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 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 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 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





IBI Watch 1/13/13

13 01 2013

The Land of Make Believe  //

It’s a country where you’d better profess a strong religious belief if you hope to gain high office. It’s a country where nearly half of the public believes in a magical explanation of Earth’s and humanity’s origin. And it is the country where “doubt” around the critical issue of climate change, as reported by the overwhelming majority of scientists, just won’t go away.

It’s modern America, where that special brand of magical thinking, i.e., belief in the literal truth of religious stories, inexplicably endures. Not that several prominent authors haven’t tried to explain. Both Chris Mooney and Susan Jacoby have decried the harm that arises from our willful denial of inconvenient science. And Jacoby has a new book that looks promising. In The Great Agnostic, Jacoby tells the story of Robert Ingersoll – a Gilded Age freethinker who struggled to help America become more secular. Based on my reading of her excellent Age of American Unreason, I am putting the new book on my reading list.  Here is an interview with the author that ran on NPR.

Why is the work of authors like Jacoby important? Our national politics suffers from hypocrisy and exclusion – however brilliant a potential leader might be, if he or she has theological views too far from the conventional Christian mainstream, there is virtually no chance for election to major national office. And how a country whose economic dominance has been so defined by technological advance can allow itself to slip into such willful ignorance of scientific reality seems a mystery – until you realize that a public who believes unscientific baloney is much easier to marginalize and immobilize.

My son is an officer in an organization promoting secular society – the Secular Student Alliance.

Normalizing Climate Change in the Upper Midwest

When I moved to the Twin Cities, the annual “bottom-out” temperature range, as it happens, for this week in January, was high 20, low 2. But if you look in today’s Star Tribune, you will see a different story – 23 and 7. So what gives? Our friends at the paper are comparing today’s temps to a shorter range – when the temps had already warmed, thanks to sunspots or an Inhofian hoax or something like that. Of course, even with these ginned up numbers, what has happened over the last few days (yet another disgusting January rainstorm, culminating in a mess of snow remnants refrozen into crusty, treacherous ice) here in the Twin Cities would have been weird 25 years ago. Today, well, it’s just normalized weirdness of our local variety. Paul Douglas gives the context.

Why it is Called GLOBAL Climate Change

Though I have been following climate change since the late 1980s, I cannot recall a time when there has been such a confluence of aberrant weather occurring simultaneously around the world. Quite a roundup. Rampant bush fires and a heat wave so intense and persistent in Australia that they have had to concoct new colors for the weather map. Tornadoes in Italy, icy cold in the Middle East, drought across America. Extreme weather in the US, as reported in the Guardian.

Do you think all this mayhem could have something to do with the melting Arctic?  I am currently reading Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees. Although the book is five years old, I am learning a lot from it. The structure is intriguing: each chapter explains what researchers say we can expect for each Centigrade degree that we warm our home planet. What I am finding most interesting is this – predictions based on the existing science of 2008. In the chapter I am reading right now, Three Degrees, Lynas writes:

“One likely outcome of is that a reduction in Arctic sea ice will exacerbate the drying of western North America. Instead of ocean heat remaining trapped under surface ice during the winter, once most of the ice cap has disappeared, large areas of open ocean will remain exposed toe the winds, altering the usual pattern of winter weather over North America. In one modeling study, the rain-bearing systems get shunted farther north toward Canada and southern Alaska, and away from the drought-scarred plains of the United States.”

Eerie how that prediction is playing out. The most interesting thing of course is how much faster all these consequences are playing out, compared to the forecasts. And remember that all the extreme weather we are seeing are taking place on a planet that has warmed “only” just under one degree. The Onion has a nice satirical take. And here is a down-to-earth forecast of what is in store in the near future – this year.

Seems to me that, when a house is on fire, you don’t argue about what is causing the fire, and how bad it has to get before you take action. You get the damned fire extinguisher, start spraying and call for help. Isn’t it about time for a carbon tax? Thomas Friedman thinks so. (You have to read to the end.) So does a true hero of the people, Senator Bernie Sanders. And for depth on the political climate and inspiration for action, this NPR story featuring scientists Michael Mann and Katharine Hayhoe is very useful.

Pork Bung: It’s What’s for Dinner

Here is a guarantee. If you listen to this excellent This American Life story (audio available 7:00 PM EST 1/13/13), you will think twice before ordering that “seafood” appetizer at your local chain bistro. This story gives new meaning to that old pork industry adage – “we use the entire pig, everything but the squeal.” My take – just one more reason for avoiding factory-farm meat.

In the Name of Common Sense

The horrific Newtown school massacre focused public attention on gun violence. A new momentum has grown, and we can only hope that it builds toward common-sense measures to stem the tide of violence. And of course it continues, daily, in our country. This Slate site keeps track of the body count.  Vice President Joe Biden has been talking to groups with various perspectives this past week, and he now has an agenda. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly are speaking out, and have formed an action group. Jon Stewart’s take on the issue is funny, but packs a punch. Look for a cameo by Mike Huckabee, one of my favorite pignorant pundits.

Wolf Hunt Controversy Continues

Minnesota’s wolf hunt is over – for this year. But this hunt –which can only be described as a hunt for sport or fun – will continue to be a hot topic and something that groups will continue to fight. This group is worthy of support.

Jobs Drive the Economy

This interview with Paul Krugman is worth your time. Appearing on Moyers and Company, the Nobel economist argues for rebuilding infrastructure, and compares our current economic situation with the 1930s.

Corporatocracy

Big business and oligarchs rule. George Carlin had it right. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

25 Cheers

Truthout’s Peter Dreier says progressives have many reasons to celebrate. Count ‘em.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Contributed links to this posting – Christy Bailly, Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN