IBI Watch 10/28/12

28 10 2012

Superstorms, Paradox and Petrol Propaganda  //

Human-made climate change – arguably the most urgent environmental problem the world faces – is not simple.  The underlying science is simple enough and has been known for centuries – add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, increase the atmosphere’s ability to hold heat rather than radiate it to space.  But the specific consequences are not at all simple.  Sure, there is a general warming trend – which has accelerated dramatically in just the past few years, especially in the Arctic.  But other events – like the monster storm currently threatening America’s eastern seaboard, can and will be used as straw man arguments to confuse enough of the public into supporting ‘status quo’ energy and climate policies.  This is what Rush Limbaugh, James Inhofe, Fred Singer and the whole crowd of pignorant pundits and politicos do best.  A terrific new Frontline tells this sad story of manufactured doubt.

But here is the paradox – and the opening for the fossil fuel tycoons and their stooges.  For the near and mid-term future, extreme cold weather events will be part of the mix.  You can expect spinmeisters to state that the relatively early autumn cold fronts that complicate the Hurricane Sandy situation ‘disprove’ global warming.  They have done this many times during major snowstorms in recent years.  It’s big fun for these guys to ridicule Al Gore and climate scientists – but they are complicit in delaying meaningful action, and in the process jeopardizing the planet’s future as a place humans and so much of the natural world can thrive.  Here is an article from the Guardian that talks about climate consequences.

Note this quote from the Guardian article, because it is directly relevant to Hurricane Sandy:

Other new research suggests that the loss of ice could be could be affecting the path and speed of the jet streams, possibly explaining why extreme weather in the northern hemisphere is lasting longer.

“There is evidence of stronger and more intense north Atlantic storms and extreme weather, says NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve. “We are thinking we are entering a new climate state. Until we get the next push and reach a new equilibrium.

Equilibrium?  That’s hard to imagine, as we continue to add a couple of parts per million of CO2 (and rising) to the atmosphere each year from our tailpipes, smokestacks and farms.  When you read the forecasts (and after-the-fact) reports on Sandy and so many other storms, think of this – storms that come and stay for days, contrary to historical patterns.  Here is one more look at Sandy and the changing climate, from Joe Romm and Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress

Oh and one more favorite denialist canard – how ice is increasing in the Antarctic even as the Arctic melts.  That’s another one of those ‘Things are fine, so shut up you chicken littles’ kind of arguments.  You can read the actual baloney elsewhere, but here are two antidotes from Climate Crocks and Climate Central.  Seth Borenstein’s Associated Press piece also explains the counterintuitive phenomenon of more ice in parts of Antarctica being totally consistent with a warming world.  You might also consult the Australians – who have a contrary experience with a rapidly melting airstrip in Antarctica.  Take that, Fox News!

With all this melting and mayhem unfolding before our eyes, you would think that our leaders would be urgently planning how to deal with the crisis.  You would be wrong.  Here are NPR stories on the public stances of President Obama and Governor Romney.  My hope is that President Obama, given a second term and a Congress not completely in the thrall of Big Oil and Big Coal, would revert to the leader who talked seriously about climate action at the beginning of his first term.  If President Romney (!) were more like Governor Romney, I would not be so concerned.  But all his current Tea-Party-pleasing pronouncements tell us that he would not just ignore the crisis, but actually undo the limited positive steps the Obama Administration has managed to achieve.  Such is the power of petrol pignorance.

People-Powered Energy Policy

With the hydrocarbon-fueled inertia in our government, you have to look elsewhere for anything like progress.  Here is a new citizens’ lobby (what a concept!) that I just discovered.  Here is a recent story on some veterans fighting for wind energy – against serious fossil fuel opposition, of course.  An organization I represent – the Climate Reality Project – has an upcoming event to raise awareness and support for sustainable climate policy.  And this opinion piece presents an optimistic view of people’s power to generate momentum for sustainable policies.  If only . . .

Energy Independence and Other Fables

Next in line after Governor Romney’s repeated (again and again) assertions about what he knows how to do (‘I KNOW how to get this economy moving, I KNOW how to create jobs, etc.) would have to be this mantra – I will create energy independence for American.  This has to be one of the biggest lies of this campaign, and President Obama has not done enough to debunk it.  NPR’s Morning Edition ran two great stories on this notion this week – Thursday and Friday.  As for energy security – a real-world propaganda-free objective – reviving this narrowly missed opportunity would be a good start.

To the North! (Just Like Before)

I can remember, in the dark days of 2004, when President Bush gained a second term in a second tainted contest, joking with fellow progressives about escaping to Canada.  Now, it seems that some on the other end of the political spectrum are thinking the same thoughts.  But this AlterNet piece notes some surprises awaiting righty expats.  Here is another lighthearted look at abandonment threats.  And of course the exit that I would pay to see happen has met the same fate.  Yup, anytime now.

Pity This Busy Monster Manunkind Not – in Three Acts

With a nod to e.e. cummings, I think each of these three wildlife stories has a common theme.  They are from separate corners of the earth – Tanzania, Japan and Minnesota.  Sure, these are on vastly different scales, but they share a common thread – organized killing of highly intelligent animals for dubious purposes, using cruel methods.  This story would not be complete without links to activist organizations – elephants, dolphins, wolves.

Endorsement from Where?

The practice of newspapers endorsing candidates has always been problematic.  I just received a call from one of my local papers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  They have been sending me a Sunday paper, gratis, for the past few weeks.  Ah, but I have a long memory.  Back in October 2004, that paper endorsed President W for a second term, prompting me to cancel my subscription, forever.  I happily told the happy telesales rep my choice. OK, I was just looking for an excuse to tell that story.  But this endorsement of President Obama for a second term is surprising mainly because the state it comes from.  Let’s just say it is square-cornered and about as red as a state gets.  Oh, and it is the unofficial capital of a certain newsworthy religion.

All in a Name

Heard this on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  Think before you change your name.

“The people of this country, not special interest big money, should be the source of all political power.”

― Paul Wellstone

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Elizabeth Bell, Allyson Harper, Edrichus Sykes

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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