggle are weighing in. Watch a seven-minute Democracy Now segment that features an interview with Bill McKibben. And also this week – news that one of the earliest and most vocal climate change messengers, James Hansen, is retiring from his post at NASA. This will no doubt allow him to work ever more energetically to fight greenhouse madness.  And who knew that the recently deceased film critic  Roger Ebert had spoken up about the madness of climate change? Not me.

For a final call to action on this issue, watch this clever, fast-paced video. It very effectively puts this whole tarry affair into its insane context.


Sands of Another Sort

Aside from tar sands oil, easily the most prominent new, high-tech addition to our hydrocarbon access toolkit is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This practice offers a whole range of benefits and risks. The benefits are pretty clear – access to a large storehouse of natural gas deposits, and lower gas prices. The risks are another matter – groundwater pollution, earthquakes anyone? But right here in the upper Midwest, another extreme cost is controversial right now. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota are rich in a key component of the fracking system – silica sand. Wisconsin has already embraced this new system, not without environmental battles of course. Will Minnesota follow down the path? A new documentary looks to educate. Here is a TC Daily Planet article on The Price of Sand, and here is the trailer.


Seeds of Domination

The creeping control of agriculture by a small number of companies has been sold as progress. Feed the world, lower costs, control pests, and on and on. But what is the dominance by companies such as Monsanto really all about? For one thing, mounting profits. For another, control that approaches monopoly. This week’s news item looks like more of the same. And, you may be shocked, shocked I say, to find that a particular champion in Congress has bravely shepherded the Monsanto Protection Act into law. Allow Mother Jones to introduce the loyal corporate soldier, er, U.S. Senator, that is.

Enough people recognize that this monopolization of the food supply is not necessarily the best approach, for a number of reasons. The author of a promising new book, Foodopoly, Wenonah Hauter, appeared on Democracy Now. Her book looks to become an important part of this crucial debate. Just listen to the intro, an explanation from a rare voice for small farmers who also happens to be a U.S Senator. The author later explains how Monsanto and Wal-Mart, among others, have ridden the anti-regulation wave to ever-greater control over the whole food system. One out of every three grocery dollars, for example is spent at Wal-Mart.  Not a dollar of mine, thanks.

Check this article on fighting back on another scale. Cooperatives are fighting to save what is good about food and agricultural diversity. And this is a battle we all can take on. Join a community-supported agriculture farm. My family has belonged to a farm for many years, and it is one of the best things we have done. Year-round, fresh and frozen, we have an abundant supply of organically grown vegetables, greens and fruits, and we have the satisfaction of knowing we are helping to save the small from corporate monstrosities.

Truth-telling, Wherever You can Find it

We need more conservatives like this guy.

Modern technology

Owes ecology

An apology.

-Alan M. Eddison


Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 2/17/13

17 02 2013

What the People Want //

In the January/February Mother Jones, editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery laid out arguably the biggest legacy choice faced by President Obama in his second term. The multitudes massing in the nation’s capital right now point to that choice – it is whether his strong words in the State of the Union message will translate into action to do everything possible to mitigate and reverse climate change.

What struck me most in the Bauerlein/Jeffery essay was this – a Yale/George Mason poll from 2012 that detailed public opinion on climate legislation. Here are a few highlights: 63 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents and 43 percent of Republicans said climate change was a key issue in their vote. And in 2011, a Stanford study reported 77 percent of the public would support a candidate who said climate change is real, humans are the cause and cleaner energy is needed.

This is powerful. It is also simultaneously encouraging and perplexing. Encouraging because it says – Heartland Institute, Limbaugh, Inhofe, etc. be damned – people understand this issue. Perplexing because – with this level of public awareness, why the policy paralysis? Why would many expect President Obama’s oft-cited “all of the above” energy/climate policy balance sensible protections with the explosion of the biggest carbon bomb yet, the Alberta tar sands? Here is one prominent commentator, Bonnie Blodgett, who expects just that cave. I cannot disagree with her analysis, and yet I hold out hope. The climate disaster that Blodgett describes is just what will result from approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is the target of the Washington demonstration.

Two guests on this week’s Moyers and Company, Dan Cantor and Jonathan Soros, did not mention climate change a single time. And yet, their message holds the answer to why progress has been nigh impossible on this crucial issue. It’s the corporate money that pollutes and overwhelms our political system. The two men come from very different backgrounds, but have landed on the same cause – get political power back into the hands of the people. And they have successes to boast of – particularly a victory by a populist candidate in a squeaker of a New York State Senate race. Cantor and Soros are founders of a SuperPac, Friends of Democracy. I highly recommend the Moyers segment, which runs 30 minutes. It includes several imbedded videos, and of course an inspiring message. Cantor and Soros are emphatic on this point – the biggest barrier to replacing one dollar, one vote with one person one vote is the all-too-familiar one – apathy.

Removing corporate influence over elections has long been a Moyers cause – here is his latest essay on the topic. I like his take on the “golden rule of politics.” Here are two more groups fighting to get corporate money out of our elections – The Move to Amend and the Center for American Progress.

Climate Commitment is Building

Regular IBI Watch readers know that I like to collect and share the latest climate change research findings. For a change of pace, let’s stay away from shocking new findings and instead look at a few hopeful signs.

First – Senator Barbara Boxer, much more widely known and influential than progressive crusader Senator Bernie Sanders, is introducing legislation calling for a carbon fee/dividend system. The article treats this idea as a “new twist,” but of course James Hansen, Bill McKibben and others have championed this approach for some time. Second – the Sierra Club, an organization I have long supported, has abandoned its longtime refusal to engage in civil obedience. Its current leader, Michael Brune, got himself arrested in a protest at the White House. Watch him hold his own here against a hostile Fox interviewer who leads a tag team trying to drag this guy into the mud. Third – there is a major institution in the US that is not waiting for the do-nothing, corporate-ruled Congress to act. That would be the US military. The current Mother Jones has an excellent cover story on how the military is leading the charge on renewable fuel. (It’s not linkable on line just yet.) And why not? They are the ones who have to fight our endless petrol wars.

Finally, I put my faith in the young people. A fine example is this video from SciShow. The young narrator is informed, world-weary and entertaining. I like the attitude here.

Rising Waters

Sorry, I broke my promise. But hey, I am not running for office, so cut me some slack. If you have been puzzled – as I have – about how global-warming-induced sea rise could vary by coast and region, here is what seems like the story. A friend pointed me to this link about the latest research on the slowing Gulf Stream (part of the great ocean conveyor belt, properly called the thermohaline circulation). And another friend sent this in-depth article on what is at stake in the Keystone XL battle. Michael T. Klare – author of Resource Wars, Blood and Oil, and Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. makes a persuasive case that denying approval to Keystone will deal a body blow to tar sands exploitation. Approve, and accelerate global warming and all its ill effects – which are already playing out faster than scientists projected several decades ago. And finally, here is a provocative article suggesting that hydraulic fracturing of rock to yield previously unavailable deposits of natural gas may not be the climate savior it is fracked up to be.

Explosion-Induced Tone Deafness

Remember the earlier theme – about the people stifled by powerful financial interests? Listening to the assertions of NRA leaders David Keene and the better-known Wayne LaPierre yields the conclusion that these guys will forever choose not to hear the people’s will. Why this selective deafness? It’s not the effect of nearby gunshots for sure. Maybe it is the financial power of the gun and ammunition manufacturers and merchants who pay these guys’ salaries.

I choose instead to follow the researchers who have continued research into the impact and implications of America’s problem of gun violence – such as those at Johns Hopkins University. More important, I choose to hear the survivors and families of innocent victims of the seemingly endless toll – Kim Odom, who lost her son to gun violence; the family of Hadiya Pendleton, victim of a gang war in Chicago; former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, gun owners themselves who are courageously turning their tragedy into a struggle for reasonable gun regulation.

Change will not be easy, and there is no guarantee of success. In fact, when organizations speak up in favor of reason, they end up here. (Note – a friend had sent me that original link, which was indeed tossed down the NRA memory hole.) But – just like with climate change – people understand this issue. For proof, I leave you with this video on the incredible outpouring of sympathy for the shattered community of Newtown.

Yes, the Sky is Falling

It is hard to top the cosmic timing. On the very day that a predicted fly-by of a large asteroid occurred on schedule, a sudden, unannounced visitor exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia.  Though it sounds way-put, we should be planning and preparing for such events. The consequences of not preparing are grave, and we have the technology to divert disaster. This Space.com article brings it all together nicely and has some eye-catching, concise videos to boot.

For the Birds

We humans strut around like we own the place. And of course, for better or worse (too often the latter), we do. Just consider how we continually expropriate more and more of the natural world for our own use. Hey, there are more and more of us all the time (seven billion and ever mounting, but who’s counting?!) – so what do you expect? But putting all that aside for another day, I have two items that remind us that nature can still strike back. First – maybe these vultures are trying to tell us something. Second – I challenge you to watch this very brief video of an unexpected wildlife display in an unusual space and not root for its protagonist.

Best Jeopardy Answer Yet

Back when I (seemingly) had more time to burn, I was a Jeopardy junkie. This affliction struck early – I would race home for lunch in the third grade and watch Art Fleming (predecessor to the long-tenured Alex Trebek). I in fact tried out for the show in Chicago some years ago. I didn’t quite make it (damn!), but then there is always the looming senior tournament. But I have never seen anything quite like the display of guts and wit in this segment from the venerable quiz show’s current teen tournament.  Will it have a happy ending? You will just have to watch.

“Environmental justice for all is civil rights in the 21st century.” – Majora Carter

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy, Lucinda Plaisance, Tammie Stadt


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 9/9/12

9 09 2012

A Man of the People   //

I have long been a big fan of Senator Bernie Sanders, the populist Independent from Vermont.  His latest appearance on Moyers and Company is a tour de force of issues that need so badly to be discussed openly and truthfully.  He speaks in favor of a key Republican – not of course a Republican of today, whom he calls out for their blatant deficit hypocrisy.  No, Sanders’ praise is for Teddy Roosevelt, who tirelessly fought the concentration of power in the financiers of his day.  Sanders sees the same fundamental problem in our era – the overwhelming power of large corporations over our electoral process.  The Vermont senator makes a persuasive case for publicly funded elections as the only hope of restoring fairness and stemming the tide of growing wealth and income disparity.  If you want a quick statistical primer on just how out of balance things are right now in the good old USA (aka land of opportunity), click to the 21:00 marker on the video.  Oligarchy, anyone?  Though this man is an independent, there is no better advice for Democrats in winning back the working class, whose interests are so clearly abandoned by today’s Republican Party.  Sanders fairly points out that things weren’t always this way – not even during his career.  This Moyers interview runs 30 minutes; you will be very glad you invested the time.

Climate Change at the Conventions

I listened to most of the Democratic convention, and a fair amount of the Republican.  With all the extreme weather of late – and the irrefutable evidence of its connection to man-made climate change – I was listening carefully for mention of this environmental issue of supreme importance.  The Republicans virtually avoided the issue, except for Mitt Romney’s attempted laugh track.  (Heh, heh.)  But there it was in President Obama’s acceptance speech. I was encouraged, as was Joe Romm of Climate Progress.  But the issue has nowhere near the prominence it deserves, and until recently, it seemed that it might be completely ignored in the campaign and the debates.  If you don’t think the issue deserves all the alarm, arm-waving and calls to action, you need to read further in this blog posting.  And if you agree that it needs to be thoroughly discussed at the debates, then I hope you will join me in signing on a petition to get the moderator – Jim Lehrer – to pose a question to the candidates.  Read hereSign here.

A Cascade of Weirding and Melting

Virtually every week, new evidence emerges of the consequences of our unwitting, relentless alteration of the atmosphere.

You want weirding?  How about a tornado on Long Island?  How about tropical storms behaving strangely – splitting, interacting?  Those phenomena are well explained here by Michael Lemonick of Climate Central.  One of five simultaneously active storms – Leslie – was even projected to maintain tropical storm strength as it approached Greenland, though that prospect seems to have receded in just the last day or so.  And then there is the deepening drought affecting a huge portion of the US Midwest.  I didn’t know this sort of damage was possible.

And what about melting?  Yes, we have melting.  Forget every week – we are talking about a new Arctic ice cap melt record every day.  Read and see graphics here and here.  And yes, there are still denialists out there who want us to believe that we are seeing random variation, that all this could not possibly have anything to do with the 90 million tons of CO2 we put into the atmosphere every day of the year.  This article does two things – explains research that asks that question – what are the chances that the incredible melting we are seeing is entirely a natural phenomenon (you won’t believe how slim the chance is) and it introduces another prominent denialist who had escaped my attention.

Arresting Climate Change – Some Research and Thoughts

Yes, some say we have already gone too far – there is nothing to be done.  But I say it is always the right time to do the right thing.  And clearly, human psychology is not on our side – we are not wired, it seems, to assess, understand and respond to a distant threat.  And yet, if we wait until everyone personally experiences a house under floodwater, Death Valley temperatures or an evaporated drinking water source, it may indeed be too late.

This Guardian article from a few years ago considers the psych angle on climate change.  Beth Gardiner’s more recent piece in the New York Times discusses how people can see threats as real and respond before disaster.  She makes the valid (if exasperating) point that more scientific data will not get through to people whose minds are already made up.  But we don’t have to be climate change idiots (Gardiner’s term). For instance, if we all adopted most of the practices advocated here, we would hugely reduce the carbon we pour into the environment.

But as far as influencing choices, I say there is nothing like the wallet.  And until a better option comes along, I like James Hansen’s fee and dividend approach to cutting carbon emissions.  You can hear from the NASA meteorologist himself right here, and also read more at the Citizens Climate Lobby, and also take action here.

The Weather Forecast We Need to Hear

Regular readers of this blog know I am a fan of Jeff Masters and Paul Douglas.  But no one I have seen can beat this lady’s dose of reality.  Sometimes only satire can do the job.  A very funny and arresting video.

It’s the Spending, All Right

Here are two takes on the notion of spending.

First, one of the most common charges that conservatives throw at President Obama is this one – he has wildly increased the size of government, and the money it spends.  This opinion piece in Forbes Magazine (aka Capitalist Tool!) begs to differ.  Next, here is a recent Hedrick Smith article from the New York Times that looks at a tough capitalist from another era – Henry Ford.  The creator of the Model T had a good idea about paying workers generously – in stark contrast to titans of today, many of whom balk at raising the minimum wage.

Reviving the Economy; Cutting the Deficit

One of my favorite lines of all during the recent Republican convention was Mitt Romney saying, with a straight face, that he wanted Barack Obama to succeed in the early days of his presidency.  Check this video that details just how much the Republicans have tried to help the president succeed – right from Inauguration Day.  And now, consider how the deficit could be cut dramatically.  Couple this with the reforms advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders, and, before you know it, things could be pretty OK.

Two Compelling Nature Stories – and a Song

Alan Rabinowitz’s success in protecting endangered big cats is the subject of this Radiolab episode.  It’s not new, but was worth a rerun this weekend, and is definitely worth your time.  Here is a more recent update on his work, which is mostly about protecting the environment, but also about overcoming personal obstacles.  I also liked this nature piece about the New England coast, from Chris Hedges.  His Life is Sacred article stares our damage to the earth’s ecosystems – especially the oceans – in the face.  No green washing here.  But it does need an antidote.  Try this Dave Carter/Tracy Grammer performance of one of Carter’s best songs.  Dave, sadly, is no longer with us.  But Tracy carries on, and in fact is performing at the Landmark Center in St. Paul on September 21.

“We can never fully understand the hearts and minds of people . . . unless we can speak directly to them in their own language so that the implications, not just the words, come through clearly.”  – Alan Rabinowitz

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN
Submitted links to this post – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper