IBI Watch 10/20/13

20 10 2013

What Scotty Said //

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

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

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

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

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

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


Theory and Practice

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


Seas of Heartbreak

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

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

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

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

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

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


One Day, One Massive Boost to Your Climate Knowledge

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

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

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


Gimme that Old Time Coalition

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


Science for the Masses

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

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


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


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 9/1/13

1 09 2013

Respect for Science //

Well-funded disinformation campaigns since the late 70s have helped weaken both understanding of and regard for scientists and their work. For the back story on this, check into Chris Mooney’s work. But for now, here is a look at some of the worst that scientists and science journalists are up against. One of the most prominent pignorant (pretend-ignorant) pundits, Glenn Beck, is here trying to outdo Bachmann in the crazy derby. But what a fun-loving guy, don’t you think?  And of course Glenn, replete with his wacky conspiracy mobiles, is far from the only purveyor of pignorance out there. This HuffPost piece rightly celebrates California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, dinosaur flatulence and all. Try out this quote from the brilliant legislator: “Just so you’ll know, global warming is a total fraud and it’s being designed because what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives.”

How can you top that? You can’t, but some think climate change denial and resultant policy paralysis are on the wane. That’s what Leo Hickman suggests in this Guardian piece. And though the agents of inertia have lots of money from the Koch brothers and their fellow wreckers, many are working to turn the tide. This video (also included in the Hickman piece) is very funny, and has an easy to sign petition attached. Be ready for the specter of Michele Bachmann’s eye bearing down on Florida, and the worst case scenario of hurricanes, James Inhofe, threatening the entire east coast. That is a storm naming system I would pay to see.

And a longtime figure on the science ramparts, Bill Nye the Science Guy, has a new, short video in which he explains – Nye-style – what motivates him to keep on fighting pignorance.

Here is an important update on a highly influential – and unjustly attacked – climate scientist. Michael Mann – he of the much-criticized (by powerful, self-interested denialists) hockey stick model of global warming – is gaining traction in his litigation against the well-paid goon squad that assailed him in the fabricated scandal known as “Climate Gate.”

And to close on this – following Bill Moyers on Facebook is a wise choice. The senior PBS journalist and host has suddenly stepped up his posts, to go along with his excellent Moyers and Company show. Here, he points out that the climate liars are up against a formidable, fact-based organization. The National Science Foundation? No, the US military.


A Legacy “Misunderestimated”

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I count myself among the most dedicated bashers of former President George W. Bush. Some have taken me to task for that. You know the tune – he has been out of power for x years, time for you liberals to move on, all that. Many have indeed moved on, for better or worse. But I think moving on would be committing an all-too-common sin. That would be forgetting the consequential actions of the past. For example, how many times have you heard someone complaining about the Iranian mullahs and their awful trouble-making government? But if you ask, they generally do not have a clue that the root cause of Iranian theocracy can be traced easily back to, not the Ayatollah Khomeini, but Great Britain and the US “taking out” democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh. But don’t just take my word for that.  And hey, considering events around Syria, it is worth noting that this momentous meddling is celebrating an anniversary.

That’s a long way of saying that leaders who leave the scene often have long-lasting effects, and should keep receiving credit or blame for their achievements and other sorts of actions. In the case of President Bush, we dare not forget his signature achievement – the war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, monstrously costly in lives, treasure and good will the world once had toward our country. On the treasure front, that is trillions, with a TR as in millions of millions. How could we possibly forget and move on from such a huge, consequential step? And for now, never mind that the whole thing was trumped up, ginned up and orchestrated with help of a compliant mainstream press corps. (And fairness requires me to nod to the true legacy of Bush the Younger.) Never mind because my premise here was to write about the Decider’s positive legacy. OK, here goes.

First, Bush was honest enough on at least one point – we are addicted to oil. Sure, he didn’t take that big next step and admit that oil was also the main driver behind the unstoppable urge to attack Iraq, but who is counting steps?

Second, how bad would a Republican president have to be to lead to a Democratic successor who wins by a big enough margin to overcome Rovian dirty tricks – and an African-American candidate to boot? Now that is positive, in my book anyway.

Third, and most important right now, is this. President Bush outrageously overreached in executive power, especially but not exclusively via the war in Iraq and its lead-in propaganda campaign about imaginary weapons of mass destruction. This so sickened Americans and allies alike that our current president had to halt his own march to militarism before ordering strikes against Syria. Just look at what happened in Britain the other day. After more than ten years of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are so tired of war that there is virtually no enthusiasm even for the promised “limited strikes.”

President Obama may find that stepping on the brakes may be one of the smartest moves of his presidency. This is true because our interventions have almost always turned out badly in the long run – as Stephen Kinzer demonstrated in his book Overthrow (which I recommend strongly). It will be true many times over if late-breaking news on the appalling chemical-weapons deaths in Syria turns out to be true.


Endangered Miracles

When we get sick enough with upper respiratory infections or other maladies, we crave a quick return to health. And the handiest tool for a speedy recovery is often a prescribed antibiotic. And why not? These substances are not called “miracle drugs” for nothing. But we may be playing fast and loose with their power.

Anyone who has done any reading at all about modern factory farming knows that antibiotics are in copious use in those establishments. This is logical of course – animals on factory farms are kept in such close quarters that the risk of disease skyrockets. But did you know that factory farms are also pumping livestock full of these miracle drugs in order to prevent illness? Or that some antibiotics have another purpose entirely – to fatten up the beast faster for market? All this pill-popping and needle-pumping adds up, but the percent of all antibiotics that are used on factory-farmed animals compared to people can only be described as shocking – 80 percent.

This is a big deal. Mother Jones’ food and agriculture correspondent, Tom Philpott, explains why. And doesn’t this really stand to reason? By over-applying antibiotics to factory livestock, we are forcing the bugs to multiply and try their damnedest to outsmart our miracle drugs. The more cracks they get at the task, the more likely some mutation will allow for the bug to beat the drug. We are essentially hyper-speeding evolution (if you believe in that sort of thing). Naysayers demand solid proof. In other words, seeing a plague begun by resistant bacteria would be the only thing convincing them to back stepped-up regulation of factory farm antibiotic use. . This sounds familiar, no?

And the overuse problem is not unique to the US.  Cheap factory meat is very popular in China as well. That story from PRI’s The World clearly explains the issue.

Can’t we just say that cheap factory meat is way too costly? Cutting meat consumption is a good idea – the specter of antibiotic resistance is only one more reason to avoid the stuff and force the adoption of wiser practices.


The Powerful Few, or the Public Good

The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said. “There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and there are families.”  The Iron Lady would probably take issue with Robert Reich’s articulation of the need for building and maintaining society. Note the timetable – the former Labor Secretary is pointing to the Thatcher/Reagan era as the precise time when the benefits of increased productivity starting sliding toward the wealthy and powerful, and working people were cut out. And Reich rightly notes that you hardly hear the phrase “the common good” at all anymore. And what of those benefits to the wealthy and powerful? They seem to come with less and less accountability, if you look at CEOs.

Bill Moyers sees a plutocratic end game in that system that coddles the powerful. So what keeps people from rising up and restoring democracy? Dennis Marker has a theory in his 2012 book. In 15 Steps to Corporate Feudalism, he argues that getting people to hate the government is a key strategy to persuade the masses to support policies that benefit the powerful few at the expense of the many. I think he is onto something big. There is a great interview of the author by Thom Hartman at that last link.

The essential question here is this – are we in this together, or are we completely isolated islands? The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett has a modest proposal to help us get back to shared responsibility and accountability. Before you dismiss her idea as unfeasible, just think of the payoff in policy and outcomes if everyone – the Bushes, the Clintons, the Obamas, and even the Limbaughs, Coulters and Hannitys – had an actual share in this nation’s overseas adventures, of the “regime change” sort and others. Very wise, and very timely.


Musical Notes (Including One on Sustainability)

Here are three musical stories that hit me this past week. First, a story that pained me. It is sad to know that the owner of one of the sweetest voices and most diverse catalogs in popular music will sing no more. Second, a veteran Twin Cities jazzman who deserves a far bigger audience. If you like old-time jazz, and have ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, this MPR story will bring you a smile. Finally, this singer songwriter from Iowa was already known in folk circles for wonderfully wise and witty lyrics taking on, among other things, conservative religion. Now she has turned her attention to farming, with similar entertaining and thought-provoking results. Be sure to click and listen to the clever Herbicides..


“The long memory is the most radical idea in America” – Bruce “Utah” Phillips


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 6/16/13

16 06 2013

War Footing Needed //

The imagery is powerful and symbolic. High-tech war weapons, including Blackhawk helicopters, fight Colorado’s Black Forest fire, now acknowledged as the greatest natural disaster in the state’s history. That fire is coming under control now, after it has killed two people and destroyed more than 400 homes. And though it turns out that the fire was caused, accidentally or criminally, by human activity, we must focus on the big picture. That is, this fire comes just a year after a terrible Colorado fire season, and is undoubtedly a preview of an impossibly awful fire season across the West this year. That is owing to a Sierra snowpack at a tiny fraction of average. And though some insist on blaming this crisis on “the hand of God,” (listen to the fellow in this NPR story on the fire say just that), the inescapable conclusion is this – our greenhouse gases will continue to further dry out many drought-prone areas, as well as build more sudden, violent storms and resultant floods.

We have no problem – indeed, no choice – but to roll out a massive, military response when the individual weather events occur. After all, fires must be extinguished, flood victims must be saved and relocated, storm surge damage must be repaired. But the irony is this – as we muster the will to repair and adapt, there remains sinfully little commitment to reduce the activity that causes these problems in the first place.

In a predictable shift, there is more talk of adapting to climate change. No problem with that – it was an activists’ pipe dream, the notion that we could cut greenhouse gases without also promoting mitigation and adaptation, but it is past time to bust up the irony. That is, throwing resources at adaptation to droughts, floods, sea rise – and this will take an ever-mounting treasure to fund – while doing so little to halt the reduce and halt the problem in the first place suggests a fire metaphor. It is like fighting a fire with one team, while other, much bigger teams, continue to heave ever more fuel into the blaze.

The current situation – though President Obama says some of the right things about climate change, he is doing little to follow through. This article talks about FEPA – one of the tools at his disposal that does not involve dragging along a recalcitrant, oil-bought Congress.  And of course Obama needs to nix the Keystone XL pipeline, an enabling pathway to the dirtiest oil on the planet. This Climate Progress piece hints that the President may unveil his climate change strategy in July. (It also contains a wealth of links to climate change stories.) CNN commentator and author Van Jones strikes just the right note in this article highlighting the importance of Obama’s decision on Keystone.

What we need is a World War II-style commitment to solve the climate crisis. We hold out hope that President Obama takes a cue from the great FDR in his final term, and right now the jury is still out. Kelly Rigg’s commentary on HuffPost may be a year old, but it makes strong points and includes some insightful graphic support. I hate quoting President George W Bush, though sometimes in spite of himself he said something intelligent. Such was the case when he said “We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late.” Forget for a moment that the Decider was chest-pumping on his ginned-up, stove-piped case for invading Saddam’s Iraq, and think about that spirit as a rallying call to solve the climate crisis while we still can. It will take a war-level commitment from everyone, but the payback will be enormous. It starts with a carbon tax or fee, and it ends with a sustainable economy. Forget President W’s response to what we could do to support his Iraq war effort (“buy something”), we all can (and must) pitch in on this one.


An American Travesty

It’s clear. Commitment to reasonable weapon regulation has evaporated in the months following the Newtown massacre – just six months after the awful tragedy. A prominent victim of another tragedy, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, co-wrote a column to mark the anniversary. When you remember that 90 percent of the public supports that most reasonable of regulations – universal background checks for gun purchases – and you note that the law was rejected in both houses of Congress, you are reminded just how far our government is from the people, from majority rule.

Gerrymandering has the House showing a solid, not a slight, Republican majority, though a majority of House votes went to Democrats in 2012. And then there is the great filibuster game in the Senate, where today it would take 60 votes to support a resolution lauding apple pie. And wait – that linked chart is two years old! What about all of Senator Mitch McConnell’s greatest hits? But Senator Harry Reid shows no sign of ending this misuse of power, though he has the authority to do so. And when you think about this, remember that the Senate is already, constitutionally, out of whack – blue California (38 million people) has the same power in that lofty body as red Wyoming (576,000).

So majority rule is a fiction, as an illegitimate majority pushes the agenda of big corporations. The solution – get corporate money out of politics, and return to the original principle of government of the people, for the people and by the people.


The Little Guys will be Missed

Sometimes only a picture can tell an important story effectively. How about two pictures to tell the story of bee decline, and the dear price we will pay? Just look at before and after pix of supermarkets, presupposing that we continue to let Monsanto lead us down the pignorant (pretend-ignorant) path of chemical destruction of the pollinators.  And lest we think that chemicals are the only problem, and that bee decline is a matter for the large commercial beekeepers who hire their bees out to pollinate crops, read this commentary from local beekeeper Tess Galati: “I lost all 3 colonies because of the excessively long winter. One of the 3 new colonies is dead, as are about 1/3 of the new colonies of other local bee keepers. Nicotinoids are a huge problem, but climate change is also directly to blame. When it rains all the time, bees can’t get out to gather pollen, and what pollen there is just washes into the gutter. When springtime doesn’t bring five consecutive afternoons of sun in Georgia or California, the queens can’t mate properly, so they lay more drones and fewer workers. When farmers plant Roundup instead of clover between the rows, bees starve. I’ve been pretty depressed watching my girls struggle and not being able to help them.”

Though multiple factors are causing the bee crisis, considering what is at stake, why not eliminate those factors in our control? I think we know the answer, sadly. (You must watch the imbedded Jon Stewart video on corporate control of agriculture. Here it is.)


Father and Son Harmony

Bucky and John Pizzarelli are an inspiration. Their long collaboration has produced a tradition of beautiful swing jazz deftly played on seven-string guitars. And this NPR interview shows their partnership goes on even as the elder picker heads through his 80s. The piece is a marvel for so many reasons – snippets of great music of course, but also commentary on fatherhood, droll fashion advice from the late father of host Scott Simon, and maybe – nostalgia for good times with your dad. It made this Meathead think of good old Arch.


“The problem in society is not kids not knowing science. The problem is adults not knowing science. They outnumber kids 5 to 1, they wield power, they write legislation. When you have scientifically illiterate adults you have undermined the very fabric of what makes a nation wealthy and strong.” 

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, 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 12/2/12

2 12 2012

Twin Cliffs //

Here in America these days, you can’t turn on a news show – radio or TV – without hearing of the so-called fiscal cliff. That’s the package of steep, formulaic tax hikes and spending cuts ready to strike if Democrats and Republicans can’t find some way to agree in the next four weeks. Granted, this “cliff” warrants attention (though David Lightman reminds us of its plutocrat-protecting origins). But a far steeper cliff confronts the world – a physical rather than fiscal cliff. This of course is the planet’s carrying capacity. We test that capacity more all the time, with our 7 billion humans and counting, and our relentlessly growing greenhouse gas emissions – currently 90 million tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere every day. That has CO2 sitting at

391 parts per million, compared to 280 ppm before we started madly burning every carboniferous energy source in sight. This is too much, and growing all the time. Mother Nature tells us more firmly each day that this is too much. All the talking and posturing in Qatar right now is not going to change that one bit. Only individual action and popular pressure on the decision-makers holds any hope of heading off further catastrophe.

It appears that Hurricane Sandy may be a tipping point, at least in terms of media attention. Check this effective three-minute video posted this week on NBC News, reporting new scientific studies showing just how fast polar ice is becoming polar water. Those same new reports showed up on HuffPost as well. The Washington Post ran a story that sums up the issues nicely. It’s especially useful in that it shows that it’s not just those alarmist environmental chicken littles waving their arms around. This is the World Bank. Reality check. This article notes a common prediction of four degrees C. of warming; all our current climate chaos – extreme weather events like supercharged Hurricane Sandy, record Arctic ice melting – it is all happening with 0.8 degrees C. rise in global temperatures. I also like the way the article talks about non-linear climate change – because that is the territory we are now traversing. In other words, many surprises, just ahead.

So what are we doing about all this? Well, there is the business-as-usual crowd, who sadly have too much power in this country of ours. And then there is that pignorant power base – welcome to the pretend-ignorant club, Marco Rubio!

But all is not wanton, phony stupidity and blind greed, I am very glad to say. This video is making the rounds. A former climate denier all but breaks down in tears after viewing a new documentary on polar melting. The movie she has just seen? Chasing Ice, which I think everyone who cares even a little about this accelerating disaster should see. And at long last, offshore wind farms are making huge inroads, especially along the East Coast. Could this also be the time James Hansen starts making traction with his idea of a carbon price? If only all the lip service being offered at Doha were this substantive!

In the meantime, we always need to learn more. Here is an excerpt from a promising new book, Carbon Zero by Alex Steffen.


Mercury: Home of Durable Ice

While more stories of Earth’s disappearing ice flash before us by the day, scientists this week announced a surprising discovery. Significant quantities of water ice exist on torrid Mercury.  While all the stories I have seen – including this one – explain that perpetual shadows at the poles protect that Mercurian ice from the sun’s rays, you still have to wonder about the connection to our human-engineered climate crisis. How is that? Well, in addition to the shadows at Mercury’s poles, Mercury’s nearly nonexistent atmosphere allows all that scorching heat from the nearby sun to radiate out from the planet. Here on Earth, things were in balance until we went on our burning binge. Now, we ‘thicken’ our atmosphere every time our smokestacks belch and our tailpipes spew.  Here is the irony of all ironies. If we don’t turn this rolling catastrophe around, and decades or centuries from now we have liquefied all the ice – Greenland, Antarctica, all of it – we out here in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of our solar system will have a completely flooded planet. Our future followers can train their high-tech telescopes on Mercury and see ice so close to the sun.


Minnesota Winter: Endangered Species

It’s cheap entertainment for me. I am traveling on the East or West coast, and someone learns I live in Minnesota.  So they say, “Hey, it’s August. Snowing already, right?” I tell them no, in fact, it doesn’t snow in August here. In fact it doesn’t snow in December. It hardly snows in freaking January. And when we do get snow, it doesn’t stay as it used to. How can it stay? Heck, today, December 2(!), temperatures will approach 60! And yet we keep pretending that nothing has changed. Yes, pignorance is pervasive – especially when drastic human-caused climate change is disguised as relief from numb hands and snow shovels. There is no better source for the reality of how dramatically we are changing Minnesota’s climate than Paul Douglas. And he is not afraid to deploy a useful tool – sarcasm. “Lo and behold, long-range models hint at “accumulating snow” a week from today; maybe a couple inches? Time to call out the National Guard.” Indeed.


An Entire Hurricane Season in Four Minutes

At long last, the Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on November 30.  It was an active one – the third most active in history.  Watch this video to see the paths of all the named storms. This one builds of course – see the sudden expansion of Sandy, and its bizarre left turn into the mainland of North America.


Attention All Rats: Prepare to Abandon Ship

Of all the welcome outcomes of dealing with the “fiscal cliff,” this one has to be my favorite – the impending fall from unelected power of Grover Norquist.  The number of House members and Senators renouncing the no tax raise, no how, not ever pledge appears to be growing. And it is not just Saxby Chambliss. And anyone who says Republicans are not creative needs to meet this guy. Could Grover Norquist soon be knocked from his power perch into exile as a right-wing pundit? Let’s hope.


Not All Billionaires are Plutocrats

I maintain that Republicans – pending the nascent Norquist mutiny– are holding the country hostage in the name of doing their lords’ bidding. That is, protecting the very top of our income scale from tax restoration (the proper name for allowing the W tax cuts to expire). But not all the wealthy are overcome by self-centered greed. Warren Buffett for one. I like the fact that this particular wealthy investor looks at the big picture rather than simply demanding to keep more of his income, damn the common good. His commentary reminded me of another, related article from Hedrick Smith. He is also the author of Who Stole the American Dream?


Who Will Kill the Last Moose?

Moose are in decline, big time, here in Minnesota. The main culprit? What else, climate change.  Summers are just getting too damned hot here in the upper Midwest for this iconic beast’s liking. Don’t take my word for it – it’s what scientists say. And yet, as this recent article by Doug Smith in the Star Tribune demonstrates, hunters keep shooting them, patting themselves on the back for being environmentally responsible all the while. Why? Well, you see, they shoot only males – that preserves the population. And hey, the surviving Mr. Moose is happy – he just gets to chase more of those big ladies through the woods. I am sure that is true for a healthy population. But when the beasts are in a well-documented disappearing act, why in the world would we keep pretending that the old rules apply? Seems to me that lessons from the past relate. History is full of humanity devastating and even extinguishing entire species, based on false assumptions of inexhaustible abundance. Here are two for you – the Atlantic cod fishery, and the passenger pigeon. But hey, it sure is fun to shoot those big boys. Just do it soon. Time is running out.

Sexiest Man Alive

It’s Kim Jong Un, or so says the Onion. And who can doubt that reliable source? Not the China Daily, which devoted 55 pages to the feature on this great, dear friend of the people, according to the Guardian. Now, if China Daily really was punked, that is hilarious. But NPR’s Scott Simon had an interesting take – he smells satire here.


“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.” – Mark Twain


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, David Oertel