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.





IBI Watch 12/29/13

29 12 2013

We Need this Index //

We have many measurements and indexes that purport to tell us about various aspects of the economy – the consumer price index, the gross domestic product, the consumer confidence index, and so many others. We even have this seasonal nonsense, based on the familiar old Christmas song.

Seeing several stories bunched this week, I realized we are missing an index – one that could really educate us on the folly of how we run the economic ship. First there was this one, which really should be a startup of a support group, Sardines Anonymous. Then there is a great consumer credit data security scandal, courtesy of the retailer Target. And then we have this one – that steak looks amazingly appetizing, considering its building blocks. Yum.

The thread connecting these three stories may be clear, but here are a few more items. First, Marketplace did an investigative story on the making of a humble t shirt. Interesting, and gets into that inconvenient issue of dangerous work conditions for factory workers – but not like this. (Did you catch the passing reference to the empire built on the myth of “low, low prices?”) And looking to an even bigger picture, there is this grand initiative to put useless land to work supplying the engines of industry. And a related bonanza – the United States’ triumphant return to the elite club of oil exporters, thanks to the “miracle” of fracking.

The link should be clear by now – all these stories represent ways we pursue low costs without regard to consequences. So the index the world badly needs in my opinion is this – the TCCI. That is, the True Cost of Cheap Index. The purpose of this index would be educational – to help us understand that if something sounds too cheap for our own good, we probably need to dig into the reasons for that cheapness, and act accordingly.

My quixotic index idea won’t materialize anytime soon. Or ever. But there are ways to get at this information. A favorite of mine is the GoodGuide site – where you can find out the true impact of consumer products. Rate them on personal health, environmental safety, and societal concerns – and customize those to your values. Information about consumer products and large, planet-altering energy initiatives – fracking, tar sands oil, mountaintop-removal coal mining – is available in plain sight. And there are some nascent efforts to filter lies, character assassination and delusional raving out of public forums. But we are often too entertained, busy or economically challenged to seek it out truth, or glean it through the smoke of corporate propaganda.

That’s where wise regulation comes in. Regulation prevents hell such as this disaster that would ensue should certain ideologues commandeer all the reins of power. Corporate control over the media and the message promotes our obsession with low prices and pignorance (pretend-ignorance) of the true costs, often called externalities. Many of us know we need to do better – including NPR’s Linda Wertheimer. I enjoyed her essay about the current disastrously paralyzed Congress, but her solution – replace out incumbent bums with a new cast – falls far short of what is needed. The only way to get us on a planet-wise track, in my opinion, is to solve the root problem – the corporate pollution that poisons our policy, and twists it in the name of pursuing the quick buck. We will move solidly in that direction when corporations are no longer people, my friends.

Punching Back with Wisdom and Respect

Star Tribune commentator Bonnie Blodgett received a rare and well-deserved opportunity recently. That is, to respond in print to a corporate spin doctor who had cherry-picked and tried to undermine a well-researched column Blodgett had written on the often invisible and carefully managed power of corporate agriculture. Few can exceed her as an expert connector of seemingly disparate situations and trends. Kudos to the Star Tribune for doing the right thing. And kudos to Bonnie for hanging in there for the sake of the planet.

“Pope-ulist!”

The leader of my church of origin is really making waves. Pope Francis has angry greedmeisters like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News trembling on their gilded soapboxes. The new pope has the audacity to demand that we care about the poor, and pursue policies of fairness and generosity. How quaint. How “Marxist.”

I was very impressed with the ideas of Bill Moyers’ guest, Tom Cahill. The author of Heretics and Heroes (newly added to my reading list) says this whole debate can be boiled down to a single choice between two movements in the world – kindness and cruelty. Sadly, we too rarely make the better choice.

But we can’t finish this piece without a nod to Jon Stewart’s brilliant satire of both the right wing’s revulsion at the Pope’s insistence on fairness, and the mythical “World War C.” This will leave you laughing, guaranteed.

Beauty from a Distance

It was 45 years ago, and I was fascinated by the space program. I could not get enough TV coverage, first of the capsules orbiting the moon, and then just months later, sending modules down to its surface. My dad encouraged my enthusiasm by painstakingly explaining to me a lot of the technical challenges NASA overcame.

The mission we celebrate here is Apollo 8 – a mere orbiter compared to the later “small step for man” achievement. But it was Apollo 8’s team effort that gave us the iconic image that has become known as “Earthrise” – a touchstone for the environmental movement.

Author Andrew Chaikin has done us a great service with his 2007 book A Man on the Moon and his description of the “Earthrise” achievement. He is also the narrator of a fine NASA video on the mission.

Climate Change – Current and Coming Attractions

As 2013 closes, we are making sadly little progress on building consensus. Denialist obfuscation notwithstanding, the situation grows more urgent by the day. Amazing how a mere 90 million tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by little old us every single day of every single year can cause problems, I know, but bear with me for several perspectives.

First, here is a well-constructed, comprehensive look at right now. Note the emphasis on solutions, if we only were to wake up. Next, a Climate Progress piece on specific 2013 climate events, none of them too sanguine. And finally, a concise, idea-packed NPR interview with Andrew Steer of the World Resources Institute. Though Steve Inskeep picks an inopportune time to be a “tough, skeptical journalist,” (see if you don’t agree), Steer communicates a lot on what needs to happen to build consensus and how that might happen – concerted, committed, collective pressure from consumers and shareholders. A celebrated highlight – the growth of low carbon cities. Viva the shoe and the bicycle!

2013: the Jaded (but Justified) Rear Mirror

Goshen NY blogger Tom Degan has done it again. If you have never read his Rant, you are missing wise and wise-guy blogging at its best. I love his jaundiced and spot-on year in review. The Worst of the Rant, indeed.

Innovations for New Years and Beyond

To provoke some forward thinking, I submit for your consideration CNN’s collection of 10 innovative ideas. Ranging from the practical but daunting (#1) to the “why the hell not?!” (#3) to the downright scary (#6), these will get you thinking about the future. Which is something we really need to do a lot more of. Along with acting more wisely, of course.

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” – Wendell Berry

Happy New Year to all IBI Watch Readers!  Thanks for your continued support, sharing and working to build sustainability!

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 4/28/13

28 04 2013

Self-Interest at the Top //

Bipartisanship is so rare in Congress these days, that when an example shows up, it is worth celebrating. Maybe.

When the sequester hit home for the nation’s legislators and their well-heeled constituents in the form of air traffic delays, lawmakers bravely put bickering aside for now and took care of their own comfort and convenience. And there is yet another example of cooperation in support of a worthy cause, from not very long ago at all. Somehow, this noble act escaped much public notice.

I agree with Bill Moyers – we really do have the worst Congress money can buy. And has.

 

Me First; You are Irrelevant

Disregard for suffering has reached a new low in recent days. Listen to radio host Bob Davis as he rails about his “loss of liberty” being a greater tragedy than the loss suffered by the survivors of the Newtown school massacre. And then there was the National Review accusing former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of political stunts for her advocacy of sensible gun regulation.  Yup, nearly dying at the hands of a homicidal maniac, then courageously fighting to recover to walk and talk makes you a target all over again in this hyper-individualistic country of ours. And why? Because she dared to point out the obvious in print – that the NRA rules Congress.

The shock jock got his comeuppance when a Sandy Hook resident offered to pay his expenses so he could deliver his tough-guy rant in person in Connecticut. Davis has not taken the offer, though he did finally apologize . . . sort of.  All this makes me wonder how low gun absolutists will stoop. This Salon piece parses the twisted logic, which basically says – if you have experienced gun violence yourself, your understandably emotion-laced perspective is not valid (and, so, you can go to hell).

What I see here is the cult of individualism run amok. This cult extends far beyond the gun regulation debate. And it has consequences, especially since it extends to letting “great men,” you know, the makers not the takers, i.e. the John Galts, do their great work without “burdensome regulation.” That includes the makers and purveyors of the Bushmaster AR-15 (the shiniest object of modern American gun lust), but also those with influence over certain major news events of recent days. (If you take the trip, you will find a great punch line at the end of that linked article.) And note that those who support this “red state model” have designs on all 50 states. That’s the brilliant example that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback thinks the rest of us government-dependent slugs will be dying to emulate.

Radical free-market libertarianism – in other words the deregulation of just about everything – affects all matters of the public good. One of the most pressing is of course my favorite issue – climate change. Unfettered burning of fossil fuels is one of the best ways to say we don’t give a damn about people near and far who suffer the consequences. And as with gun violence, manufacturing safety and public security, if we wait until we all have personal experience with the issue, we have waited too long.

Climate change in particular calls for an added layer of empathy – for future generations. That is the focus of my friend Julie Johnston’s thoughtful blog, Compassionate Climate Action, and also of newly retired NASA meteorologist James Hansen’s fine recent book. Here is a new interview that AlterNet’s Tara Lohan did with Hansen. I believe Hansen will have an even bigger impact now that he is retired and can focus on his climate activism. He gives a damn, and acts on his compassion for the planet and its people, now and into the future. So should we.

 

The Misunderestimated Decider

A few years back, a joke circulated about President W and his library. It went this way. A tragic fire broke out at the president’s library, and it destroyed both books. And he hadn’t finished coloring in one of them.

Good news – he now has a real brick-and-mortar library. Reality trumps tired jokes. The ex-decider says history will judge his presidency, and his popularity ratings have indeed climbed from the abyss to which they had sunk at the end of his two tainted terms. But everything I have seen or read suggests this new “library” is more like an alternate-reality museum of “truth,” designed to create a propaganda version of the W legacy. It’s all about “decisions,” see? Sort of reminds me of this place, with several fewer dinosaurs. But it does have some scary ghosts.

In the midst of all the memorabilia, and the “decision-making” games, there appear to be several large numbers missing – such as 1,000,000 and 3,000,000,000,000. The first number – a million – that’s one estimate of the number of Iraqi war deaths. That next number – three trillion – is a conservative estimate of the cost of the Decider’s war of choice.

Will anyone aside from his corporatist high-rolling backers look back fondly on the W years? Doubtful. On the other hand, I remember each time I post or share this blog. Its title is a crooked tip of the hat to the decider-in-chief. IBI = Ignorance-Based Initiatives, one word removed from an early W idea, “faith-based initiatives.” And one thing is certain – President W sure left us a lot to remember him by.

 

Climate Change – Local Consequences, Global Struggle

Though “global warming” is, in the long run, an accurate term – we are steadily warming the planet with our insatiable thirst for fossil-fuel energy – its immediate manifestations are more like climate chaos. That’s why I prefer the term “climate change.”

My own local environment in the middle of North America, is showing impressive climate change – not that too many people think it is worth doing something about.

For one example, winter still has not let go of us. Though temps may approach 80 degrees Sunday, the forecast for later in the week calls for three days of intermittent rain/snow mix. Despite all the “Minnesnowta” jokes, this is not a normal pattern, friends. And it is definitely not a return to some long-lost “real winter” past. It is yet another cut-off low, related to the malformed jet stream – an increasingly common phenomenon.

So climate change seems to be causing lingering cold in these parts. Yet as Paul Douglas reports, the long view is something else again. We had a record low overnight temperature last week – the first since 2004. During that same nine-year stretch, we have had 40 record highs. Hey, could this be a trend?! Douglas’ blog and Star Tribune column have become indispensable resources for those who track climate change here in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. And as for the United States in 2012, Harper’s reports 362 record high temperatures, and how many record lows? Why, not a single one.

Here is some news from the other side of the planet – China. Even those who don’t watch climate change carefully know that China’s greenhouse emissions have been growing dramatically as they regularly bring new coal plants on line. It turns out that local warming seemingly related to all that CO2 is showing up, though it won’t stay there long. This is something we all share, whether we like it or not, and whether Senator James Inhofe believes it or not. That same MPR audio ClimateCast also talks about long-term changes we are causing in the Great Lakes – less winter ice means more evaporation, and lower lake levels.

With all this chaos we have unleashed, the best thing we can do would be to dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions. That is what Bill McKibben and his organization is dedicated to doing. Check them out and get involved. There is much to learn in McKibben’s article in the current Rolling Stone.

 

Utilities Upended?

What if solar took over the power system? This has utilities more than a little concerned.

 

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN