Two Degrees of David

11 06 2016

Friday eve, I stopped by a St. Paul brew pub with my dog, Dooley.  He helps me make new friends, and doesn’t drink beer. That saves me money.

Conversation was lively, and I made several new acquaintances. With one fellow, a man from Canada, conversation turned to climate change (as it sometimes does with me!)

Let’s call him Pierre (not his real name). I could see on Pierre’s face that he was a “skeptic” of climate science. So we got into a little duel of ideas.

Pierre sensed he was dealing with one of those environmental wackos, so he immediately launched his usual haymaker. He told me he was a mining engineer, expecting that would knock me off my soapbox.  I told him, “Sounds like interesting work.” He was floored that I did not lecture him on the evils of mining, and start chanting “Stop mining now,” or some such. He let on that other environmental wackos he had encountered tended to trash the notion of mining, all the while fondling their smart phones. That of course would give him the opportunity to lecture on all the mined metals that make up their best pocket pal. No such opportunity with me, much to his chagrin.

So I asked him about his climate change “skepticism.” He acknowledged that climate change is happening, but said he doubted it was anthropogenic. Natural processes are involved, he said. So I parried – scientists tell us that atmospheric carbon dioxide is rising steadily, and at an increasing rate – latest numbers are more than three parts per million increase over just the past year.  I asked him to explain that by natural processes. Pierre’s reply – an uncomfortable smile, but nothing else.  Then I asked him to explain the massive die-off (not mere bleaching) of vast swaths of the Great Barrier Reef. Again, not much in reply except an increasingly uncomfortable smile. I was getting a bit more animated – as I sometimes do – but remained courteous. Pierre’s wife joked, “Be careful about hitting him – he’s an expert in (name an obscure martial art)”. I joked that I was glad I had decided not to hit Pierre.

He also trotted out the usual canard about those magazine articles in the 1970s that warned us of global cooling. And he said modern climate science was entirely based on models, which were only a theoretical construction of reality – and a shaky one at that. So I said, “What you are saying is that a few outlying, fringe articles from 45 years ago somehow cancel out the four decades of work by crowds of very smart people – climate scientists who have spent their careers trying to understand Earth’s atmosphere. And what ‘models’ are needed to explain the documented rise in atmospheric carbon, ice melting, sea rise, etc.?” More uncomfortable smiles. And  he joked that, being from Canada, he thought global warming might be a “good” thing, thawing all that forbidding frozen wasteland. Heh, heh.

KochThen it got even more interesting. Pierre let on a secret about his employment past. He previously worked for Koch Industries. Yep, that Koch. And he related that he had spent considerable time with David Koch – who, Pierre assured me, is a “nice, decent, down-to-earth guy, who visits the employee lunchroom, and engages people at all levels in conversation about their projects.” I made a mental note – just because someone is a greed-addled planet wrecker, does not mean he has to be an insufferable asshole.

I can only imagine the reason that Pierre brought his pal David into conversation. Perhaps he thought that would lend some heft to his “views” in my mind. Or perhaps he thought it was some kind of trump card, considering that I mentioned I was a trained presenter for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

Anyway, the pub atmosphere was lively and loud, and our conversation soon ended. But not before I told him, in all honesty, that I thought he was a smart guy.  I meant that. It takes a smart person to earn a degree as a mining engineer.  So I asked him, as a smart guy, to explain how, considering the documented fact that human activity pumps 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every single day, how a closed system – our atmosphere, oceans and climate, could NOT change. No answer.

And the heat goes on . . . whether we “believe” it or not.


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 9/15/13

15 09 2013

Arctic Refreeze + Slow Hurricane Season = Climate Change Bunk? //

It’s all the rage. The Arctic icepack will not set a new minimum record this year. It is already refreezing, fast. Those facts have climate science deniers energized. For instance, one of the most prominent of all the climate change denial sites has charts and graphs galore, telling this story that apparently proves climate change is not happening. This site has run pretty much the same story the last two years – see 2012 and 2011 entries. And it is not just pundits and bloggers – here is an established British news source with the same story.

True unbelievers in climate science take some kind of comfort, I guess, in news like the Arctic ice returning, plus this year’s near-record late start to the Atlantic hurricane season. Here is a balanced view of that hurricane situation, from Time magazine. Cherry-picked data serves as potent fuel for fantastical stories, as Rush Limbaugh regularly proves. And just as monthly Arctic ice stats serve some deniers, so have some other deniers seized on the late hurricane start as evidence that climate change activists are alarmists, to be ignored. Note – Taylor is a prime author for the oil-fueled Heartland Institute.

This is all familiar territory. It follows an established script. First, assert falsely that climate change as explained by scientists and science journalists is a perfectly linear process. Support that position with a few quotes, preferably speculative ones, by one or more of your demons – Al Gore or Bill McKibben, just to name two. Then, report your supportive data which undermines that inaccurate depiction of climate science. So you and the forces of do-nothingness win. Or do you?

These facts can’t be challenged. We pump 90 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. The current atmospheric carbon dioxide reading is 395 parts per million, compared to preindustrial levels of about 280. Both the daily and cumulative numbers continue to rise, with chaotic consequences that cannot be precisely predicted.


So what is happening now? In the hurricane realm, there are several possibilities. First, as Chris Mooney reports, climate change may actually reduce hurricanes. Of course, thanks to sea rise resulting from warmer oceans and melting ice sheets and glaciers, those hurricanes that do occur will have a head start. And with all the uncertainty, it is also possible that this season’s late start could itself be an anomaly.

As for the alleged return of the Arctic to its long-term solid, frozen status, don’t count on it. Time will prove the denialists wrong. It is only a matter of how fast things happen. For instance, the decidedly conservative, consensus-driven Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comes out with its latest forecast in two weeks. Leaked information points to more certainty than ever. And though some evidence points to a lull in the temperature rise, our emission-driven acidification of the oceans proceeds. The Seattle Times’ Craig Welch put together a comprehensive article on acidification that includes several imbedded videos. And as for those who persist in their denial of scientific facts and projections, thus paralyzing policy, they will be justly recognized. As this Truthout piece suggests, we might think of them as the Dr. Kevorkians of the planet. Call it pignorance-assisted suicide.


Extremes in Two Mismatched Pairs

So the relationship between hurricanes and manmade climate change is unclear and hotly debated, and the ongoing experiment in liquefying the Arctic is crucial in its effect on weather patterns, not so crucial in sea rise. That’s because the ice, old and new alike, is already floating on the sea.

For a clear view of our climate-changed future, look to extremes today that are part of well-predicted trends. First there are increasingly common weather extremes. The Yosemite Rim fire, just about contained, is one example of an enhanced fire season, driven by higher temperatures and persistent drought. The latest shocking example is the horrific flooding and mudslides around Boulder, Colorado. As of this writing, four are confirmed dead, with hundreds unaccounted for. This disaster is caused by a triple-whammy series of drought, wildfire and finally, the knockout punch of monsoon-like storms that come and stay, dumping months or years worth of rain on the same sun-baked spot. Here are two videos from the Boulder environs – from Salina and Boulder itself. (Scroll down for the Boulder video.) Subhankar Banerjee effectively makes the case for climate change in the Colorado floods. And with the mangled jet stream causing all sorts of mayhem in weather patterns, Boulder-like events could be soon coming to a creek, stream or river near you.

And then there is the melting that really matters – the head-for-the-hills variety. That would be ice that resides on land, until it melts that is and slides into the rising sea. Two extreme locations, two similar stories. First there is Greenland, whose ice is described here by MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner as a “stick of butter in a hot pan.” In other words, it does not move at all for awhile, but then really starts to slip along seaward. Be sure to watch the short video on Greenland’s Mega Canyon. But what about the granddaddy of all ice sheets, Antarctica? If you guessed “accelerated melting, you get the extra credit points. Read here about research at the Pine Island Glacier, being undermined by warming ocean water. Here is 9/15 update from NPR on the same research. Did you catch the possible sea rise there? Six feet? See for yourself how that matters in this terrific interactive map from Climate Central.

So all of this manmade chaos and disruption really matters. But does it matter enough to motivate meaningful changes in energy and greenhouse gas policy? Not yet. But these groups are working hard to wake us up and tip the balance toward adaptation and sustainability –, the Climate Reality Project and Citizens Climate Lobby.


The Magical Techno Fix

This longstanding idea is often a slam at doomsayers of old – Thomas Malthus – or of more recent vintage – Paul Ehrlich. The idea is this – the earth’s capacity for human occupation is pretty much unlimited, nigh infinite. Hogwash, most ecologists say. But those who really believe in our technical ingenuity (and don’t much give a damn about our fellow travelers on this orb, i.e. any life form that is not human) persist in their sacred faith in technological innovation. Seldom in recent times has this view been given a more articulate or narrowly myopic presentation than in this Erle C. Ellis article in the New York Times. The problems that Ellis ignores or summarily dismisses in this column are too numerous to mention, but he does make at least one true statement – “In moving toward a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we make it.” To which I would reply with words borrowed from Colin Powell: “If you break it, you own it.”

We have a lot of repairing to do, with or without technological wizardry. And to be fair, there is much more to Ellis’s ideas than this single article would indicate. See the linked video here.

As for the big picture, there is much to learn in National Geographic’s study of the world’s continued population growth. I also like the education and activism being done by Growthbusters, World Population Balance and the Population Connection. The more the merrier? No chance. The best strategy – educate the world’s women and support their family planning choices.


Plant It, and They Will Come?

We have invested much time and sweat in recent years replacing swaths of lawn with wild-looking native and rain gardens. Until this year, we attracted droves of large butterflies, including varieties of swallowtails and of course the lord of them all, monarchs. This year, we have seen exactly three swallowtails and not many more monarchs. In addition, our abundant milkweed shows no evidence of monarch eggs. An isolated, unfortunate incident? Not on your life.

This Minnesota Public Radio interview with the University of Minnesota’s Karen Oberhauser fingers two closely-related culprits – neo-nicotinoid pesticides, and modern factory agriculture’s penchant for decimating “unwanted” plants between the rows. That includes of course milkweed. She offers two remedies – plant more milkweed (maybe it will work for you) and be careful when buying garden plants from nurseries, who may have treated the plants with those magical modern poisons. But all of that means little when our government allows chemical companies such as Bayer and Monsanto to continue this campaign against the natural world. Congress has the power to stop this, if its members would for once think of the common good rather than their corporate sponsors.


A Hypocrisy Interview

I find that I have had the conversation described in this little article before. It serves to prove a long-held theory of mine. That is, that any ideology that purports to have all, or even most of, the answers to all the problems begins to look like a dogma, a religion. Magical thinking, that is. Unreal. Fantasy. Enjoy the script.


1227 Facts

There is a difference between trivia and curious, even meaningful facts. This is why I waste no time on trivia contests and collections, but love, for example Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Harpers Index. This is precisely why a new book hit my reading list. Two of the three authors of 1227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, interviewed by the great Scott Simon. Work is more dangerous than war, the most shoplifted book in the United States is the Bible, and there is an actual word for an affliction that awards the sufferer with feet the size of umbrellas. But the universe is not shaped like a bumbershoot. Try a vuvuzela. Enough said.


Shooting Each Other Some Love

Thanks to comic Sarah Silverman, we can fittingly celebrate two recent recall election victories by the fear-fueled National Rifle Association in Colorado. She has a modest proposal to make the country even “safer.”


Diplomacy Wins, for Now

Bill Moyers’ commentary highlights the power of public opinion in recent events concerning Syria. Collective common sense. What a concept.


“The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.”
Edward O. Wilson


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 7/7/13

7 07 2013

The Fiction of Climate Change //

Though the scientific facts of what we are doing to the planet that sustains us are plenty scary, manmade climate change is a bonanza for fiction writers of a certain stripe. They dystopic potential is unparalleled. Just read the forecasts of a conservative assembly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the future emerges. Two degrees of warming? Four? Six? The catastrophic possibilities are endlessly frightful.

The main purpose of the writers whose work is featured in this New Yorker article is not to capitalize on our catastrophic, uncontrolled science experiment. I wager a guess that each would admit to a “wake-up” purpose for their speculative fiction.

Take T. Coraghessan Boyle, whose excellent Friend of the Earth I can strongly recommend. I remember hearing an interview with this California author not long after the 2000 publication of this book, in which he complained that he had come under reader fire. These tone-deaf readers accused Boyle of being anti-environment. His retort – of course he is an environmentalist. All he did to create his fictional world of 25 years into the future (then) was to take current trends (which have only continued and accelerated in the intervening 13 years) and project them into a devastated future.

It is the same with novelist and nonfiction writer Barbara Kingsolver, whose book Flight Behavior takes on climate change as it affects the natural world. Her focus here is on monarch butterflies. Seen any of those this year? Me neither. And no article surveying apocalyptic and dystopic fiction would be worth its time for me unless it launched another book onto my reading list. Check. Nathaniel Rich’s The Odds Against Tomorrow looks very promising.

It was back in high school, in 1970s New York, when I first became enamored with dystopias and apocalyptic literature. I cut my dark-view teeth on A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World and 1984. (Thanks, Dr. Robert Englert!) But who could have foreseen 40 years ago that the reality we are creating, whether by bad choices or by no choices at all (let the markets decide, we are told) would end up as more compelling, more frightening, than the darkest visions of the best fiction writers? If we could only learn from, and not just be enthralled, entertained and shocked by Boyle, Kingsolver, Rich and Co., maybe we could move beyond fighting over the rudder as our planetary ship drifts faster and faster toward the waterfall.

Climate Change is no fiction, friends. How catastrophic will it be? Let’s just say it’s a real page-turner.


It’s Called Global Warming, After All

I rarely use the term “global warming” in my writing and conversation. Though the long-term trend is clearly warming – punctuated by glacier and ice-sheet melting, record-high temperatures overwhelming record lows, and historical evidence linking rising carbon dioxide levels with rising temperatures – the term is too easily manipulated by denialists who spotlight isolated contradictions. (“It’s cold! It’s snowing! Global warming? Al Gore’s fantasy!”) Paradoxically, the term “climate change” coined by right-wing spinmeister Frank Luntz is more accurately descriptive. I say paradoxically because Luntz’s well-paid purpose is not to arouse awareness about the climate crisis, but the contrary – to encourage resignation, lethargy and the like. It’s climate change, it’s natural, the climate is always changing, little ol’ humanity couldn’t be causing this, etc.

But the term global warming does have certain power. I was reminded of that power by some recent research. Since an outsized portion of the earth’s population centers are in the northern hemisphere, we naturally focus on the Arctic, where epochal change is already under way. Hardly a day goes by without more news of new lows in ice volume, storms melting ever more Arctic ice, and the like. Meanwhile, at the other end of the globe, the situation is different. Rather than a frozen ocean, we have ea massive continent, covered by ancient ice. And in fact, one oft-heard denialist cant is “Antarctic ice is increasing.” I found a fine example of this, written by that bastion of brilliant science, the editorial board at Investors’ Business Daily. Ah, but remember, just like old President W, who didn’t like nuance, these sage scientific pundits ignore the much more complex, much more interesting analysis. And it proves that, just like all the other anti-sconce fantasies of the denialists, this canard is empty. Here is the latest inconvenient Antarctic melting truth. And what is more, there is the problem of that warming ocean, or rather oceans. Oops.

So while we are justifiably watching the melting Arctic, and astonished at its immediate disruptive effects on northern hemisphere weather patterns, the sleeping giant to the south is readying a big surprise for us. Arctic ice is already afloat; its melting has little effect on global sea levels. Greenland on the other hand is another story for another time. But Antarctica’s continental ice sheet is the largest storehouse of frozen water on the planet. Remember Hurricane Sandy? Just imagine how much more waterborne fun is in store for us with a 200-foot sea rise. That possibility is dismissed in this piece, but our recent experience argues for caution. The kind of caution that should encourage us to support President Obama’s foray – at long last – into the climate policy debate. And this caution must lead to action to curb greenhouse gases. Two great places to start are the Climate Reality Project and Bill McKibben’s

Here is a great Bill Nye video explaining the scientific basics for those whose heads are not under the ground or in other dark places. Have a blast.


Supreme Corporatists

It’s been a long time since the Supreme Court has been so much in the news. Recent rulings on marriage equality and voting rights seem to cut in opposite directions, as this David Gans opinion piece asserts. But I see a broader agenda here, and I have a theory to explain it. My theory is this – though some decisions may complicate the picture – see the DOMA verdict – the right-wing majority will coalesce and hold firm whenever big corporate power is at stake. That is obvious in the infamous Citizens United decision, which allowed vastly expanded political spending by corporations. It is also clear, though a little less obvious to the contrary in Chief Justice Roberts leading a progressive(!) majority upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Why? The conservative chief justice could step out on this legacy-defining issue because no major corporate ox awaited goring. Though health insurance exchanges are anathema to the most extreme right-wingers, the health insurance industry not only escapes this change unscathed – it picks up massive numbers of new customers and therefore heaps of profits for the vaults and the CEO salaries.

The Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act is justly seen in racial terms – it’s mainly the states with a sordid past of racial discrimination which will feel the “liberating” effects. And in fact they are wasting no time. But see how this decision passed the corporatism test. Even with the Voting Rights Act in place, states with GOP-dominated legislatures and statehouses have been pushing the phantasmagorical specter of voter fraud and its remedy – voter ID laws. Guess what more voter ID laws will mean in addition of course to racial discrimination – more Republican victories. And who could argue that the GOP is anything but the promoter and defender of big corporate power.

The biggest test yet is just around the corner. Just wait until the decision on this case arrives.


Pollinator Patrol

I wanted to be wrong back around 1980 when I feared a sweeping change toward virtual corporate rule in this land that we love. I again wanted to be wrong around 1990 when I began educating myself on the looming monster of climate change. I feared this slow-moving crisis would be ignored, at our peril.  Well, we know how both of those turned out.  Here is what I want to be wrong about today. I ask you – visit natural areas, observe your garden if you are lucky and wise enough to have native plants on the premises. See any wild bees? How about butterflies?

Yes, spring was late here in Minnesota this year, mainly due to a climate change phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. But our gardens are largely in bloom, and I have yet to see a single large butterfly. Bees are also almost entirely absent. The neonicotinoid pesticides are the likely culprit in catastrophic bee decline, as I have written about recently, but our corporate-addled government is unconvinced. Now there is news that our “miracle” pesticides may be having a reach even beyond bees.

Here is another theory of mine. Dig into any environmental crisis, however “natural” it may seem, and you will find some example of “manmade progress,” well-meaning or otherwise, at its root. I will leave you to decide whether this example was well-meaning or not. So, we have one more everlasting gift to thank the “pro-bidness” W administration for. Thanks, Mr. Decider, and Happy Birthday!


Lonely at the Top; Sneaky Too

No big news here. Worker pay about stable, CEO pay through the roof. And – all you “future millionaires” out there – get used to a few things. First, your upwardly mobile future would have been more secure if you had been born in Britain rather than our American “land of opportunity.” And if you are still working on the first part of that first million, maybe you are just too damned nice.

In the interest of truly being “fair and balanced,” let’s be clear. You don’t have a be a greed-drunk bully if you are rich. I love this story by Gar Alperovitz (author of a book that just hit my reading list). Positively inspiring.


“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,

For strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain.

America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,

And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.”

― George Carlin


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 5/26/13

26 05 2013

A Three-Beast Tale //

We humans could be doing so much more to share the world with our fellow travelers. Here are stories of three of our fellow large mammals and the treatment they are receiving from the most intelligent – at least that is our assumption – and most destructive – that’s obvious – species in the system. Note the absence of the term “fable” in the title of this piece. That’s because this is all too true.

First up – the elephant. Anyone following environmental news knows that poaching is on a dramatic upswing. And “poaching” seems too tame a term for what is happening in recent years. The prize, of course, is the animal’s ivory tusks – most valued in China and Southeast Asia. Globalization means ever more money flowing to that part of the world, and driving elephant slaughter and ivory smuggling. Scientists fear the extinction of Africa’s forest elephants. And as National Geographic reported earlier this year, today’s crisis is far more serious than those in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately led to a ban on ivory trading in 1989.  To understand how ghastly and sad all this is, just consider the intelligence of these giants. And if you follow that link, you will understand that our steady destruction of the species is itself the cause of the occasional “elephant rage,” or attack on human settlements. Courageous conservation workers in Africa try to stem the massacre, and NGOs help as well. The World Wildlife Fund has a special focus on the species, and Save the Elephants has enlisted prominent Chinese media personalities to halt the illegal trade.

The rhinoceros may be less charismatic than the elephant, but it suffers a similar fate. Like the pachyderm’s tusk, the rhino’s horn is the focus of various health myths. Big money in China and Southeast Asia drives another illegal smuggling trade and massive slaughter of the beasts. As this PBS article notes, all species are on the road to extinction thanks to habitat loss and senseless slaughter. Just read the numbers in this HuffPost piece to understand the concern that we may soon extinguish the rhino. World Wildlife Fund is on this case too – just another good reason to support that organization.

With both rhinos and elephants, it is easy for us in the west to point the finger at others – in this case Chinese customers and African poacher/suppliers – and say it’s their problem, not much we can do except support conservationists. But this is not so with a third example. To learn our impact here, walk up and down the aisles in your supermarket – in particular snack foods and personal care. Read the boxes of crackers and cookies and just try to find one that does not contain an innocent-sounding ingredient: palm oil. Hey, at least it’s not trans fat, right? Now walk over to the soaps and read labels. Same thing. Palm oil, palm oil everywhere. So what is the problem? This. The miracle substance is unsustainable for orangutans. Considering how we are crowding our fellow primates off the planet, can’t we do something about this situation? That is the focus of the Rainforest Action Network. The RAN graphic shows another benefit of preserving orangutan habitat – fighting manmade climate change. Learn more here. See how the Sierra Club weighed in recently. And then help by finding palm alternatives and not buying this stuff. Next, sign Jason DeGrauwe’s petition..

And when you look at the forces driving these three and so many animals toward the cliff of extinction, one jumps out at you. It is our unrelenting expansion of the human population. We stand at 7 billion right now, but not for long. Buried in the story about orangutans and palm oil is this startling fact: every single day, more human babies are born than the entire remaining wild population of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans combined. The implication is clear – we either learn to share space with our fellow travelers, or our grandchildren will inherit an incredibly crowded but grossly impoverished world.

Here are three organizations educating and advocating on behalf of a sustainable human population: The Population Connection, World Population Balance and the UNFPA.


Climate Pignorance – Humorous and Harmful

Haven’t we missed Sarah Palin? Fortunately, she has not gone away from the political scene for good. She resurfaced this week to shed some light on the climate change “debate.” Heck, she even used a scientific term correctly – gluteus maximus. At least she is entertaining, unlike this guy who is merely pious and sickening. And of course the former Alaska governor is no newcomer to climate pignorance (pretend ignorance). The Skeptical Science site has dedicated an entire page to her past pronouncements.

Sarah Palin and James Inhofe are one thing, but if you want to see the biggest hurt of climate pignorance – public confusion and policy paralysis – you must seek out the big boys. And no one is bigger than these brothers. Just a couple of businessmen, pursuing their interests – which happen to include a veritable gusher of well-funded disinformation.


A Season for Cutoffs

The word “cutoffs” suggests the season that unofficially starts this very weekend. But here in the Twin Cities, summer has been slow in arriving. We have had one brief outbreak of strong warmth, and a couple of stretches of decent temps, but mostly it’s been cold and gloom these past few months.

As with everything, there is a scientific explanation. We have had a number of cutoff lows – seems like a series of them in fact. And they have not been a local phenomenon. In fact, today, as I finish this post, the very same cutoff low that gave us a solid week of gloomy, rainy weather here in the Twin Cities is spinning over the northeast coast. That means it took an entire meandering week to crawl from Iowa to Maine. Oh and by the way, the deadly tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, was part of the very same system. And with the turtle-like pace of the low’s eastward progress, some of the same areas in the South received repeated daily poundings of severe weather.

So what is going on with all this? I glance at NOAA’s national radar animation most days, and I have been curious about all these lows. I have also checked with several scientists. The verdict – cutoff lows are not that unusual, and are more common in spring and fall. But now here is where it gets interesting – the climate disruption connection.  And though we must repeat for the gazillionth time the old misused saw that no specific weather event can be unequivocally linked to manmade climate change, the associative evidence continues to pile up. And Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis, whose video work on Arctic amplification I linked to a few weeks ago (see Wacky Wobbly Weather) says that more frequent and persistent cutoff lows are precisely one of the phenomena that have been predicted as we change the chemical content of the atmosphere.

So the choice is clear. We can either continue to use a tight focus, finding some precedent for pretty much every weather event, and fool ourselves into believing the siren song of business-as-usual fossil-fueled energy, or we can get serious about the problem, tax carbon and build a sustainable energy future for the long haul. Let’s choose wisely.


3-2-1 Busted

The IRS has had more than its usual share of headlines and hatred this past week, with revelations that it targeted conservative groups unfairly. Fox News loves the story. For Michele Bachmann, it is a dream-come-true distraction from her own troubles.  The whole affair calls for a little perspective. Daily Show perspective, for instance.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 5/19/13

19 05 2013

Way up North, Future is Now  //

Climate disruption is nothing like a linear process. It is also nothing like fair.

For its non-linear nature, look at the numbers. Our carbon emissions have managed to raise the world’s average temperature by about one degree Fahrenheit. But in Alaska, it’s a different story – four degrees of warming already. That’s where the “unfair’ comes into view. Warmth is radically and rapidly transforming the landscape, heaping hardship on residents who already live in the harshest of environments. And here is the essence of unfairness – like residents of disappearing islands far to the south, these are some of the people who have done the least to create the climate crisis, but now must pay the dearest price.

Native Alaskans’ story has appeared in media for some time, but a new series in the Guardian brings home both the human side and the science. Suzanne Goldenberg’s insightful writing is paired with a collection of short videos by Richard Sprenger.  You will meet the villagers of Newtok on Alaska’s west coast, whose land is basically sinking all around them as the permafrost melts. This highly interactive, three-part series is one of the best pieces I have seen for learning about the plight of the far north.

If you watch the videos in the Guardian series, you will discover a key theme – the tussle over whether funds are available to move the village’s 350 residents. You will also note that Newtok is merely one of hundreds of doomed settlements in Alaska.

The news often holds ironic twists, and this week we have a particularly fine example. There may not be funds available for emergency evacuations of America’s first climate refugees, but we know of course what there are endless funds available for – sending high US officials off to meetings about the best ways to divvy up the melting Arctic Ocean and exploit the resources soon available under its formerly ice-covered waters. And let’s not think for now about the consequences of burning more and more of the stuff.

“Progress” marches, plunders and spills on.

A Dubious Party

It’s just a number. Atmospheric carbon dioxide touched 400 parts per million last week for the first time is several million years. Because of seasonal fluctuations – basically, the effect of photosynthesis in the northern hemisphere, it will soon slip back below that milestone. But next year, it will climb above that portentous number and stay there. Until it reaches 450, 500, who knows how high? So what is the big deal? See here for Caroline Alden’s excellent, concise explanation from the BURN journal of why we should give a damn and do something about it.

Myth Busting – or the 97% Solution

For anyone who has observed and studied climate disruption the past two decades, it is almost beyond belief that climate change doubt still lingers. But then, powerful interests have stoked that doubt for several decades, following a proud tradition.  One of the most sordid tales of doubt has to be the trumped-up pseudo-scandal known as “Climate gate.”  Read about closing that case right here. Be sure to check the imbedded Mother Jones video.

But what about that magic 97 number? As Skeptical Science reports, a new study shows the consensus that you, I and the rest of the 7 billion of us carbon-based and carbon-spewing life forms are causing climate disruption. Skeptical Science is one of the best baloney busters.

While you are there, check out their explanation about the truth behind your favorite “not our problem” myth. For instance, the idea that any pollution from “little old us” is dwarfed by volcanoes. So that’s a myth that is not just wrong, but 100 times wrong. That’s especially timely right now, with an Alaska volcano currently putting on quite a show. Just remember – that show, plus all the lava and ash acts that Mother Nature stages, are nothing compared to our ingenuity and industry.

Building a Movement

If you care at all about climate disruption, you must check into the May 18 This American Life installment. Ira Glass and team set out to do something different from the usual climate change coverage, and produced something special.

There is a conversion story – Colorado’s state climatologist finally becomes an ex-skeptic and utters the words “climate change” to his constituents after the awful fiery summer of 2012.

There is a quixotic tale of a lonely fellow – former Congressman Bob Inglis, who lost his primary in spectacular fashion, largely because of his heresy. He is a Republican who not only “believes” in climate change, he exhorts others to take action. Good news – he has a growing following. Bad news – most of them are already progressives, not the pignorant holdouts he seeks to influence.

And finally, there is a study of the man who woke us all up, Bill McKibben. A highlight of the McKibben segment – learning just how challenging the hopeful, student-driven university divestment campaign is turning out to be. Well, no one said saving the world was going to be easy. We can learn much from McKibben’s books old and new.

Want to know more about the national movement that McKibben is building? Of course you do.

Precautions for Pollinators, Please

The current bee decline – known as Colony Collapse Disorder – shares much with the climate change “debate.” We have a grave problem with massive consequences whose origin was once mysterious, but has become much clearer.

In a rational system, threats would be recognized, and treasured resources protected. And in fact the European Union has banned nicotinoid pesticides. This is an example of applying the precautionary principle. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? When the risk of losing a particular resource – let’s say a hospitable climate, or is this case, the lion’s share of food crops – you take policy actions before 100 percent rock solid certainty as to the science is established. (Remember that 97 number?) Here is more on the principle and its application in Britain, from George Monbiot.

Let’s face it. Powerful interests who profit from “business as usual” are a bit less precautionary, and may need to be constrained. I think that, after you read William Souder’s excellent Star Tribune article on the pollinator crisis is one situation crying out for precaution. The solution will take more than just planting bee-friendly flowers (one remedy that has been proposed.) It will take tackling a familiar problem. Why does everything seem to come back to this?

The Power Game – Three Views and a Wrapper

An NPR interview with the New Yorker’s George Packer caught my attention. His new book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, looks promising and is on my reading list.  The essential question here of course is – are we a community, or individuals, each out for ourselves, and each outmatched by the decisions of the powerful “individuals” who increasingly control policy – for their own benefit.

The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett visited neighboring territory last week, with a special focus on a perplexing problem. That would be the frustrating lack of progress in creating common-sense, common-good regulation in the years since the 2008 economic collapse. (For more on this, check last week’s IBI Watch, under “Corporatism – Harmful, Heritable, Habitual.”)

And the third power view is about as petty as it gets. But it is just one more reminder that the wealthy and powerful can find ways to get to the front of the line in just about every aspect of life. Somehow I can see a free marketer justifying this as “gainful employment for the disabled.”

Somehow all of this vaguely echoes the words of that great sage who left us too soon, George Carlin. Old George wraps it up nicely in his inimitable, foul-mouthed fashion.

Hypocrisy and Double Standards

This is a guest post from Paul Beckwith. Paul’s work is a regular feature of Boomer Warrior, which also carries my writing from time to time. He also blogs at Sierra Club Canada.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root” -Henry David Thoreau

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 5/5/13

5 05 2013

Ups Rising //

One of the most enduring conservative causes is deregulation. Government regulation is burdensome, a drag on commerce, a nuisance for “job creators.” Often, that regulation is around disclosure – sharing information that customers or the public need to make informed choices. The ideal world of the radical deregulators – the Randians’ deified “makers,” has one guideline – caveat emptor. In that world, we are all “ups,” that is, customers on the used car lot. It’s our job to figure out what is going on, and we are only as secure as the salesman is honest. This sure worked well in the financial industry leading up to the 2008 collapse. Remember? Real estate values would never fall. Mortgage-backed securities? Maybe the best engine for wealth creation ever. Leave it all to the smartest guys in the room. Uh huh.

The battle raging right now over fracking is just such a regulatory tussle. Trust us, we are told. The chemical brew used to coax reluctant oil and gas from deep shale is safe, not a threat to ground water. And anyway, the exact mixtures are trade secrets. The earthquake connection? Forget that, folks. What is more important than cheap gas for the car? And all that noise about silica sand? Just that, noise.

Look in your clothes closet. See how rarely “Made in USA” appears. (For me, it’s mostly a few near-antique tweed sport coats with a new lease on life – I can wear them less often because of chronic winter warmth.) Now check how often you see “Made in Bangladesh.” Ah, just as I thought. Now try to convince yourself that folks like you and me have no responsibility at all for the horrible factory building collapse – where the death toll just passed 600. Right, it’s that big, bad building owner’s fault. Punish him and all will be well. Elizabeth Cline knows better. Based on an interview on Terry Gross’s consistently amazing Fresh Air show, Cline’s book just might become the first volume on fashion that I ever read. Well, it’s sort of about fashion.

And what about the continuing decline of vital pollinators? Just read this article that dances all around the issue, seeking some natural cause. I am sure natural causes are part of the problem with colony collapse disorder, but do you think the main cause could, just possibly, be those amazing “new generation” pesticides, the nicotinoids? The European Union thinks so. But not us here in America, land of the government run by and for the big corporations. Some groups are fighting to get a ban here as well – here and here.

These are just three examples where the long-term common good is pretty much missing from the debate. Should cheap gas, damn the environmental consequences, be the driving force behind energy policy? Should cheap, fashionable clothing trump worker safety and survival in the poorest corners of the world – where that business has migrated over the past three decades? Should agricultural chemical manufacturers, with their stranglehold on the political process, be allowed to beguile us with low-priced processed foods based on factory-farmed monoculture, while ignoring the long-term destruction of nature?

In each case, the industry making big current money regard to long-term harm would be glad for us not to know what the man behind the curtain is up to. What if every fracking decision were made on a full disclosure of the chemicals, the process and the implications? What if the Wal-Marts, the H&Ms and Targets were held accountable for the factory inspections they wink at, and minimum standards for worker welfare were actually enforced? What if decisions on agricultural chemicals were tilted in favor of safety rather than expedience?

The world we create is the sum total of our decisions every time we buy something. And we really do have choices. But we have to be willing to “know what we don’t want to know.” So it seems to me that we have three tasks:

  • Make the wisest choices from what is available right now
  • Force disclosure of information on everything we do, so that we can make better choices
  • Work to change the system to focus more on the long-term common good

In a terrific book I am reading right now, emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman argues strongly for “radical transparency.” Radical transparency, in the author’s words, “converts the chains that link every product and its multiple impacts – carbon footprints, chemicals of concern, treatment of workers, and the like – into systematic forces that count in sales. Radical transparency leverages a coming generation of tech applications, where software manipulates massive collections of data and displays theme as a simple readout for making decisions. Once we know the true impacts of our shopping choices, we can use that information to accelerate incremental changes for the better.”  Is Goleman too idealistic? Maybe, but we don’t really know because we have not really tried. One tool the author promotes in the book is Good Guide, developed by Dara O’Rourke. This site collects information on a variety of protection standards, and rates products from personal care to pet food to automobiles. I have spent some time on the site, and it looks helpful – especially in the way a user can fine-tune results for particular priorities. Goleman’s book goes into much more detail about how we can make the right choices easier. Check out Good Guide and see if it doesn’t help you make some wiser choices. And it also is bottom-up pressure, as compared to top-down regulation.

But what about expanding those choices? That will take system change. And here in the good old USA, big corporate money does not talk, it shouts down other interests. All of them. To change that, we need a much less corporatist Supreme Court. To get that, we need fair elections and a process that is not unduly influenced by the big spenders.

Universal, easy access to information that drives big-picture decisions. Quixotic? Probably. But what if we really try? Think of it as a lemon law for all occasions. We don’t have to be a nation of “ups.”

Global Warming Cooling?

This climate denialist strategy never seems to die. Find someplace somewhere in the world where cooling is taking place, and ballyhoo it. Another variant is to select specific data from temperature records and twist it to tell your story. You will find all that and then some in this denialist blog post – flagged by an IBI Watch reader. No time to go deeply into detail here, except to point out the magical thinking that underlies this stance. If you are to believe Larry Bell, Marc Morano and this whole crowd, well then, it’s OK for us to keep pumping ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The planet’s systems will overwhelm anything we do anyway. Great big planet. Little old inconsequential humans, all seven billion of us. Pour on the coal, boys. And if this crowd of magicians is wrong? Oh well. . .

Here is an exercise for you. Open this link to a taxonomy of climate change denier arguments and science debunking the debunkers, provided y the Skeptical Science site. Got that? Now check this article that condenses the array of denial in our oily Congress. It includes a hilarious video that you might call the Pignorance Parade. But here is the exercise – see where each of those Congressional fairy tales land on the Skeptical Science hit parade.

As we pass an ominous historic milestone – 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere – it’s a good time to compare our impact with the planet’s natural production. And do something about it. For Twin Cities-based readers of this blog, this blogger is a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project. I would be happy to come and engage in a discussion with your group.

Take a Bite out of Climate Change

Those not in the pignorance (pretend ignorance) society would like to know what to do to help. The obvious – using less fossil-fueled energy – springs to mind. But a too-rarely connected step is actually simpler. Eat less meat. There, that was easy, eh? Good for us and the planet – as detailed in Tracie McMillan’s book. Could even force some diabetes doctors to find something else to do.

Weapons of Anti-Logic

It’s a big weekend for the Gun Lobby. Wayne LaPierre is having a field day at the NRA convention, playing the freedom card to drum up ever more weapons sales. You have to hand it to this guy. Whatever your ideas on gun regulation, it is good to know your 2nd Amendment. This quiz can help. Can you beat my score of 12/15?

The logic of radical anti-regulators is this: We don’t need gun regulation because the criminals won’t obey the laws anyway. Think about that. Both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart did, with hilarious results. Stewart’s Daily Show featured his British cohort John Oliver in a raucous interview with gun lobbyist Philip Van Cleave. This whoop-de-do tour takes us to Australia, for an interview with staunchly conservative former Prime Minister John Howard. Get that – a conservative who supports gun regulation, and has the history to prove its efficacy. Must be another planet. Just watch Van Cleave make Oliver’s case for him. The deer-in-headlights look alone is worth the trip. Head-slappingly funny, friends. And Stephen Colbert makes the NRA’s case for them – the real victims of gun violence are not the victims and survivors of mass shootings. We all know who the real put-upon victims are.


A little late in the game, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had something interesting to offer this week. I sort of liked the common-sense justice when she served on the Court. Compared to other Reagan appointees – such as those named Scalia – she was not an intolerable right-wing ideologue. Heck, she is even rethinking arguably the most momentous decision of her tenure. She was the swing vote on that one. Too late smart, as they say.

We celebrated the new presidential fun house last week (“The Misunderestimated Decider), but President George W. Bush’s impact was so epochal that it merits further celebration. And the new library/fun house does not really do that impact justice, as this AlterNet piece demonstrates. To end festivities, I recommend visiting Tom Degan’s hard-hitting and well-researched Rant blog. Check the April 30 entry. Were I running for office, I would say, “I approve this message!”

Musical Impact Past and Present

We lost Richie Havens recently. Havens made a big splash with his rhythm-infused, driving performance at Woodstock. I always enjoyed his warm vocals and his inventive covers of songs like Here Comes the Sun. I confess to not knowing of his environmental commitment until his passing. RIP Richie Havens.

Ah, to live to 94 and still be relevant! That is what Pete Seeger can say this week. This is a 1994 interview done by Bill Moyers where Seeger talks about what it takes to change the world. And here is a celebration of Seeger and his impact from Common Dreams. Learn more about this great American via this video. Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger! We need you more than ever!

“Participation – that’s what’s gonna save the human race.”
Pete Seeger

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN