IBI Watch 9/22/13

22 09 2013

Preemptive Prefabrication //

The impending IPCC update on the climate crisis, due this week, has generated a lot of buzz, and a good deal of anti-science creativity as well. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a fundamentally conservative organization, will state more forcefully than ever that climate change – a documented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, causing – so far – nearly a one-degree C. temperature rise, accelerating ocean acidification and melting glaciers and ice sheets, plus many other joyful phenomena – is due to humans’ burning our addictive joy juice, i.e. fossil fuel. Here is a concise explanation from the Live Science site of the consensus-driven, cautious process followed by the IPCC.

The IPCC has a high profile – its leaders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 – so it is not really surprising that the denialist forces are seizing the opportunity for some “first-strike” messaging. It’s not hard to find writers trumpeting a supposed lull in planetary change as proof that climate change is not real, not human-caused, and not something deserving concern. Here’s the strategy. Pick any combination of those three assertions, falsely present the scientific consensus on climate change as predictive of a linear, lock-step process, and presto, you further inoculate the public against pushing for sustainable energy and environment legislation. So goes policy paralysis. Here is a survey of denialist commentary from the likes of Fox News, the Junk Science site, and  Matt Ridley, writing in the Wall Street Journal. At that last link, you will find an oft-heard assertion from the denialist crowd, that far from being a cause of concern, climate change offers benefits. Shades of the Heartland Institute.

If you suspect a coordinated, full-court press here, you are not alone. So does Joe Romm, writing on his Climate Progress site. Pay careful attention to his graphics on carbon pollution and the seven planetary boundaries. He also cites a particularly egregious example of vacuous, tech-supreme, happy talk that I linked to just last week. (Scroll down to “The Magical Techno-Fix.”). And for some succinct analysis of this pre-emptive campaign, I like the Guardians’ climate commentators, John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli. This duo has posted a new article reminding us of the stages of climate denial, all of which are on display to varying degrees in the latest round of denialist commentary.  For the record, here are the stages:

  • Deny the problem exists
  • Deny we are the cause
  • Deny the scientific consensus
  • Deny it’s a problem
  • Deny we can solve it
  • Sorry, it’s too late to solve

Here is an assignment steeped in futility, a sort of mission impossible (should you choose to accept it). Analyze the commentary linked above, and determine which articles represent which stages of denial. Then, strategize on how to change the minds of the commentators. Right, impossible.

This course is far wiser – concede that a completely melted, transformed planet will never be enough to convince these guys. That includes an ice-free summer Arctic, which is definitely on the way (current denialist trumpeting alleged ice “recovery” notwithstanding), with chaotic weather pattern consequences. Understand that denialism is not really about skepticism (which implies a willingness to see things differently) and give up the idea of every winning over the likes of Bjorn Lomborg, George Will and Lord Monckton (and our own well-funded, powerful deniers inside Congress). And support the following organizations, which are working hard to sway public opinion in the direction of sensible, sustainable energy and climate policy:

Boulder: the Arctic Connection

It is not possible to blame a particular destructive storm on manmade climate change. That includes hurricanes, even monsters like Katrina and Sandy. And it even includes the freakish storm complex that gouged Boulder, Colorado last week. That storm, called a “thousand-year flood,” dumped many months worth of rain in the space of a few days, killing at least four people and washing away houses, roads and bridges. Worse, it came on the heels of a persistent drought. For a look at just how outside the norm the event was, check this well-supported Time.com article from Bryan Walsh.

Since we have one planet, interconnected, it is wise to study how planetary forces influence weather patterns. The original research of Rutgers University scientist Jennifer Francis got new attention this week, on NPR’s Science Friday. Francis – whose work I have previously linked to (see “Wacky, Wobbly Weather”)– looks at documented changes in jet-stream patterns and resultant weather phenomena. That includes “stuck” weather, i.e., systems that come into an area and stall for days on end. Those seem to be related to the slowing, bulging, dipping jet stream. That in turn is related to the well-documented, rapid warming of the Arctic.

Our response? Take a deep sigh, and check those “stages” above.

Animated States of Income Inequality

There’s nothing like a moving picture to tell a story. Check this Washington Post animation. Despite bizarre color choices, it depicts how income inequality has grown in the past 33 years across the continental US. Intriguing. Makes me want to learn more by watching the most recent Moyers and Company installment, featuring an extended interview with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. As you probably know, he is one of the major advocates on behalf of economic justice. Here is the trailer for the movie Reich and Moyers discuss, Inequality for All – about to be released. And if all that makes you want to explore where you fit into the economic puzzle, NPR’s Marketplace has a new interactive data game – Income Upshot. You know you want to try it. Just enter your income and zip code, and prepare for some eye-opening facts. Then, compare your situation with such real-life scions as Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, and even fictional folk like Homer Simpson and Marge Gunderson. Remember her? (Think “wood chipper.”)  And then learn even more about the financial crisis – which has served to further push the extremes of income inequality – at this list of documentaries posted by Moyers. I am sure they are all worthwhile, but from experience I can strongly recommend An Inside Job.

Greenhouse Generators

Here is a quick check on sources of greenhouse gases that are accumulating in the atmosphere – carbon dioxide and methane for two. One finding is a bit surprising – and seems easy to influence. The other is not surprising at all. Good luck influencing that one.

Shut Up and Sing?

This pictorial tribute makes me want to buy more recordings from all of these outspoken musical artists. Well, most of them anyway.

Help the Oceans Clean Themselves – A Boy’s Bright Idea

A video like Boyat Slat’s TedX Talk is enough to give an old environmentalist hope for the future. His bright idea offers a solution to a seemingly insoluble problem that is a product of our modern throwaway life – the Pacific garbage patch.

“The more we exploit nature, the more our options are reduced, until we have only one: to fight for survival.”

Morris K. Udall


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


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 – 350.org, 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 9/8/13

8 09 2013

Climate Winners and Losers //

Several recent climate change postings recall a frequently heard pronouncement – “Climate change will have winners and losers.” Sounds reasonable enough.

Let’s try that one out. Low-lying islands will soon be underwater speed bumps. Hard to see anything but losers there. But wait – those poor unfortunate souls will soon have new potential homes as the poles thaw. Greenland will be open for business any decade now. Winners? See for yourself. At first glance, all the greenery makes that NBC News article look happy and inviting. But if you dig in, you see that John Roach did an admirable, honest job at painting the big picture. Note those temperature rises – five to 11 degrees F. And those are mid-range predictions. And he includes quotes from Danish biologist Jens-Christian Svenning, who helps us understand this will really not be a good example of “winners.” Not by a long shot.

How about the oceans? Surely, warmer oceans will allow marine life to flourish, leading to recovery of key fisheries. And a well-known climate change denial site tells just such a fish story about lobsters. (Chuckles all around at the cheap shot against vegetarians. Heh, heh.) Looks like we may have found ourselves a winner, folks. But slice a little deeper in the baloney and what do you get? Long-term damage to the lobster fishery, and bizarre behavior changes to boot.

But surely something must be capitalizing on the warming ocean environment. Distance swimmer Diana Nyad knows what it is, all too well. So the much-reviled jellyfish is a clear winner in manmade climate change. And that is just a part of the story. If you have 18 minutes for an excellent TED talk, coral reef ecologist Jeremy Jackson will educate you on the triple whammy (pollution, overfishing and climate change) we have visited on the world’s once-teeming oceans. How we wrecked the oceans, indeed. I like Jackson’s prescription for cleaning up the mess – but you will have to watch for yourself to find out what that is.

So on the seas, it’s pretty much losers all around, save for the jellyfish armada. But on land it is a different story. Sure, habitats are moving towards higher latitudes and altitudes, but creatures will just have to adapt. Tough luck. But agriculture will surely gain. More carbon, more plant food, more bountiful harvests, says the Heartland Institute. The propaganda-free, science-rich truth is much more interesting, and quite scary. This Guardian article gives the big picture. If you do nothing but scan the graphics, you will uncover a few true winners in this competition – the British Isles (sea rise aside) and West Africa (population overshoot aside) most notably. But if you look at the projected yield declines, and then remember that global population continues its inexorable rise, you can see a nightmare scenario developing. In other words, business as usual makes all of us abject losers, and there is much more at stake than a discarded lottery ticket.

It’s a pretty dismal search, this hunt for climate change winners. Here, though, is one undeniable group in the winners’ circle. I call them the Hail Mary Squad. These are the geniuses who will save us from ourselves by hacking the planet. I speak of course of geoengineering. This Wikipedia entry catalogs the ideas, which generally aim to reduce solar energy hitting the earth, or pull our waste carbon from the air. This madness is guaranteed to rise in prominence, and its proponents in audacity. And hey, for a while, they stand to make big money.

Truth is, we would all be a lot better off if we can summon the political will to drastically cut greenhouse emissions. It starts with making carbon pay its way – before we lose everything that matters.


Celebrating Workers and Banksters

Amid all the picnicking and partying last Monday, we were supposed to celebrate the American worker. This is hard to do nowadays, especially for certain Republicans. Count Eric Cantor in that number (based on his 2012 Labor Day pronouncement), as recalled by Paul Krugman. It is also a five-year anniversary of the 2008 economic crisis. That was the reason for NPR’s interviewing former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Host Robert Siegel gamely held Paulson accountable, and though Paulson professed support for Dodd-Frank, he could not bring himself to speak positively of the best insurance against future financial bubbles, reinstating Glass-Steagall. Here is hoping it does not take another disaster to build momentum in this important remedy.  And should you want to review the sorry 2008 episode, it is hard to top An Inside Job.


The Entitled Ones

The pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm educated us well. Some of us, maybe too well. All animals are created equal, they told their post-revolutionary subjects, but some animals are more equal than others. That could describe the thinking of many wealthy and powerful personages. I think Joshua Holland is onto something here. The moral of the story – if you see a BMW approaching, get the hell out of the crosswalk.


Banishing Pignorance

Regular readers of this blog know “pignorance” is my term for “pretend ignorance.” For the powerful, especially the petro-powerful, this means blowing smoke all around the science of climate change, so that very profitable business as usual may proceed. For the rest of us, this means ignoring our senses, avoiding alternative media that tell the truth, and perhaps taking reassurance from pundits that pooh-pooh the concern of arm-wavers like myself.

I was thinking about how pignorance is built the other day as I listened to yet another in a series of what I think of as “changeling weather summaries.” And mind you, this was on a sensible public station, staffed by bright, aware people. First, following a couple of days where high temps were about five degrees or so above the long-term average (82 vs. 77), the radio voice talked about impending 90s being “more like summer.” So, is 82 not “like summer?” Since when? Then there was the guy who talked about 80s being “chillier” than what we have been used to (90s). Chillier? Yep, 80s sure make me reach for the woolies. And then there is the morning gal’s vacuous weather patter, virtually free of the word “hot,” even as temps break the 90 barrier, day after day. It’s now “warm,” folks.

Sure, this is small stuff, but it contributes to what I call “normalizing the abnormal.” And normalizing the abnormal is just one piece of a puzzle called climate inertia, in which we, like the frog in the heating pot of water on the stove, stays passive until it dies when the nice warm water reaches the boiling point.

Normalizing the abnormal is also one of many perspectives on the big, comfortable lie that we collectively tell ourselves in order to avoid recognizing and acting to avert the existential climate crisis we are relentlessly creating. In this AlterNet piece, Margaret Klein does a terrific job analyzing our games of pretending and ignoring, and issuing a clarion call for all of us to live in what she calls “climate truth.” That means fully recognizing, fully responding to, and fully solving this disaster we have energized. Our descendants have everything to gain; we have nothing to lose but our pignorance. I also can’t help but noting that “climate truth” sounds an awful lot like “Climate Reality,” an organization that I represent.


Syria’s Context and Climate Connection

As the battle rages over what action the US will take over Syria and its use of chemical weapons, a few things are clear. First, the shadow of the Bush Administration’s war-happy adventures in Iraq looms large. Second, the American public is weary of such adventures. Third, President Obama, to his credit, is sharing the decision-making power with Congress. All the rest is not so clear. That’s why Bill Moyers’ postings are so important. Here is a Syria reader supplied by Moyers, and here is a thought-provoking look at the Syrian civil war in terms of manmade climate change.


He’s Back

Just in time for fall gridlock season, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes an outrageously dramatic return.


“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN