IBI Watch 8/4/13

4 08 2013

Climate Change Sinking In //

The article that headline calls out for goes like this. “Members of the US Congress, after decades of bickering and stalling, looked at the latest evidence of a planet altered by human-generated greenhouse gases, and decided, ‘Enough is enough. It is time for decisive steps.’ In other words, the science finally ‘sank in,’ and persuaded a critical mass of legislators, without regard to ideology, to respect the scientific findings and, at long last, enact world-leading policies to protect the planet for future generations.”

If only.

Sadly, what seems to be sinking in most deeply is warmer surface temperatures. And those are making things mighty interesting for now, mighty devastating in the not-so-distant future. Here are just a couple of examples of what I am describing. First, Arctic sea ice coverage is headed down into record territory again this summer. And the result is surface lakes of meltwater on top of the sea ice. But those are now breaking through the ice, sinking in to lower ice levels. And guess what happens then. Hint – refreezing is NOT what happens – even for this temporary lake at the North Pole.  That’s right, a “lake” exactly at the northernmost spot on this rapidly warming planet. So that is melting sinking through sea ice, which is already floating and not a direct threat of rising ocean levels.

But the same thing is happening on land. In particular, Greenland. Watch this video and see the evidence that the melt is speeding up. This is not a theory of future change. It is solid scientific observation of accelerated melting.  Note the sea level rise loaded in the Greenland ice sheet – seven meters, i.e. 23 feet. That’s enough to create more than a few bad days in various coastal cities. OK, that is an understatement, as you can see.

And here is another way climate change “sinks in.” Sure, seems like a no-brainer – weather is hotter, patience wears thin, tempers flare . . . But now there is measurable evidence of that heating effect.

So what are our nation’s leaders doing to slow and stop this disaster that is playing out? Not much. Oh sure, they are busy. You can’t accuse the gerrymandered (i.e. phony GOP-majority) House of inconsistency. (BTW, I think that vote count is up to 40 now – your tax dollars hard at work, for the long haul.)

What Congress could be doing – if its members were not beholden to their favorite flavor of fossil fuel – would be to make carbon pay its way. And yes, that seems impossible right now, with the House in the hands of science deniers and the Senate always under threat of the modern, misused descendant of the filibuster whenever anything of substance is discussed. But give the president credit – he has made proposals to move the country in a positive direction, based on actions that do not require Congressional support. Of course, it is always wise to be skeptical – this AlterNet piece clearly explains that all the positive action to plan to reduce emissions bumps up against continuing extraction growth (for export and profits to Big Oil). And military adventures overseas cause massive emissions but don’t count in the US total.    New extractions exported for big profits but don’t count in emission totals.

But the climate crisis is an accelerating wave, with surprises waiting at each warming milepost on the way. For instance – formerly frozen methane making a grand and unwelcome appearance, as described in this lengthy but worthy article by Subhankar Banerjee (author of Arctic Voices).

I argue that America’s political system has evolved into a mass machine dedicated to one purpose – clearing the way for multinational corporations (which owe no allegiance to any nation) to act in a regulation-free world. Thanks to Tea Party Republicans, this is happening often by default – as explained by economist Paul Krugman. The only big-picture solution to progress on climate and so many other issues is this- get the corporate money out.

Here is one organization – the Get Money Out Foundation – dedicated to that purpose. And – as a point of hope – more people all the time are “getting it.”

Avoid Local Bias

Here in Minnesota right now, we are positively basking in calm, beautiful weather. Gentle sunshine, temperatures around or a few degrees below long-term averages, no extreme, severe storms. It almost puts manmade climate change out of your mind. It even gets people of a certain frame of mind to think, “Maybe things are not as bad as they say. Sure looks pretty normal for now.” Don’t bet on it.

How about a lingering European heat wave? Or maybe you prefer ridiculously warm temps in Alaska. Or maybe it’s the big burn out in the American West.

None of this should be surprising. Consider the long-term trend. The only thing that should surprise is our malingering lethargy on this issue, allowing the pignorant (pretend-ignorant) crowd – led by the likes of Senator Jim “Hoax” Inhofe – to hold sway.

Time to wake up.

Some are More Equal than Others

Consider how wealthy America is – per capita – compared to the rest of the world. On the three scales listed here, we are either number seven, six or eight. And when you compare us only to other modern western democracies, only Norway, Luxembourg and Switzerland surpass us. Keep that in mind as you consider three perspectives on relative well-being in our country.

First, consider this laundry list of world-leading reasons why we should think twice – or maybe eight times – before chanting “USA!”

  • Most expensive place to have a baby
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Small arms ownership
  • Most people behind bars
  • Energy use per person
  • Health expenditures
  • Cocaine use

Makes me want to chant. Or maybe scream.

Second, consider where might be the best place to be born. Here is an index based on a variety of factors – GDP, literacy, life expectancy, etc. (You can see all the factors listed in one of the charts.) Remembering that the US trails only two or three western democracies in per-capita wealth, you would think we should score pretty high – at least in the top ten. But you would be wrong. What is especially troubling is that a scant 25 years ago, the results were starkly different. So what is going on here?

That would be the third factor. Recent studies have surveyed Americans on two aspects of relative wealth distribution in the country. Those are:

  • How they believe wealth is actually distributed among the public, divided into ten-percent sectors (top ten percent, second ten percent, etc.)
  • What would be a fair distribution of wealth among those sectors

This gets really interesting when compared to the way wealth is actually distributed among the ten sectors. I believe this is the best explanation – via video animation – of how this is playing out.

These trends are not good, they don’t result by accident, and they are not inevitable. I like Robert Reich’s concise video explanation, and his call for change for the better. I also like Jim Hightower’s quick audio tour of American exceptionalism, and his prescription for a better future – invest in the common good.

Framing the Debate

Heard about Sandy Hook recently? Some might say, “Sandy Hook? What’s that, a beach to visit?” Well, no, it is only the site of that awful school massacre just last December which, for a short time, generated some momentum for reasonable gun regulation. Things though have not only returned to what passes for normal, but such events seem to have spawned even more gun sales. Nothing seems to have changed in a country where a guy like this can be a police chief, make an outrageous video and be defended by powerful people as “just expressing his views on his own time.” One more good old town to stay away from.

Bill Maher makes a valid point on the weapons issue – today’s debate allows only center-to-right perspectives. While Wayne LaPierre continues to own Congress, it is always a sad but necessary exercise to check in on how many more have died in gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre. I say we should listen to those whose lives have been shattered. And I ask – how many more Americans famous and otherwise will have to suffer the fate of the likes of Jim Brady, Gabrielle Giffords and Sami Rahamim to name just a few, before we summon the will to escape the gun lobby’s stranglehold on policy?

Big, Brave Policy Enforcers

You and I can’t imagine the courage and fortitude required to carry out the mission described at this link. This shining example of bold, decisive action will live on in the annals of government protecting the public against grave threats, under the heading “Policies are policies.”

You will read how the Department of Natural Resources did its sworn duty. But hey – considering the SWAT-team-like actions of the highly armed team makes me wonder – was this really the DNR?  After all, the federal government has a feared agency called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Maybe – stay with me – the Dairy State has a new, shadowy, undercover agency called the WTF. That would be the bureau of, well, you get the idea. And maybe this quick strike was really designed to eliminate a laughing critic who dared to say – in her own way – that the state’s emperor has no clothes. Mission accomplished.

Hope for an Ethical Future

What a concept – holding the Supreme Court justices to high ethical standards. Too good to be true? Probably, but let’s dream on. Getting a bill introduced is at least a good start.

Heard this New Asian Band?

I have attended several concerts at the Minnesota Zoo – a great Twin Cities venue. But I have never seen anything like this. Mostly percussion, but it has its moments. Creates a new meaning for the term “big band.”

“There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.”

-Louis Armstrong


Contributed links to this posting – Mary Colborn, Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 8/12/12

12 08 2012
  • Plagues Upon Ourselves   //
    It has been easy for many Americans to ignore the perils of manmade climate change.  Until the recent dramatic uptick in extreme weather, it has been an issue for others to worry about – poor countries, low-lying islands, lovers of polar bears.  But more Americans are waking up to the issue.  And as the health effects of our vast uncontrolled experiment in atmospheric tinkering become clearer, all but the most durably pignorant (pretend ignorant) will start taking reality seriously.  And that has to help us make the necessary change away from a system that runs entirely on corporate money.  We can only hope.

    Here are three stories that focus on climate change’s immediate and rapidly evolving effects on human health.  First, here is a Daily Climate story on the evolution of climate-related diseases. Anthrax anyone?  How about some cholera?  And this story has a Minnesota connection.  Two deaths in the same Stillwater MN lake, attributed to a rare amebic meningitis that can thrive only in 80-degree waters, have spooked the public.  This Scientific American story from 2008 lists a swarm of diseases headed toward what used to be cooler, inhospitable climes.  Surely, we can’t be pignorant enough to let climate change’s effects destroy our health before we act to stop it.  Or could  we?

    Listen to those Cassandras

    James Hansen’s recent article connecting extreme weather with manmade climate change has made quite a stir, and continues to ripple.  Daily Climate’s Michael Mann (author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) has an enlightening commentary.  I especially like his admission of his former skeptical perspective, and his reminder that so many dismissed Hansen in 1988 as an alarmist arm-waver.  Sadly, some are doing the same right now.  But Hansen was dead-on in his assessment and predictions in 1988.  Odds are, he is once again today.  We ignore him at our peril.  This New York Times piece digs into the implications of Hansen’s latest study, which compares the global climate of 1951 to 1980, before the bulk of global warming had occurred, with the climate of the years 1981 to 2011.  It also contains many links worth exploring.  And this John Broder article in the Times explores similar territory.

    Clear Evidence, Near and Far

    When I visited Glacier National Park four years ago, I saw some large, dark, bare hills that looked like glaciers had recently departed.  And of course that is consistent with the sad, ongoing trend that will lead to the park needing a new name within a decade or two.  (“The Park that Coal Melted?”)  But I could not say that for certain, lacking a historical context.  That’s not the case with MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner, who reported first-hand on dramatic climate change effects in the Black Hills.  Here are two terrific, time-delay animations from NASA.  The first shows the spread of extremely hot summer weather in the northern hemisphere since the mid-1950s.  The second shows the dramatic shift over that same time in temperature anomalies, toward the hot side of course.  So much for that ‘compensating cool weather’ you hear denialists point out when anyone tries to mention the pervasive US drought of 2012.  Far to the north, this video documents Greenland’s faster melting.  But don’t worry – the melt has increased only 30-fold.  Then there’s this Guardian piece talking about how much faster Arctic ice is disappearing.  And, just in time to speed up the process is an unusual Arctic cyclone that is spinning through as I write.  Just read the consequences of this storm, and imagine when one of these monsters pops up when Shell’s underwater oil drilling is going full bore.  It will make the Exxon Valdez disaster look like a picnic with the seals.  But again, not to worry.  The storm is not unprecedented.  But it sure is impressive, and portentous.

    Prescription: Mitigation and Adaptation

    Thanks to our greed and pignorance, we have allowed the planetary disease of climate change to fester to a critical state.  There is still time to control the fever – if we muster the political will.  The idea of cap and trade as a strategy for controlling emissions has been widely discredited, and pretty much abandoned.  But its cousin – cap and dividend (also called fee and dividend)  has much promise. It’s the dreaded carbon tax – a fee on carbon-emitting fuels – but with a twist.  The revenue collected is distributed to the people.  They then end up keeping more of the dividend if they make environmentally wise choices.  The fee increases over time, encouraging reduction in use of dirty fuels, and establishment of alternatives. Karyn Strickler interviewed Mike Sandler, a prominent advocate for this strategy.  Of course, if we keep electing politicians who deny the science for their own oily reasons (Can you say Mitt?  How about Inhofe?), there will never be political will for such a shift.

    So that is one strongly recommended idea for mitigation.  Here is one for adaptation.

    Rise of the Randians?

    Mitt Romney’s eagerly awaited VP choice proved dramatic and controversial.  Paul Ryan’s claim to fame is a budget that purports to bring balance – but exacts a dear price from middle class taxpayers while serving – of course – the ‘job creators.’  No surprise there – the ‘job creator’ myth owes no small favor to Ayn Rand, the creator of Objectivism and that fictional hero of free-market capitalism, John Galt.  So Ryan is merely being true to his principles – a refreshing change from his new boss, who is running against his own biggest success (health care reform), and has renounced his own ‘belief’ in the science of climate change.  But wait.  Congressman Ryan may not be so true.  This one-time (as recently as five months ago) unpaid salesman for Rand’s ideas now says he denounces his former guru.  So which is it?  We will find out soon, I guess.  But I am betting on his clinging to Rand.  Why?  Her system builds plutocracy best in the long run. That’s the real Ryan agenda.

    A Declaration for Our Times

    IBI Watch reader Ron Weitbrecht took pen in hand and created a statement of principles that are on the money for our current state of affairs.

    The Declaration of Subjugation

    “We hold these truths to be self evident, that rich men (not women) are created more equal than others. That they are endowed by their bankers with certain inalienable entitlements, that among these are perpetual profits, eternal corporate welfare, and tax free subsidies. That to secure these perks, governments are purchased among men, deriving their powers from the ability to bribe and outspend. That whenever any form of government becomes unwilling to protect their status, it is the right of the corporations to invoke Citizens United and select their own politicians, laying the foundation of plutocracy and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their perpetual and ever increasing income disparity.”

    Vote Fraud – the Real and Fox News Editions

    The Republican-driven full-court press on voter identification allegedly seeks to solve an imaginary problem.  That would be the dreaded ‘voter fraud.’  Far from some well-meaning attempt to preserve electoral integrity, this is a desperate Republican power grab – a kinder, gentler poll tax.  It is the culmination of a long GOP effort to restrict the vote enough to guarantee their victory.  This AlterNet article fingers the 2000 election as the starting point for the new ‘electoral’ strategy.  The star of the video, of course, is the Supreme Court Justice with massive ego and attitude to match – the driver of the political decision to stop counting votes and select George W as president.  The eminent justice tells us to ‘Get over it.’  As for the voter fraud campaign, it’s hard to top Jon Stewart’s satirical critique.

    Cry of the Soul

    This audio postcard from the coast of Maine, created by novelist Roxana Robinson, is just the kind of respite from political madness that we so badly need.  Listen to Robinson’s evocative description of loons on Mount Desert Island . . . and then their haunting calls.  Beautiful.

    “Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.” 

    –       Henrik Tikkanen

    Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

    Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Peta Kaplan, Ron Weitbrecht