IBI Watch 12/1/13

1 12 2013

Science in Action //

Key, urgent decisions hinge on a clear understanding of scientific principles by decision makers. Those decision makers include the obvious – our executives, legislators and judges at all levels of government. But they also number all citizens – whether they seek out and try to understand scientific truth or not. That is a problem for the ages – ours and most crucially, those to come.

There really is no shortage of scientific information on humans and the environment, climate change, nutritional science, etc., but the problem is this. Much of the information that comes from science on these and other issues is not conducive to the business-as-usual inertia that pervades our policy. Corporate interests recognize the inconvenience of various scientific facts, and deploy armies of public relations specialists and lobbyists to spread spin and untruths to all those decision makers. To make it even more challenging, it is a rare scientist who can match up to a professional spin doctor with a contrary or fact-challenged tale to tell. This is what makes scientists who have left the lab to get the word out worth their weight in gold and then some. Here are just a few of my favorites, from the international to the local scenes.

First in line has to be James Hansen, who has crossed another line in recent years, becoming an activist willing to be arrested in his efforts to spread the truth about the climate crisis. I recommend his latest book, Storms of My Grandchildren, and also this TED Talk.

Next, there are some meteorologists who use their blow-dried TV news persona to blow denialist hot air on climate change. Among the most prominent in this corporate propaganda crowd are national figure Joe Bastardi and Twin Cities local anti-hero Dave Dahl. I find Dahl particularly entertaining in the way he has enlisted the Almighty in his anti-science campaign. I can’t find a link to something I heard him say – that it is arrogant to assert that mankind’s activity is upsetting nature’s balance ( which is really in the hands of God), but he is quoted in other terms with a whole crowd of compatriots right here. Fortunately for us in the Twin Cities, we have a genuine hero for the cause – Paul Douglas. He writes a fantastic, frequently updated blog in which he shares ample doses of climate science. He also speaks on climate change regularly, including this concise 2012 climate summary video. And oh yes – he is a Republican.

Then there is climate change’s dark, destructive twin – ocean acidification. Scientist and writer Ken Caldeira is on that beat. Here is a short video in which he talks about both science and the challenge of explaining it to those decision makers.

For the really big picture, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has carried on and built upon the work of the late Carl Sagan, and continued to promote astronomy and science more generally to a broad audience. Here he is on the Daily Show.

For science with entertainment value, it is hard to beat Bill Nye the Science Guy. Dancing exploits aside (funny!), Nye is always ready to weigh in on science topics that should not be controversial, but in this era of all-powerful corporate storytelling, remain so.

Locally here in the Twin Cities, University of Minnesota meteorologist Kenneth Blumenfeld is an expert on severe weather. He does frequent public appearances spreading the word on climate change, and also sends a great blind-copy newsletter on severe weather outbreaks across the US. If you would like to subscribe, send me a message and I will connect you. Blumenfeld has offered to debate this storyteller, but the offer has not been accepted. The state senator seems to be much wiser than the video would suggest.

Participation by scientists in the public debate may be on a slow growth trend. NPR tells us about a group that is training them to be more effective communicators. BioToasters. Take it from a Toastmasters alumnus – ya gotta love that. So efforts among scientists themselves are part of the success plan for science. But we the voting citizens also play a major role. We can vote for corporate poseurs or people with a genuine, fact-based interest in the public good. And we have responsibility beyond mere voting – understanding and acting on science as informed citizens. Here is an article from Nature magazine that can help in that quest.

It would be tempting to end this story with more bad news about the misuse of science in decision making here in this corporate paradise, but here is some positive news, from a very surprising place. This is one time where you can say “Don’t mess with Texas.”

 

Commuting Tough on the Wrong People

NPR has been doing periodic stories on commuting, and all are worth a listen. This latest entry documents the travails of a Chicago transit commuter trying to do the right thing and paying a big price in convenience and comfort. And if you try to do the right thing in another way – like anteing up for a gas-sipping hybrid – what happens? In some cases, we figure out a way for you to pay the price of not using enough gasoline. Say what?  We clearly need more big-picture-based, rational transportation policy that rewards the right sort of commuting behavior. That’s not what’s in the cards if this unfortunate idiocy comes to pass. Still, groups are working for reason on this issue – here is one. And anyone who needs convincing on the efficacy of public transit need only watch this very short stop-action video. Enough seen.

 

New Ideas in Rome

Holy Peter and Paul! Saints preserve us! What have we here? A populist pope, who takes all that kindhearted beatitude stuff seriously?  Looks like it. And certain people on the pious right are not at all amused. (The first four weekly conservative rants are broadsides at Francis; the rest are just a bonzo bonus.) Can you say “apoplectic”? You betcha.

 

Battle Lost; War Must Continue

The great divide in this country – people at the top, especially CEOs, getting richer while all others flat-line – has been well documented. It’s arguably the main quest of a populist hero, Robert Reich. Here is a recent Reich clip from the Colbert Report. And our penchant for running everything for the benefit of the rich oligarchs and executives is not unique to the US – in fact, you might say it is one of our most “successful” exports.

This week, there is some unfortunate news from Switzerland. Citizens of that bastion of financial stability had a referendum on the ballot and – voted it down.  I think the vote is more about that particular initiative than the quest. But time will tell if warnings from the likes of Reich and Naomi Klein for instance prove true. I know where I am putting my money.

 

Climate Change Ethics and Policy

Here are two items looking at who pays the price on climate change, and who is doing sinfully little to battle this existential threat to civilization. Many Strong Voices in concentrating resources and support in places that are currently feeling the brunt of manmade climate change – the Arctic and island nations. This HuffPost piece details corporate contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. And now for the news – shocking – I know – of where the US and Canada stand in a comparison of planetary policy among nations. Long way to go, friends.

 

Make Like a Hippie

There is much wisdom to live by in this short piece recalling what was very much forward thinking in the 60s. Please forgive the miscount – idealism may not correlate with math skills.

 

Corporations and Agriculture – the Big Picture

The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett has done it again. This time, she got a little more column space and wrote a tour-de-force on the agricultural revolution, the finances of farming and local solutions to conservation challenges. It might make you rethink which NGOs you support as well. Strongly recommended.

 

A Sociopolitical Barometer

I recommend this quiz. It runs six computer pages, but the questions are very thoughtful, as are the results. Where do you stand? My numbers are -7.38, -6.41. A wake-up call indeed. Who knew I was to the lower left of Jill Stein? Maybe I should rethink my long-time stance as an updated FDR Democrat.

 

Reverend Billy and the war on Thanksgiving

Yes, I know we hear so much about an alleged war on another way flashier holiday. But I think the good reverend has it right in picking out holidays to defend. And whoa, does this one need defending. Fortunately, Reverend Billy is more than up to the task – and is receiving recognition for his earth-dedicated efforts. Unfortunately though, he may soon be silenced – in prison for speaking out against corporate power destroying the planet’s natural systems. Please join me in signing this petition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

“We are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.” – Paul Hawken

 

Contributed links or content to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 9/29/13

29 09 2013

Too Late or Not Too Late?

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

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

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

To learn more, try one or more of these:

A summary from the NPR blog

A report at the Economist’s blog site

A summary reported by Reuters

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

A set of graphics posted at Climate Central

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

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

A “Ted Talk” that Speaks Volumes

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

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

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

Nerds Can’t Dance

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

Food Rescued

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

Fix the Problem – Ten Ways

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

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

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN