IBI Watch 12/9/12

9 12 2012

Mother Nature Demands Respect //

If the planet could talk to us, it might evoke Rodney Dangerfield: “I tell ya, I don’t get no respect.” But maybe the natural world is talking to us. And some of the most recent messages seem uncannily timed. We best pay attention.

Next to the “fiscal cliff” drama, the second biggest topic in recent weeks here in America has been Hurricane Sandy’s devastation – which hit the most crowded part of the US just before Election Day. But as I write this, Typhoon Bopha – after killing at least 500 in the Philippines – has made a u-turn and is threatening the island nation with an encore. This out-of-season storm – like Sandy one that most experts link to human-caused climate change – provides a dramatic backdrop to the current, latest installment of world climate talks, in Doha, Qatar. Not that it will goad wealthy nations – particularly the United States – into taking action commensurate with the threat. Proof of non-commitment arrived Saturday.

So while delegates – doing the bidding of their national leaders – continue to pay lip service rather than take meaningful action, they have to work harder all the time to ignore dramatic new information that seems to arrive daily. This Scientific American article paints a dire picture of current trends leading to the high end of temperature-rise predictions. For a “report card” on the Arctic, check this Huffington Post piece, which also includes a series of before-and-after photos of scenes around the world already affected by climate change. And here is an NBC News piece detailing the dramatic increase in polar melting. Even the World Bank is getting into the act. Listen to the president of the Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who does an effective job explaining the devastation we are insuring if we fail to act. As he rightly points out, “once-in-a-lifetime events are happening all the time.”

So what needs to happen? Here are a few ideas. First, I was glad to see the Green Party’s Jill Stein use an image I used recently – the “environmental cliff.” Here, former Vice President Al Gore chides President Obama for lack of action on this important issue. And for an idea on what is really needed, try this piece on the notion of “zero carbon.” In her comments, Jill Stein recommended what I think is the best measure of all for getting the entire energy and climate picture turned in a positive direction – a carbon tax. NASA’s James Hansen calls it “fee and dividend.” By any name, it will make a big difference – if only we can summon political will.

Cheap Gas Costs Too Much

In our recent election, the issue of the price of gasoline surfaced from time to time, as if the president could control it. The debate of course was about how to keep the price low. But the low price means its true cost – the environmental damage caused by burning all fossil fuels – is left out of the equation. Currently, a variety of factors are holding the price stable at a reasonably low level. I have personal evidence that it is too low. Just the other day, I parked my car in the grocery store lot near a minivan that was empty, locked and running. Why? I could only surmise that the owners wanted immediate comfort from the cool dampness when they returned with their groceries. When I left, there it was, still running, still spewing. I have seen this even more frequently during hot summer days. If gas cost more, do you think these comfort freaks would still waste and pollute? Maybe. But here is another reason to raise the price of gas. The taxes are used to fund transportation infrastructure. And I think here in Minnesota, Governor Dayton’s administration has the right idea. Not that the “garage logic” guy will agree on that one!

Two Hard Lessons

I need to be reminded periodically just what a special, progressive place I call home. Not that the experience has to be pleasant. First there was a Bill McKibben event – the Twin Cities stop on his “Do the Math” tour.  I tried to buy a ticket a few days after the stop was announced. Out of luck – fastest sellout in the country. And then there was the Friday night Twin Cities debut of the new documentary “Chasing Ice.” I was eager for this show – National Geographic photographer James Balog, the subject of the movie, was scheduled to do a question and answer session after the early show. I rode the bus and train over to Uptown, approached the counter, plunked down my cash. But wait – out of luck. The show had sold out in three days. The late show, sans discussion, was three hours later, and my border collie was alone at home. (I had already been gone several hours before the show.) So I am left to try to find another time to head to the theater. Next time, I move fast! And of course I recommend both McKibben and Balog to you.

The Whole Dirty Story

A friend pointed me to a clever cartoon video that explains the greed-driven financial morass that confronts today’s America. The narrator is Lou Grant, er, uh, Ed Asner. Here – watch the video. See if you can catch the single offensive, graphic metaphor. (Hint – it involves tinkle-down economics.) Fox News, always on the lookout for something to foam at the mouth about, had a blast of faux outrage with this one. See the Young Turks for that story. But the sideshow does not lessen the impact – or the entertainment value – of this clever little piece that tells it like it is.

Our Broken System – and Fix-it Ideas

I find it especially gratifying when conservatives point out just how extreme their brethren have become over the last 30 years – and the corrosive effect their greed-based, scorched-earth politics has had on the entire country. Here is the latest example to come to my attention. Bill Moyers interviewed former Oklahoma Representative Mickey Edwards. He is the author of The Parties Versus the People. And though Edwards is a little too think with the false equivalence for my taste – repeatedly alleging corresponding extremism on the Democratic side – he does make a powerful case for getting the corporate money out of politics. I agree – that is the root cause of so much that is wrong in America today – including John Boehner and Mitch McConnell risking going over the metaphorical fiscal cliff in the name of protecting low marginal tax rates on the very wealthy. And let’s not forget the unelected godfather of greed, Grover Norquist – who has recently run into some headwinds, at long last. Get the corporate money out, and watch all manner of good things happen. The Move to Amend folks know all about that.

Fighting Dirty Energy, Dirty Weather, Filthy Future

Young people own what is to come, for better or worse. More are speaking out and taking action – which is something that gives this old boomer a modicum of hope. Read about young college students taking action against fossil fuel polluters – via university endowment funds. And here is another angle taking shape – the undeniably discriminatory nature of coal’s negative side effects.

Bon (Bug) Appétit

Eating lower on the food chain is one way to reduce your carbon footprint. I have been eating far less meat in recent years, with associated health benefits for me and the planet alike. But for many Americans, insect cuisine may be going a bit far. Want flies with that?

Global Light Show

A new NASA video is making the rounds. It is undeniably beautiful. Take a look here. The majestic background music and enthusiastic narration tell us this is a good thing. But I need to spoil the fun. Besides beauty, I see two things here. The overwhelming share of that light is – you guessed it – burning fossil fuel. If ever there was a win-win, it would be curbing fossil-fueled light pollution. Here is one organization working to do just that.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace” – John Lennon

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper, David Oertel





IBI Watch 10/7/12

7 10 2012

Destroying the Climate in Order to ‘Save’ it  //

In June, Rex Tillerson – CEO of Exxon Mobil – raised eyebrows with his dismissal of the climate crisis as an ‘engineering problem.’  That sort of thinking – the planet as machine that can be controlled by us all-powerful humans and our techno prowess – is nothing new.  Edward Teller – the brilliant but misguided physicist often assumed to be the model for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – laid out a plan for managing the planet’s thermostat late in his long career.  Here is a recent link to articles on the topic offered by those fun-loving Freakonomics guys.

As it becomes clearer by the day just how seriously our fossil fuel emissions have harmed the planet’s climate – and how the future looks more threatened all the time – expect the talk of ‘engineering’ solutions to rise, and even translate into crazy action.  The most popular ideas – science fiction madness applied in the real world, every one – include mirrors launched into space to reflect sunlight, artificial volcanoes that spew sulfur into the stratosphere  (creating deliberate pollution that also reflects solar energy), and seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate plankton growth.  The consequences of such global tinkering cannot be predicted except to say this – expect the unexpected, and the unexpected will almost certainly be nightmarish.  And the sad, tragic, exasperating fact is that we will even contemplate this hubristic Russian roulette while not having taken more than a small fraction of the steps that have no consequence other than short-term investment costs – regulating carbon emissions  and rapidly harnessing renewable energy.

Geoengineering is just the latest, most audacious attempt to insure our continued fossil-fuel orgy.  In other words, its purveyors believe it is wiser to play God with the planet’s regulatory systems so that we can push ahead with business as usual, rather than start respecting the natural systems we depend on.  I was thinking about how this is the ultimate greed-driven willful ignorance, when a friend sent an insightful and inspiring link.

This presentation by Katherine Dean Moore, a philosophy and ecology professor at Oregon State University, brought a standing ovation at the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. This year’s topic was “The Global Oceans,” and her talk was titled “Red Sky at Morning: Ethics and the Oceanic Crisis.”  She issues an urgent call for a ‘planetary ethic,’ to end our ‘moral monstrosity on a cosmic scale.  Her main point is this – more information is not going to persuade enough of us to create a critical mass for sustainable, respectful policies.  We have to tap into values, and understand that it is just plain wrong to harm the future.  This one is well worth your time, friends – including the panel at the end.  Just beware (or skip) the seemingly endless introduction.  If you watch through to the panel, look for Carl Safina – author of several important books about protecting the oceans.

Some Good Reasons to Act on the Climate Crisis

Yes, these stories fall short of the ethic demanded by Katherine Dean Moore, but they provide some valuable motivation, and potentially protect the future.  And hey – the last one is extremely funny.  First – a Huffington Post article on the island impact of ocean rise.  Next, a Common Dreams piece on the accelerating Arctic ice melt.  Here is an AlterNet piece on the immediate health gains of a cut in pollution overall.  And here, Stephen Leahy writes on how cutting soot pollution can slow ice melt.  This article in particular is useful, as it gets into clear, easy-to-understand effects of ice melt, and feedbacks.  But wait – I promised some comic relief.  Yes, the rogue weather girl – the one who tells the truth like no mainstream media weather forecaster – is back for round 2. Did you wonder how her sidekick got that neck brace?  (It happened in round 1.)

One Week, Three Debates

Did you hear there was a debate this week?  I’ll get to that one – briefly – in a moment.  But first – this NPR story is the kind of debate we NEED to hear.  Concise, courteous, on-issue, no grandstanding.  Needless to say, it involves neither major party.  No, this is an All Things Considered debate between the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson.  I wish we could vote for these people and not worry about helping the major party we oppose in the process.  How to do that?  Easy, sort of.  Ranked-choice voting.  And how can we get that?  Even ‘easier.’  Get the big corporate money out of politics.  And then there was a mock debate held Saturday evening, featuring two media heavyweights from opposite corners – Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  Here’s the video.  Who won that debate?  That is, who is now the Mayor of BS Mountain?  And oh yes, President Obama and Governor Romney took turns walking all over Jim Lehrer this week, and in between had something like a debate.  President Obama seemed detached, and Governor Romney shall we say, molded the truth.  He did admit that number 26 was not true.

Suppressing the Vote Suppressors

There is good news on the voter fraud scam.  First, Pennsylvania Republicans will have to try to cull the herd of voters again after the November electionOops.  Second, the exclusion syndicate is under investigation.

New Deal or Gilded Age?  Choose Wisely

Paul Krugman’s commentary describes the actual referendum we will have in just a few weeks.

“No action is without its side effects.”

-Barry Commoner

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Jeff Carlson, Tess Galati, Allyson Harper