Springing into Winter

6 01 2017

I write this post as a public service for anyone trying to survive our radically changed Northland winter, and as a (no doubt unheeded) wake-up call to anyone still inclined to believe the anti-science spewing from the Hired Liars who make up the lion’s share of Congress’s right wing.

On December 26 – nearly two weeks ago – I took my canine buddy, Dooley, on a customary trip to an off-leash dog park. We drove about four miles to Battle Creek, the largest park in our area – large enough that a stroll in normal conditions around its perimeter takes us about a half hour.  I knew the trails would be slippery, owing to the re-freeze of melted snow that followed our dreadful daylong Christmas rainstorm. So I sported my most reliably grabby galoshes.

As soon as we entered the park, I realized things were much worse than even I had expected.  I struggled to keep from slipping and falling on the refrozen slush and glare ice – the trails lacked even crusty snow remains for traction.  And this is no joke – the park’s back reaches are quite remote. A hiker with a broken knee, ankle or worse would be in deep trouble. Dooley, of course, cruised on his four legs. But the only way I avoided a slip and a cracked elbow or skull was to cling to the perimeter fence. And of course I loudly swore for the entire hour at our utterly wrecked winter, and our stubbornly pignorant (pretend-ignorant) corporate lords and politicians who have kept us on this ever-worsening path of destabilized weather and degraded environment. I don’t know if the swearing helped keep me safe, but it felt mighty good.

As I slipped/slid/swore to our start/finish point, a fellow cruised by me.   I stopped my tooth-gnashing to call to him, asking for his traction secret.  He said it was something called “yak tracks.” I asked, “What are those, $300 boots?“ No, he showed me, they are coils, or horizontal springs, that strap onto your boots and dig into the icy surface.  $20 at the hardware store, he explained.

Next day, I headed to my local Ace Hardware, and picked up the pair you see here attached to those galoshes.
yaktrax
Problem pretty much solved – they take away about 80-90 percent of the slippage, even on glare ice. Oh, and they are actually spelled YakTrax. And they are more effective than swearing.

Now why would I share this tale of woe and resolution?  Easy.  First, I am betting that many of my fellow Northland denizens are unfamiliar with these nifty little devices. Second, I have lived in Minnesota for 30 years, and spent a lot of winter time outdoors hiking, skiing and walking with my various dogs.  Somehow, I never needed YakTrax.  Now, I say they are the best $20 investment I have made in some time, and I would not do without them. Just a week after the Christmas storm, followed by re-freeze, we got a New Year’s rainstorm, which refroze with even nastier ice conditions.  And a minor snow event looms in our forecast for early next week, with the possibility of a mix with – you guessed it – more freezing rain.

Why would I be so worked up about this?  A few reasons. First, winter rain events here in the Twin Cities are perilous because winter, even its pathetic, globally-weakened present version, is still capable of temps that are plenty cold. And when the mercury plunges – it’s going to -10F tonight – in the immediate wake of rain, you know what happens. Glare ice, traffic accidents and broken bones. Second, winter rain events used to be rarer than a true statement by Donald Trump. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. My admiration for him is yuge. Yuge.) Rare?  Don’t believe me.  Look here at the long-term climate records for the Twin Cities and see for yourself.  Random checks of winters long past (say, before 1990) show that rain in the winter hardly ever happened.  And now, winter rains occur every single winter, with most winters featuring multiple such events. I heard a quote on the radio from Mark Seeley, a highly respected  University of Minnesota climatologist, to the effect that wintertime rain events have increased FOURFOLD since 2000.  That’s right, a 400% increase! Anytime now, that would qualify as a trend methinks. Third, we humans just normalize every bloody thing.  Even otherwise observant, intelligent people, say things like, “Oh, this kind of thing is common.” But it’s NOT. Or at least it WAS not until the cumulative effects of our 100 million tons of daily CO2 emissions really started adding up. I grab these people by the lapels and say, “Pay attention, will you?!!!” (Just kidding about the lapels. So far.) And then there are the people who see the ice – itself a climate change symptom, at least in these parts – as evidence DISPROVING human-caused climate disruption.

Sometimes all you can do is slap your forehead and go take a strong drink. The drink eases the forehead pain, I have found.

So what is the point of all this?  For the long term, we really have two major tasks.  The first is adaptation to the changes we have already wrought to the climate system.  My YakTrax are just a minute individual example, but adaptation includes sea walls, storm water management systems, more efficient crop irrigation, etc.  And the second – the task that is in grave danger with Trump’s team of pignorant “dealmakers” and science-deniers about to take over – is to stop causing further damage to the climate by drastically reducing greenhouse emissions.  We have needed a carbon fee and dividend system for many years, but for the next four you can pretty well stick that idea in your exhaust pipe.

I started this post by calling it a public service. It truly is that – I am receiving no compensation, kickbacks or favors from the makers of YakTrax.  That’s more than you can say for the Hired Liars in Congress and the incoming Trump team of climate wreckers and their ties to Big Oil and Big Coal.

There will be lots more of this sort of pignorance, corruption and dirty dealing to write about, sad to say, in future posts. But for now, I have to head off for a strong drink.

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Hail Hail the Fossil King

25 12 2016

And so it is Christmas.  A time of celebration and rejoicing.

A big, nasty blob of rain with embedded thunderstorms (!) now approaches my Twin Cities home. I can imagine no better time than right now to celebrate the legacy and future contributions to the destruction of winter as we knew it by a powerful “player”, “dealmaker” and “tough guy”who has done more than most to bring us to where we are right now.

I speak, of course, of our soon-to-be Secretary of State, ExxonMobil’s mogul supreme, Rex Tillerson.

Those descriptions in quotes, naturally, are the accolades that our volatile, petulant and self-dealing president-elect, Donald Trump, routinely heaps on his Cabinet nominees. Those are the essential job qualifications for Cabinet appointees. Those, plus the willingness to bow, scrape and kowtow to the Donald.  And explain away his wildly intemperate tweets. And then there is probably the most critical qualification – hostility to the mission of the department you are called to lead. Whether Tillerson meets that crucial requirement remains to be seen.  And if you think about it, he is probably the rare exception. State in Tillerson’s hands will rather be something valuable – a platform from which to be an even bigger “player” and “dealmaker.” For the United States? Maybe. For ExxonMobil? Hell yes. But I digress.

My beloved Minnesota is but one location on the globe. And what really matters is the overall change to the climate we have been unwittingly “engineering” with our over 100 million tons of CO2 emissions per day. But winter has utterly changed in these parts. Wintertime rain events in the state were formerly rare.  Now, they occur regularly.  Even when I first moved here in the mid-80s, winter was a reliable season. The snows would arrive somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and, give or take a few thaws, not recede until mid-March.

Now, I characterize our winter differently. It’s five months of March-like freeze and thaw, interrupted by occasional outbreaks of what used to be winter.  (And perhaps a summerlike thunderstorm on Xmas!)

I will save you further details in this post, but will say this – it ain’t just Minnesota, folks. As of this winter, temperatures at the North Pole have been spiking to a freakish 40 to 50 degrees above long-term averages – flirting with the melting temperature of 32 degrees. In winter.  If that’s not man-made climate disruption, nothing is.

But back to Tillerson’s contributions. He has spent his entire career (since 1975) with oil giant ExxonMobil. Starting as an engineer, he steadily climbed the ranks until his appointment as Chairman and CEO in 2006.  This is important information. It was not long after his arrival at the firm that the top execs of that era funded world-class scientific research on the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.  Those scientists told them the inconvenient truth – that man-made greenhouse gases were indeed warming the planet and destabilizing the climate, and the problem would get much worse if business as usual proceeded.  And what did those execs do?  We know now that they not only suppressed the truth, but used those very findings to craft and fund a masterful, devious anti-science propaganda campaign.  And despite a few funding shifts and public denials, that program continues to this day.

rex-tillerson

Does Tillerson get the blame for the creation of this shameful- planet endangering, 40-year campaign?  Of course not. But note that it has continued, with a few adjustments, on his watch. That’s 10 years if you were counting. And here is what is really interesting. Unlike the corporate lackeys in Congress whom I call Hired Liars – most prominently Senator James Inhofe and Representative Lamar Smith – Tillerson is wily enough to admit that man-made climate change is indeed a problem, and poses risks – though he does cavalierly dismiss them. Even more interesting is that he makes this admission while his massive oil company continues to sponsor lies and disinformation. So you have to ask, “What gives?”

ExxonMobil had a tremendous opportunity around 1980. They held the well-researched truth in hand. They might have announced the truth, and embarked on a strategic initiative to lead the world toward rapid transformation of the energy infrastructure, dramatically increasing the use of renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, wave, etc. They chose a radically different path instead.  And I think we know what Rex Tillerson will continue to do “instead,” despite his acknowledgment of the risks of man-made global warming.

How do we know this?  He is an oil man through and through.  While he admits the reality of man-made climate disruption, he dismissively labels it “an engineering problem, with an engineering solution.” That, my friends, is hubris on a monumental scale.  Clearly, mitigation – higher sea walls for coastal cities, moving key infrastructure to higher ground, building flood handling systems for increased torrential rain events – is part of the solution.  And other “engineering solutions,” of the geoengineering variety, are regularly discussed – but are dangerous soot-in-the-sky ideas at best. (Aside from as-yet undiscovered ways to suck CO2 from the atmosphere, I think they are crazy, and Michael Lemonick agrees.)

Tillerson and his club clearly intend to keep developing and burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate.  And if you analyze his remarks, you see that he even uses a “humanitarian” angle. That is, it would be unfair, even inhumane, to deny developing countries the “low-cost” comforts of a fossil-fuel economy. Such a humanitarian, he is. You can read all about the nuances in his stance in a new article by Elliott Negin.  He suggests that Tillerson’s apparent grudging respect for science might itself be a con, a distraction to divert our attention from the real goal – find ever more fossil fuels, and burn them up, producing massive profits, damn the long-term consequences (and life on the planet for that matter) to hell. And if it is just a public-relations sham, isn’t that all the more reason to include him in the administration of our incoming president, who may prove to be the most consequential con artist of all time?

I believe a titan like Rex Tillerson merits an honorary title – something befitting his impact on the planet, today and far into the future.  I propose this – Petrosaurus Rex. The lord of the fossil-fuel dinosaurs.  And may he, or his work at least, soon suffer the same fate as the giant flesh-eating dinosaur that inspired that name.

Extinction is the well-deserved end of those who refuse to evolve.

Rejection by the Senate would be a mighty good start.





IBI Watch 5/12/13

12 05 2013

Respect Mom //

Just in time for Mother’s Day, we have an alarming new marker on the Pignorance (pretend ignorance) Path. For the first time in quite awhile, atmospheric carbon dioxide has hit 400 parts per million. That “awhile” is quite a stretch – at least 800,000 years, and maybe as much as three million years. (Check the video at that link.) In other words, well before our planet-altering species evolved and began burning fossil-fuel joy juice to produce heat, civilization and, oh yes, greenhouse emissions.

Is this any way to treat “Mother Earth,” i.e., the planet and its systems that we depend on for everything, including our survival? I think we all know the answer to that question, though we clearly don’t want to know it, and we act as if the question does not matter very much. How much it matters becomes clearer with each chaotic lurch in climate systems. At some point, we will have to change our ways. If we fail to do so before catastrophic climate change occurs, Mother has some nasty surprises in store for us. Oceans raised by 100 feet, anyone? How about half a billion climate refugees?

The 350.org movement, founded by Bill McKibben, takes its name from the most commonly cited number for a “safe” atmospheric carbon dioxide level – 350 ppm. That’s well above the historic (pre-industrial) level that prevailed throughout human history until we got coal- and oil-happy – 280 ppm. Doing the math, we see that in just a couple hundred years – a blink in geological time – we have managed to raise CO2 by 70 percent. And we are poised to blow by 450 (maybe 20 years from now) and even 500 ppm (probably 35 years out at most). Considering all the increased weather instability we have set in motion with just a 0.8 degree C. rise in world temperatures, it is hard to imagine what we will see with two degrees or a lot more. Most experts say we already have two degrees of man-made warming locked into the system based on the effects of emissions we have already produced.

So, what are we doing to head off this building crisis? Not nearly enough. To understand the factors in play here, it helps to delve into the carbon cycle – the natural process plus the warp speed “adjustment” that humans have added. Caroline Alden does a good job at that, writing for the BURN journal. A careful reading of that concise piece helps us understand how we have the earth’s natural systems to thank for keeping a lid on the boiling pot we have ignited – in particular, ocean absorption of our CO2 has slowed climate change. But it’s also clear that that planetary “free pass” is about to expire, and it is also clear that James Hansen can say with authority “game over for the climate” if we unleash the massive amounts of carbon that will come with full exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.

The wisest – and most necessary – course of action is for the world to drastically reduce its use of fossil fuels. The only way to do that is to “internalize the externalities,” that is, to make carbon pay its way. “Cap and trade” has not worked so well; Hansen and others have a better idea. That would be “fee and dividend,” a gradually increasing fee on the carbon content of fuels that would be collected at the time of production, and returned directly to the public. This would reward those who use less carbon and therefore emit less heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

Here in the United States, one of our major political parties is a wholly owned subsidiary of the big corporations, and the other is a highly paid, all-too-supportive partner. With the power of Big Oil and Big Coal undiminished, how can we get a carbon fee enacted? Corporate pressure can help. Big Insurance gets it. Here is a more recent update from MPR’s ClimateCast on that angle. Still, it won’t be easy. Just read how this latest episode of GOP obstruction is hamstringing the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s hard to regulate on behalf of the public with no one at the top.

Pressure from activists and ordinary, informed citizens will be essential. Here’s a piece that encourages populist uprising. Bill McKibben sees a growing synergy between Baby Boomers and the Millennials. And imagine this – modern Republicans getting past ideology to understand and accept climate science.

We are all involved in discussions on this all-important issue from time to time. Here are two resources that can be very helpful. First, a climate change flow chart with attitude from the ThinkProgress site. And finally, courtesy of Joe Romm of Climate Progress, a listing of one-sentence and one-paragraph rejoinders to deliver in response to the 99 most popular denialist assertions on climate change.

Ultimately, it is a battle for public opinion on this issue. The mainstream media barely cover the issue. They need to hear from us. It’s the least we can do for Mom.

 

Weather: Something New Under the Sun

I love a Minnesota day where the weather changes by the minute. Winds wailing, then nearly calm. Bright sunshine, followed by a dark sky and brief dousing, then a return to brilliance. But this morning I experienced something I have never seen. Picture this: 50 degrees, bright sunshine, clear sky overhead, passing dark clouds all around, north wind blowing a gale. I am leaving my neighborhood park with my dogs. And it starts “snowing.” But the stuff is not at all like snow, more like sleet, except it floats, with a texture like fresh popcorn. By the way, it is May 11.  My meteorologist friend pointed me to this odd phenomenon’s name – graupel. It is going to be a mighty interesting ride, this climate change business.

 

Environmental Action Large and Small

With all the bad news on our disregard for earth systems, we often forget that there are many people in this world who “get it” on the important issues, and take meaningful action. Here is a story on a continent-wide tree planting initiative in Africa. Read more here. Read about the comeback of the US wind power industry. (Idea – check if your local utility has a program whereby you can buy some or all of your electricity from alternative production. We pay a small, worthwhile premium at my Minnesota home for all wind power.) And finally, this article with imbedded video is probably more about symbolism than major environmental impact. Still, it says a lot about making the most of resources.

 

Corporatism – Harmful, Heritable, Habitual

It’s been nearly three years since the Dodd-Frank Act passed in response to the financial disaster of 2008. And still, actual reform crawls at best. Wonder why? This Fresh Air installment features an interview with Gary Rivlin. The Nation’s investigative journalist names many names in the obstructionist squad, but the one that stuck most in my memory happens to be the son of the ultimate corporatist right-wing Supreme Court Justice. You can also read Rivlin’s Nation article here – How Wall Street Defanged Dodd-Frank.  This makes us wonder what is the next bursting bubble on the agenda. Looks like most are betting on student load debt.

 

Energy: Conservation, Efficiency and the Zero Point

This is a guest post by Desmond Berghoffer. He blogs at Grandparents for the Future and also posts frequently at Boomer Warrior.

 

Facts? Why Bother?

I am old enough to remember Art Linkletter and his “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” feature. Think of this as an update, except that many of these fact-free sages wield power in this distracted, deluded nation called modern America.

 

Taking the Wind out of Rush

The Great Bloviator twice made the wisdom roll call in the above article. But the king of ugly radio seems to have stepped too far out on his plank of hate with his recent personal attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. Remember the “slut” firestorm? It seems that Rush Limbaugh angered enough people to launch a boycott of his advertisers. The free market has slapped him silly, as noted in these two articles – here and here. An added bonus – Sean Hannity is apparently sharing the pain.

 

Enduring Commitment

These military veterans are continuing to serve the nation. Read about a project led by a Facebook friend that is dedicated to building sustainable solutions in the wake of disasters. The Veterans Green Bus deserves recognition and support.

 

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” – Wangari Maathai

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN