IBI Watch 12/22/13

22 12 2013

The True Universal Language  //

A friend mentioned Esperanto the other day. Now that is something I had not thought of for a long time – the well-intentioned but largely futile effort to create an artificial but logical, easily learned tongue that aspired to be everyone’s second language.  Esperanto has not caught on widely, and that is a shame. But no matter. Another language is universally recognized, and it really gets results. . . or could anyway. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

First – what to make of the mass release of political prisoners in Russia this week? President Vladimir Putin (aka Vlad the En-Jailer) summarily liberated a virtual crowd of captives – ex-oligarch and rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the protesting punk group Pussy Riot, and the Greenpeace 30 protesters. So what’s going on? Is Putin finally morphing into the “good man” into whose soul our insightful ex-president George W peered? The easy answer is that Russia wants a cleaner image for the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. But it is really the universal language at work. Positive image, more happy, well-heeled visitors, more money filling the Olympic coffers. Isn’t it nice when that universal language – cash – can deliver desired results? Think about it – all the various reasons Russia held this diverse crowd melted away when lucre loomed. Russia has another Olympic controversy to tame – its stern and hostile approach to gays – but that is another story for another time.

Second – North Dakota is experiencing an orgy of oil revenue. New, unconventional drilling techniques including horizontal exploration and of course fracking have unleashed a gusher of huge proportions. Investments are leading to piles of fast cash. In other words, money in but lots more money out. But the benefits bring challenges, some of them detailed in that MSN piece, some not. For instance, we have to ask if we have learned a damned thing from previous boom and bust cycles, especially when it comes to the environment. Just read this NY Times piece by Clifford Krauss, on efforts to manage the inevitable byproduct of all this oil exploitation – “waste” natural gas. Perusing those statistics about how much good could come from using that byproduct to heat homes and businesses provides the answer – not a damned thing. The rush for the quick money means grab the oil, fast, and do not be deliberate about capturing the gas byproduct. Let it burn aimlessly, producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions – just the cost of progress I guess.

Yes, I know it is a bit of a stretch to talk about money as a universal language. But I ask this – if money has the power to make Strongman Putin go all soft on his most prominent political prisoners, what power could it have, with sensible laws and regulations, to build the common good and save our sorry collective keister? What if it were not free to simply vent or flare “byproduct” gas?  What if every bit of carbon produced in oil and coal exploitation were assessed a fee, and the revenue used to create sustainability?  Would we be wantonly adding to the burden that we put on the already taxed atmosphere every day (90 million tons of carbon dioxide daily, but who is counting?) if producers were paying that fee for all the carbon? Of course not. We would be building the needed infrastructure in a hurry, in order to keep the oil and the oil cash flowing until renewables completely took over. Now that would be using money to produce results that benefit all.

There is a way to get those big benefits from the universal language of cash – make carbon pay its way. That’s just what Citizens Climate Lobby dedicates itself to. Read more about the carbon fee and dividend. And it is not just the carbon fee. How about saving waste heat? We need these ideas and so many more, before it is too late.

 

Too Late Already?

A growing chorus of scientists add up all the evidence and have a single grave conclusion – the human race is toast. This excellent AlterNet story by Dahr Jamail tells the story in articulate detail.  They may be right, but we really have not begun to fight. It is always a good time to cut through the pignorance (pretend ignorance) and get to purposeful work. And fortunately, many are trying – and there is progress to report.

Want proof that people can “get it” about clean transportation? Here – winter cycling is growing in, of all places, the coldest major metro area in the whole US – my adopted home region. And it regularly dips below zero here, folks. Want solar? We’ve got solar. In the hot desert? No, Iowa. Then there is the big picture – 2013 energy breakthroughs that are other than newfangled ways to get at more and more of the destructive old coal and oil. And what of powering the entire world with solar? How much land would that require? Less than you might think.

Remember Nelson Mandela’s words – “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

 

Incarceration Nation

I saw this Foreign Policy article, really a thought experiment, in my local newspaper this week. It imagines the outsized percentage of the US population, and the obscene portion of its minority population, as a distinct nation. The online version, of course, has the benefit of many links. This really got me thinking. And then Bill Moyers came along with his interview of lawyer/activist Michelle Alexander on the same topic. Here are facts and figures from the show, and here is the entire interview. Considering the cost, considering the unfairness, considering the wasted lives, you have to ask – Why?

 

Antibacterials Banned; Next up Phantom Plastic

One of the stupidest, but most enticing consumer ideas in modern America has to be the notion that we can make everything so damned squeaky clean that we never pick up any nasty bugs. That’s the idea behind antibacterial soap and its most ubiquitous ingredient, triclosan. That “miracle” substance, linked to health problems and more indirectly to mutant pathogens, will at long last face a sunset, barring lobbying by corporatists and other anti-science stooges. The only question is – what took so long?

So there is the good news. Now look at another issue. We can only hope we wise up faster on this one – minuscule plastic waste from personal care products that is fouling the Great Lakes. If it is all about the humans, then by all means we need do nothing. If we give a damn, then we need to read and act on the story’s punchline – “stop putting it out there.” Should be an easy choice. Learn more. Be sure to scroll down to the imbedded video. And then visit 5Gyres, an excellent site – new to me – dedicated to banning plastic pollution. You might even find a petition or three there, or something more useful – a chance to contribute.

 

Ambassador for Fairness

Billie Jean King is going to Russia with the American delegation to the Olympics. Her tennis glory is long past, but if you wonder about her message, see the note above in the comments about Putin’s Russia. I enjoyed this Scott Simon essay, and I think you will. Recently, I was so impressed with the tennis great’s intelligence, insights and magnanimity to her critics. Those were on display when she was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

 

Altering Earth’s Life Support System – Guest Post by Rolly Montpellier

This week’s guest post offers a concise summary of the state of climate change as reported by IPCC scientists, and discusses an important concept – the world carbon budget. Be sure to check out the excellent imbedded video from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. Toronto’s Rolly Montpellier blogs at the Boomer Warrior site. That site sometimes features my work as well.

 

Threatened Polar Bears – Two Views

It is no secret that the polar bear’s natural world is melting, and the cause is nothing like natural. Here is a story on one result – interspecies mating with grizzlies, to the detriment of both. And here is an iconic, award-winning picture from National Geographic.

 

Climate Change All Over this Land

A friend shared with me this very rich site with abundant maps, links and graphs. From those crazy doomsaying radicals at the US Geological Service.

 

The Year in Extreme Weather Pictures

2013 has been quite a year. Just wait until next.

 

2000-Plus Years of Christmas

If you stay away from the “war” hogwash, you can learn some really interesting things.

 

Holy Sheep

Somehow I can’t resist featuring these guys every holiday season. Don’t know if it is the lights, the tongue-in-cheek delivery or the fact that one of my two dogs is a clever, obsessed, deranged, rescued border collie.

 

A World Worth Imagining and Building

And in pictures. Thank you, John Lennon, and thank you, Pablo Stanley!

 

Happy Christmas, and likewise for all other holidays you may celebrate!

 

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” – Gaylord Nelson

 

Contributed links or content to this posting – Bobbie Chong, Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier, Tammie Stadt, David Vessel

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 12/15/13

15 12 2013

Careful with that Focus //

In photography, a macro lens in skilled hands produces eye-opening results. By zooming in on details, we can get a glimpse of a whole other world – think of pictures like these. But in the climate debate, the metaphorical macro lens produces results of an entirely different type. If you have a story to tell, particularly an anti-science, fossil-fueled fairy tale of “everything is fine, so shut up,” you can whip out that macro lens and find all sorts of material for your narrative.

The latest is the dramatic news that a new all-time low temperature may have been recorded in Antarctica. Sure, the reading is a bit tainted – satellite-collected, three years old and all that – but it is big news of a sort. And if you are telling the “climate change is a hoax” story, it is something to capitalize on. Here’s a post from my favorite denialist blog – though the site does not overtly beat the drum on this new evidence, it is easy to surmise why the story appears at all. A new all-time low casts doubt on the manmade climate change story, from that macro view. And then there is wintry weather cropping up in unexpected places, and politically beneficial (to the likes of James Inhofe and Company) places. And right here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it has been cold, no doubt about it. We have already had a series of overnight sub-zero low temps, and on several days the high barely crept above zero.  So many are assuming the return of the bracing winters of yore, and possibly imagining that well, maybe all that climate change stuff really isn’t all that big a story. Maybe it is not true at all.

The Antarctic low is the most macro of all information. Go to a slightly wider lens, and you see what is really happening – Phil Plait’s nicely illustrated blog post on Slate tells the wide-angle story. Despite isolated record-low temps and scattered colder-than-average spots, the continuing story at both poles is one word – melt. And far-flung or persistent wintry weather tempts us back toward the business-as-usual, all-is-fine approach, especially if we have bought the myth of climate change as a linear, lock-step, steady warming process. But that is foolish – all that cold and snowy weather far from the poles is itself a consequence of all our greenhouse gas belching – see here. And here in the Twin Cities, of course winter is cold. In fact, it is so cold that most Minnesotans, native or adopted, spend the better part of December – March complaining about it or headed for the airport. But the wide-angle focus is this – the last time the low temperature hit -20F was January 16, 2009. Historically – -20F to -30F is the annual bottom-out temperature in these parts, or was anyway. And lest you think this is simply the masochistic raving of a crazy winter sports fan (well OK so it is, but there is more), this is the real evidence of a long-term shift in the climate, and it has major long-term consequences. We can always count on Paul Douglas for the long view and the science backing it up. Please view his blog, and check the blog entry “Blissfully Numb.” No better irony than this. Sure it is cold in a few places on the globe, including the tip of my nose, but get a look at how much red (above normal) there is all around. And a global comparison from November of this year sure puts that satellite-collected Antarctic record in context.

And of course the biggest picture of all is this, and for the foreseeable future, the only way on that number is up. The only question is how far and how fast.

The first lesson here of course – beware wide-angle judgments emerging from macro lenses. The other lesson is let’s do something about it. Here is a recent recommendation, and an organization dedicated to the cause. And one more for good measures, like a carbon fee and dividend.

 

Newtown Echoes

It has been a hard week for listening to the radio and reading the papers. On the radio, we hear the voices of grieving parents of the children gunned down in the ghastly and senseless Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. And in the papers, we see again the faces of all those young lives snuffed out. What have we learned and done? Sadly, not nearly enough.

For one thing, the bloody toll continues. Watch this short Mother Jones video and dig into the investigative report. It is easy to see that it is only a matter of time before the next massacre. The NRA’s power to stymie efforts at reasonable regulation is undiminished. At the state level, the view is not quite so bleak.

There is a lot of depth on America’s violent culture in this interview by Bill Moyers with cultural historian Richard Slotkin. I had never seen the inside of the violent video games that Slotkin samples in the interview – even one specifically modeled on the Sandy Hook massacre. Warning – disgusting, shocking, hard to watch if you have any imagination or empathy.

A worthy group fights on for sensible gun regulation.

 

Looking Ahead – the Next Four Decades (Guest Post by Desmond Berghofer)

Guest blogger Desmond Berghofer provides a comprehensive look at socioeconomic and environmental trends looking out to 2052. He aptly notes that so much of this emanates from uncontrolled population growth. Interesting stuff. This post is from the BoomerWarrior site, the work of Toronto’s Rolly Montpellier. Rolly sometimes features my work. Berghofer also has his own blog, worth checking out.

 

At Last, Volcker Rules

What’s this? A step in the direction of sensible bank regulation? Believe.

A Sunny Forecast

Look out Germany, US solar is coming.

Play It Dumb or Smart

It’s reality or magical thinking. No other choice. Two cities diverge on the path to planning for climate change’s inevitable sea rises. Ideology is a powerful thing, for better or worse. OK, mainly for worse.

 

Feed Your Mind (Or Someone Else’s) – the IBI Watch Reading List

For years, I have threatened to post my recommended book list for titles connected to this blog. Drumroll, please. Well, all right, skip the percussion. But please take a look. Note especially my “top five” recommendations. Look for the bold type most strongly recommended items. I endorse the entire list of course, but I guarantee that anyone reading any of my top five for the first time will vastly expand their world view.

 

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Contributed links or content to this posting – Desmond Berghofer, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 12/8/13

8 12 2013

Inequality and Apathy //

Income Inequality in America continues to grow, but how many of us are really paying attention? George W Bush scaled new heights of cluelessness with his apparently earnest celebration of an audience member who had three jobs. But that problem has not disappeared. Far from it. Try this Weekend Edition Saturday story about a certain class of people who are hiring valets for their one-year-old(!) progeny while hordes of that three-job class struggle for the scraps of income that tinkle down from on high. And of course former Labor Secretary Robert Reich campaigns on this crucial issue – his latest work being a highly-regarded documentary that I just have to see. Here’s the trailer, and a brand-new and worthy review from Canada.com.

What really got me thinking again about income inequality and economic justice this week was an opinion piece that I read in the Star Tribune. On its surface, Virginia Postrel’s Bloomberg News article is not even about income inequality.  Rather, it’s really more of an extended homage to the fun most of us – even the three-job crowd – are experiencing as a result of the entertainment technology revolution. That revolution has indeed bestowed a remarkable basket of benefits. Postrel’s argument – that the happiness bonus earned from lives enriched by wider entertainment options is not included in measures of well-being has some merit. But let’s look a little deeper. If her premise is correct – that all the entertainment whiz bang overrides the economic troubles that low-wage workers suffer – then the US, the home of the go-go economy and still the richest country in the world should be the happiest, or one of the very few happiest in the world. Sorry, not so. And when you look at measures of human health, there is an even more shocking lag.

Of course I benefit mightily from the entertainment tech revolution. While I am not a big gamer, the pleasures of playing word games online with friends around the world, carrying radio podcasts around with me on a device smaller than a matchbox, schlepping a whole universe of data on a smart phone smaller than a deck of cards, all of this is not lost on me. But entertainment tech is today’s opium. How else to understand how we have let the kind of gulf that Reich decries happen? How can we not pay attention to a system that allows all of this?

A significant part of the answer is exactly what Postrel celebrates – most of us, even the three-job crowd, even the middle class who are getting mugged in the name of austerity, are well entertained, i.e. anaesthetized against seeing what is really happening. And what is really happening is corporate control of our government system. Since Citizens’ United, that power has grown. (If you need a ghastly laugh at corporate rule, count on Jon Stewart!) Until we figure out a way to stop it, we will stay on the same dangerous path – recreating the Gilded Age, even a modern feudal system, where a tiny elite holds more and more power and wealth while all others shrivel. But hey, at least we are entertained!

There must be a better way. I like this Bernie Sanders petition and the wealth of information included in the bargain. Please join me in signing.

The Dangers of Abruptness

No, this is not about rude, curt communication but something much more consequential. Because our unrelenting and accelerating production of greenhouse gases has pushed the world’s climate into completely uncharted (in human time) territory, scientists tell us we must expect the unexpected. Here is the latest on what they are teasing out, and what we should do to comprehend and cope. (Be sure to catch the exit line from the NPR story, about how a certain party wants to handle the costs of crucial research.)

And of course it is not just risk of future change. It is already here – in the form of sea level rise that is already loaded in the system, a variety of costs that we are already paying, and persistent heat waves that are already scorching food crops. Though heat waves and climate change in general seem an odd topic to some in the north right now as we shiver, we really have to consider the big picture. Got 14 seconds for an animation? And of course the picture might be even bigger and darker, as proponents of the theory of near-term extinction are quick to point out. While noting that those pessimists have much evidence for their views, I say we should keep it from becoming the most awful of self-fulfilling prophesies.

So what are we doing? Some are pushing clean energy, others conservation – both parts of the mix. But in the long run we get nowhere without slaying that corporate power dragon. Here’s a start. Here’s another.

Look Beyond that Frozen Nose

This NPR piece is a refreshing big-picture antidote to the inevitable pignorant chorus about how the current American Arctic cold wave casts doubt on climate science. These things really are at stake, and the trends are sad.

Raw Deals for Women

Here are two stories that don’t seem directly related, until you think just a bit. First, a brief video expose of the beauty game, and an articulate video plea by scientist Emily Graslie, with a simple request – respect for her knowledge and research. Made me want to check out her science blog. I love her enthusiasm. Look out, Bill Nye!

Two Nearby States, a World Apart

This story is for residents of Wisconsin and Minnesota, but it has messages for all Americans really. I am certainly glad for which side of the divide I live on, though I have not an ounce of Scandinavian blood running in these veins. And as MPR rightly points out, but for the grace of 8000 votes, there went us in 2010. Oy, was that close! This also got me thinking big picture, and right back to a story I heard recently about the foundations of American liberalism and conservatism. I found this Tom Paine/Edmund Burke comparison fascinating, and I bet you will as well. I think I will have to read Yuval Levin’s book, The Great Debate. And keep voting.

Remember to Save the Bees

Here in December’s frozen northland, it is a bit difficult to think about pollinators at the moment. But think and act we must, because time is growing short. As you no doubt know from reading this blog and other sources of science, a variety of factors, led by a class of “miracle” pesticides, have been decimating populations of bees and other pollinators worldwide. Here are some updates. First, the European Union – those namby-pamby risk-averse wimps, have dared to ban these miracles of modern science for a few years and see what happens. That’s not exactly news, but this new update sheds more light an article by Robert Krulwich (whose RadioLab show you really have to check out). And if that dot-connecting piece inspires you to do something, you could always struggle against the empire.

Celebrating the Voice of Freedom

The airways are rightly full of tributes right now to a giant of the 20th century. Here is an entire library of material for you to sample, courtesy of PRI’s The World. While Nelson Mandela is lionized as a champion of freedom and justice, to me the most amazing and enduring example he set was forgiveness. A lesson we all need to learn.

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
– Nelson Mandela

Contributed links or content to this posting –Allyson Harper, Mike Nevala, Lucinda Plaisance

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 10/27/13

27 10 2013

An Unplanned War on Drugs //

No one really wants to fight this war, and in fact we don’t like even to admit the war is proceeding. But fight we do, and any one of us could find ourselves in the cross hairs of the resurgent enemy. That may sound like unhinged, extreme fear mongering. But it is an accurate assessment of our increasingly shaky relationship with a whole class of drugs – antibiotics. Accurate because uncontrollable infections affect two million Americans per year, killing 23,000, and solutions elude us.

There is much to learn from a recent Frontline documentary – Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria. The suffering of the people highlighted in the video makes it hard to watch. But I highly recommend it, first because it explains a story we don’t hear nearly enough about, and because it points to societal trends that we must manage if we are to save masses of people from fates like those of the documentaries’ unfortunate subjects.

A dark twin of the old adage “use it or lose it” applies here. The video makes clear that when it comes to antibiotics, we “use them and lose them.” That’s because, thanks to evolution, which takes place at warp speed in the microbial world, bacteria are constantly morphing into new forms that challenge our defenses, i.e. the miracle cures of antibiotics. Therefore, the more encounters we arrange, wittingly or not, between the bugs and the drugs, the more we help the bugs get “smarter,” more potent, and maybe invincible. So that is the battle we have conducted since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. And in fact Fleming warned against complacency in using these drugs in his 1945 Nobel Prize speech.

Two recent developments justify Fleming’s concerns. You will learn about them in the video – gram-negative bacteria, which have special, impenetrable defenses against antibiotics, and a special instance of that resistance – klebsiella pneumoniae, called KPC in the Frontline segment.

So, knowing this is unfolding, you would think we would be mounting an effort akin to the moon race to protect the population. You would think wrong. First, research on this shadowy problem is number 70(!) on the priority list cited by a Federal source in the video. Second, if you think government-supported scientific research somehow thrives in this era of partisan showdowns, government loathing and government shutdowns, you are living in another realm. Third, an interesting market- driven phenomenon, also explained by Frontline, plays out here – private research by drug companies is hard for them to justify. Why? Remember – use it and lose it. That is, antibiotics, used properly, are developed, demonstrated to be effective, and then shelved for those instances where they are really needed. That is far removed from “take two pills per day for the next five decades.” That is, maintenance drugs pay long-term profits, but antibiotics just don’t pay back the private developers for their investment. A fine example of where the common good just does not fare well in an unregulated, profit-driven system.

But there is one more piece of this story that the excellent Frontline segment just does not touch. That is this – for all the problems we encourage with misuse of antibiotics in human health care, they pale in comparison to the risks we create with our livestock practices. Here is why – eighty percent of all antibiotics used in the US are used on farms. This would be bad enough if they were used to combat rampant illness. But the main purpose of all this mass feeding of miracle drugs to meat animals is twofold – first, to prevent illness in cheek-by-jowl feedlot confinement, and second, to fatten up Big Piggy or Bossy for market faster. That’s right, we are risking health Armageddon in the name of a cheaper Big Mac. You can learn more about that particular ignorance-based initiative in an excellent interview of David Hoffman (whose work is featured in the Frontline story) done by NPR’s Terry Gross. (And for an in-depth look at the bigger picture of factory farming’s impacts, check this commentary on a new John Hopkins University report.) The entire Fresh Air interview is excellent, but if you want to cut to the chase for a summary of all the issues – medical, feedlot and antibiotic cleansers –  go to 34:00 on that audio segment.

Hoffman promises a follow-up specifically on the feedlot problems, but does not go so much into solutions. Seems to me that common-good solutions are these:

  • Re-commitment to government-sponsored research into bacterial resistance
  • Regulation against overuse and misuse of antibiotics in agriculture and consumer products
  • Creative ideas for overcoming the perverse market forces that discourage drug companies from researching and developing new antibiotics

These will not be easy in our corporate-ruled, gerrymandered system, but I see no other way forward.

 

A Climate Change Balance Sheet

There was a time, not long ago, when climate change activists like me expected the rising cost of oil and coal to speed moves toward conservation and alternatives. This was the thesis of the Peak Oil movement – that it would become increasingly difficult to access and exploit remaining fossil fuels. That was BF (before fracking). (Though I disagree with his assessment of overall risks of exploiting extreme fuels, David Blackmon rightly skewers the notion of peak oil in this Forbes commentary.) Also, costs have risen, but all that has done is to make “extreme” fossil fuels economically viable. The result – for now – is business as usual, more or less, with continued overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And then there are the climate paybacks.

Since peak oil will not save our bacon, motivation for the essential move toward sustainable energy will have to be financial, a massive cost/benefit analysis. Right now, who is suffering the costs or our addiction to fossil fuel burning? Certainly, indigenous people in the Arctic and on islands threatened by sea rise. But increasingly, “climate justice” of sorts is moving in. The anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that storms strengthened by sea rise threaten American cities as well, with New York, Miami and New Orleans the prime targets for now. Also, the Amazon – sometimes called the planet’s lungs – being cut down for cheap wood and endangered by climate change, faces even more serious, costly risk than previously understood. And then there is the ocean, already on course for massive change caused by acidification and warming from our greenhouse emissions. Not to mention burgeoning wildfires, which travel around the world with the warm season.

So the question is – when does all this cost become enough to be widely recognized as more costly than moving to a sustainable energy/climate future?  This won’t be easy, because those reaping the benefits – oil and coal companies and their obedient congressional acolytes – still hold sway. Why else would misinformation continue to thrive on Fox News? And the true costs of dependence on fossil fuels are hidden, imbedded in the system. And for a measure of that control, see this AlterNet expose on the Koch Brothers. You can see more of the same on the horizon. Can you guess which country is trying to slow the process of moving to a new, stronger, greenhouse gas agreement? Of course you could.

If we have any hope of passing on a livable planet to future generations, this can’t continue. Here is a call for “solutions journalism.” And to me, hope lies in part with corporate interests recognizing the folly of wrecking the place, long-term, in the interest of profits. Here is a piece on investors’ doubt in the financial future of Big Hydrocarbons. And insurance companies are beginning to get the message that climate change threatens their business model, big-time. And Bill McKibben is a force to be reckoned with. His 350.org has spearheaded a campaign to help investors large and small divest from Big Oil and Big Coal.

But the best idea out there for hastening the process of internalizing is to build the momentum for a carbon fee and dividend system. This is not the discredited cap and trade idea, but a rational way to nudge the market system toward sustainability by rewarding responsible behavior. One worthy organization working steadily and specifically on that goal is the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. And it would be a far better, more sustainable world if we just followed the punchy slogan at the heart of this Guardian piece.

 

Wealth Gap in Video

The ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, and especially the extremely wealthy and everyone else, is no accident. And it’s not because most of us are just not working hard enough, otherwise we would all be millionaires or even billionaires. It’s the logical result of policy decisions over decades, coupled with market forces. What is tremendously interesting – and – if you are not careful, depressing, is people’s poor understanding of this issue. This six-minute video is an eye-popper. And arguably the most tireless and optimistic teacher on this issue – former Labor Secretary Robert Reich – has a new movie on this crucial issue that I just can’t wait to see.

 

Martians Invade!

Seventy-five years ago on 10/30, the great film director Orson Welles pulled off one of the greatest media hoaxes ever. His War of the Worlds radio broadcast – which was identified at the start as fiction – induced untold panic and mayhem. The prank spun out of control thanks to a variety of coincidences. And the most amazing thing? The phenomenon repeated itself years later, and not just once. Years after the event, Welles said he and his co-conspirators sought to encourage media consumers not to believe everything they hear or see. And yet . . . a case can be made that sensational fear mongering that is the heart of much TV news got its start on that night in the fall of 1938. I strongly encourage you to take in the excellent RadioLab feature on the broadcast and its long legacy.

 

Young Warriors for Social and Environmental Justice

Too many in my generation – the graying Baby Boomers – stereotype our followers, i.e. Generation X and especially the Millennials, as self-absorbed, disengaged texters who never lift their gaze from their IPhones. Here is a gallery of activists who defy that stereotype and offer hope for a sustainable, just future.

 

Awkward

Jon Stewart has done it again. Watch him sum up the trajectory of America’s image with world leaders right now. It ain’t pretty, folks. Should you wax nostalgic for the good old days of the Bush II administration, watch for a cameo appearance of the would-be-masseur himself. Terrific job, see?

 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

 

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 10/20/13

20 10 2013

What Scotty Said //

If we live in a material world, governed by scientific laws, then surely something big must be happening – something changing in the system – as a consequence of the 90 million tons of carbon dioxide that we humans collectively pour daily into the atmosphere, 24/7/365. And, denialist assertions notwithstanding, the only thing really in doubt is how bad and how soon.

The recent IPCC finding – its fifth in a series – raised the probability that human activities are the cause of the already observed changes in atmosphere and ocean to at least 95%. That’s about as close to certain as it gets. The report is a formidable document, but this admirable 10-slide show constructed by Katherine Bagley and Zahra Hirji of Inside Climate News summarizes the key findings. Pay careful attention to the notion of a carbon budget. The IPCC clearly stated that, this being a material world, a vast but closed system, we have a choice – leave most of the world’s remaining carbon in the ground, or deal with the physical consequences. This is what activists Bill McKibben and James Hansen have been saying for years, but now this dire warning comes from a consensus-bound, conservative chorus of the world’s scientists.

The amount of carbon in the world is constant – what changes is its form and of course its effect on the climate system. For an accessible explanation, try this Mark Boslough piece on HuffPost.  And for a view of the scope of the pressure we are putting on this old planet, try to wrap your mind around this – we are adding the heat equivalent of four Hiroshima-size bombs to the atmosphere per second.

So we have some crucial choices – for instance, on Keystone XL. Are we smart enough to choose wisely? There is plenty of evidence for a dark view – as eloquently laid out in this recent Facebook post by Bodhi Paul Chefurka. Believers in the magic of technology assure us that techno-fixes – including geo-engineering – will save our bacon. (I like the subtitle for that piece – “7 far-out geoengineering ideas that could save the planet — or destroy it trying.”) In my book, there are potentially good geoengineering schemes – for instance, trying to engineer an artificial tree that sucks carbon out of the air – and awful schemes – basically anything that seeks to allow us to go ahead with business-as usual fossil fuel use. I put in that category all these space-based mirror schemes and especially trashing the upper atmosphere with soot.

The fact that such schemes are even being considered before we have done a fraction of what is possible by way of conservation and developing clean energy makes Bodhi Paul Chefurka’s case stronger. But the single best strategy, I believe, is making carbon pay its way. Using dramatically less of the stuff is the only hope we have going forward.

We really should have listened to the Enterprise’s engineer, more than four decades ago. That is, “ Ye cannae change the laws of physics.”

 

Theory and Practice

Whenever former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan appears in the media, I find it entertaining to hear him justify his not seeing the 2008 financial crisis coming. Now he is back – hawking his new book. To his credit, the longtime champion of deregulating the financial system now says he was wrong, and portrays himself as chastened when it comes to the theory of radical deregulation of markets. Listen to this NPR interview, in which the interviewer respectfully holds Greenspan’s feet to the fire. But you might say that the former Fed chief committed a big oversight during his years holding immense power – not listening to a wiser forecaster than he. The great Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

 

Seas of Heartbreak

If people pay attention to climate science at all, they look to the land. That’s where burgeoning intense weather events like the recent Boulder CO flooding disaster, the out-of-season South Dakota blizzard and the new and destructive Australian fire season wreak their havoc on humans and their environs. Sure, rising sea levels have their effect, and will they ever have an effect in the decades to come (wanna buy some “land” in Miami, cheap?), but ocean morphing is something out of sight for most of us.

Here are three stories about what we are doing to the oceans – which after all cover 71 percent of the planet. The first is probably not directly related to the effect of our greenhouse gas emissions, the second caused in large part by them and the third the direct feedback.

First – cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – pop up in the news periodically, mostly because of beaching. Read about massive whale stranding in Madagascar. Tut, tut, the beasts will just have to get used to the racket we raise under the sea with our oil explorations and war games. And now there is growing concern that a mulititude of factors – including climate change – seem to be assailing dolphins. Dolphin in the ocean is the new canary in the coal mine?

Second – So creatures most people see as desirable are taking it on the chin. But there are always winners and losers, right? Right indeed – the lionfish are coming, and so are the jellyfish, in untold armadas. Come on in, folks, the water’s fine.

Third – The ocean apparently isn’t acid enough, so we are taking care of that, in a hurry. Carbon dioxide may be flirting with 400 parts per million in the atmosphere, but that is nothing compared to the way we have altered the pH of the ocean, a truly massive undertaking that goes on as we drive and burn fossil fuels. This is the change in the ocean that will have the gravest long-term effects on seaborne and land-based life. Those of us who gravitate toward environmental stories know how much more often of late we see phrases like “much graver than had been thought” or “deteriorating more rapidly than predicted.”

We on the land can help. The World Wildlife Fund, the Ocean Conservancy and Greenpeace all work to preserve the world’s oceans. However, this massive challenge comes back to that familiar one – how to drastically cut use of fossil fuels.

 

One Day, One Massive Boost to Your Climate Knowledge

The Climate Reality Project ( an organization I represent) will launch on October 22-23 this year’s 24 Hours of Reality – a content-packed event featuring speakers and media highlighting the costs of carbon pollution and pointing to solutions that can change the course of our future. You can tune in on the Internet, live or via archives, to six one-hour presentations, organized by regions of the world:

  • North America: how carbon pollution and climate change have had a severe impact on our ways of life and livelihoods.
  • South America and the Caribbean: water as our lifeblood, and the threats of rapidly melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ocean acidification.
  • Europe: infrastructure losses that have resulted from climate-related hazards and extreme weather, as well as how infrastructure is being forced to change in a changing world.
  • Africa: how climate change is contributing to growing food insecurity, along with socio-economic and political insecurity.
  • Asia: how extreme weather and other carbon pollution impacts are resulting in displacement of people within their countries.
  • Australia: how human health threats are exacerbated by climate change.

I hope you will tune in – the event is a great way to get up to date on latest research and learn the ways you can help solve the climate crisis.

 

Gimme that Old Time Coalition

That might be the motto for an idea hatched by Nobel economist and commentator Paul Krugman. Of course, the settlement that got US government working again is really another short-term fix. Krugman recalls a time when southern Democrats worked with Republicans to support conservative causes (think of the still-elusive goal of universal health care). But more important for our time, he sees a novel spin on that old alliance, a new direction that could mean real progress. Could.

 

Science for the Masses

Climate denialists and other enemies of science push their ideas in various ways. Two of the most common are these – disparage scientists and their findings as slanted or concocted or part of a conspiracy to secure more funding; assert that science journalists and activists are not actually scientists, and therefore lack standing to promote and defend scientific research results and projections. Fortunately, some scientists – most notably James Hansen – are recognizing the need for them to get out of the lab and into the spotlight to fight the well-funded denialists.

And there are the most valuable popularizers. Two were recently highlighted in the media. First – there is Elise Andrew, who aims her efforts at a young demographic, and operates a wonderful site with an in-your-face name. And speaking of young demographics, that’s exactly the target that Bill Nye aimed at two decades ago, when his tremendously entertaining PBS show hooked thousands of youngsters (including my son) and their parents. Nye has a new science series, Why with Nye. I really enjoyed an interview Weekend Edition Sunday did with him, and you will too.

 

“I’ve recognized there is no such thing as cheap gas. Whether you’re paying $3.51 in San Francisco or 9 cents a gallon in Caracas, someone, somewhere, is always paying more dearly for the stuff. Now when I buy gas I see hidden pennies everywhere – from the health effects of air pollution to the social cost of human rights violations in oil-producing countries to the money used by the U.S. military to police oil shipping lanes.” – Lisa Margonelli (excerpted from Oil on the Brain)

 

Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 8/11/13

11 08 2013

Meating the Future //

What’s for dinner matters. A lot. For proof, look no further than this week’s announcement of the latest Frankenfood breakthrough – “meat-free” beef. OK, that’s my term for a product created in the library from cattle stem cells. The price for such a feat? A cool $330,000. The fact that such resources would be committed to producing artificial beef says something about people’s deep-seated love for the stuff. But it also hints at an underlying uneasiness that has only been growing in recent years. Despite that trend, Americans eat on average 61 pounds of beef a year – more than a pound a week. Whether or not that lab-cultured goo ultimately becomes a marketable product, there are many good reasons to rethink our beef habit.

At the top of most people’s lists, for better or worse, is human health. The link between excess body weight and type 2 diabetes is well established. But recent studies link this killer – a virtual epidemic – to meat consumption itself. That is, even people who manage not to gain weight while consuming a diet including red meat still show a higher rate of diabetes than those who avoid beef. And diabetes is not all. Of all antibiotics used in the United States, an ungodly percentage – 80 percent – is fed to livestock. Some of that is used legitimately to treat infections, but the lion’s share is for one of two purposes – to encourage fast weight gain, or to keep infections from starting in the first place. And of course those infections are so much more likely because of conditions on the modern factory farm. And if that sounds like a far-away, even concocted, problem, read this. So get this – in order to keep meat prices artificially low, we are risking runaway infections as bugs evolve to shrug off our onetime miracle antibiotics.

And factory farm practices bring us to the next powerful reason to rethink meat. It’s the animals’ inhumane lives. You don’t have to be an ELF eco-terrorist or even a PETA activist to object to factory-farm practices such prison-cell-style gestation crates for sows – just one of the kind and gentle ways that bubbly bacon starts its journey to your breakfast plate. And mama pigs that can’t even turn around are just the beginning. This Humane Society site has a number of videos – just pick your favorite cruel practice.  And then there are the manure lagoons which – guess what – are poorly regulated.

The ponds of putrefying poop lead to arguably the most compelling reason of all – for many reasons, our modern, sleek, massive, industrial meat-production system is just not sustainable. Should developing countries such as India and China – where meat consumption is rapidly growing along with wealth – emulate western per capita consumption levels, we will need several new planets. There’s a lot to learn in the eleven-minute PBS video at that link. And finally, the biggest sustainability issue with meat consumption is climate change. According to the EPA, 14% of US greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. And it is more than just the emissions, as this Worldwatch piece attests – producing meat consumes dramatically more fossil fuel than directly producing food for human consumption – grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.

A lot of money and political might are tied up in our current way of eating. As you might expect, that power will not accept sustainable change easily. The reaction is a new wave of “ag-gag” laws. These are laws – often pushed by good old ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) – that enact severe penalties for whistleblowers who dare to lift the veil of secrecy from industrial farming. The July/August Mother Jones has a fine article by Ted Genoways detailing this crackdown. And note the clever positioning of these efforts – laws that purport to protect the food supply actually “protect” the inhumane, unsustainable practices from public view. Here is more on well-policed secrecy from AlterNet.

In the modern era of rapid information sharing, Big Ag has a problem, and the honchos and spinmeisters know it – most people do not want to return to the days of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle. And if people can see what goes on, they object. I think Nicholas Kristof got animal treatment just right in a recent New York Times information piece.

So for a whole range of good reasons, eating less meat is the right thing to do. And a good first step is looking at sourcing. It was the book Fast Food Nation that dissuaded me from ever again consuming factory burgers. But deciding to eat less meat is not so hard when there are great resources for food that is healthier for us and the planet. A good place to start is Michael Pollan’s advice – “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm is always a good idea (if you could see my refrigerator, you would understand why). You don’t even have to give up meat entirely to do so.

Pay a little more, use a lot less, meet a much better future.

 

It’s Us, Says Fox News . . . Not

The climate-change-related extreme weather is almost too common to document. It’s the off-the-charts phenomena that really tell the story. There is China’s ongoing heat wave, by some measures pushing temps and humidity to the limits of human tolerance. Here’s more on that wave and its effects on the food supply.  And then we have California’s fire season, which is just beginning and already poised to set records.

One canard heard often in denialist circles in recent years is this one – “Climate change stopped in 1998.” This is related to a possible slowing in the rate of temperature rise. But all that additional carbon dioxide we spew every day – 90 million tons to be exact – has to go somewhere, and continues to have massive, spreading effects. Where will these effects go? Well, the idea of the climate reaching some plateau and staying there while we continue business-as-usual alteration of the atmosphere’s chemical makeup is ludicrous. This graphic details the consequences at various degrees of warming, and there is always the Venus Effect looming in the not-so-distant future if we really screw up. As for the spin on temperatures stabilizing, more evidence is emerging that the oceans are absorbing more of the heat. And if you think that just means more pleasant swimming off Maine, think again.

A radical organization – NOAA – spoke up this week on the causes of climate change – all seven billion of us. So, with all this evidence, why does a level of doubt survive that is sufficient to paralyze policy? Let’s be generous and give credit where credit is due. And let’s be really generous to the right-wing, corporate propaganda machine. This article flips propaganda on its head – showing the truth that would be driving policy, if that imaginary beast, the great and fearful liberal media of myth, really existed.

 

Florida – State of Caution

I have nothing against the Sunshine State. Many fine people live there. Many more are from there. It is home to the amazing Everglades, for now. But it is also the land of strange, and the stolen 2000 election is only the tip of the alligator.

First, there is news that more election shenanigans are on the way. Do you think there might be just a few minority voters who are actually citizens caught up in this drift net? Now folks, trust that shiny talking head. This has nothing, nothing I say, to do with suppressing the Democratic vote in that evenly divided state.

Then there is the environment. Massive marine creature die-off, anyone? Move along, folks. And develop more of that coastline –  dollars count most.

How about a taser death for a petty crime? Artist?! Hah! He was just painting graffiti on an old abandoned building. Viva the clean plywood!

And don’t forget stand-your-ground and Trayvon Martin.

All this really makes me want to go back and read Carl Hiaasen’s novels. But it does not make me want to visit.

 

Building Solar

Think of who pays the highest price for our fossil-fuel addiction. Hint – it’s not the consumer at the gas pump. In one hopeful sign for the future, the military is driving the bus on this. And this bus is sustainable – it is the solar energy future.

 

How a Hero is Made

This AlterNet piece concisely describes an interesting bit of right-wing history. It’s about how Paul Ryan’s hero attained that status. Beware these disciples and true believers.

 

Carpe Fava

Watch this short, entertaining video. It will get you thinking about what to do with the rest of the day, and maybe more.

 

 

“There is no such place as away.” -Chief Seattle

 

 

Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN